New Freshman LINCC and Humanities Labs

New Freshman LINCC and Humanities Labs Get Personal
Posted on 10/04/2019
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Students working in small group and collaborating on laptopsThe bell rings to signal the change from first to second period at East Freshman School, yet students in three classes are completely unfazed. All around the auditorium - in the seats, on the floor, in the aisles - students continue huddling in small groups around their Chromebooks, deep in conversation. Another group on stage continues their quiet critiques of the children’s books their classmates created, while one small group occupies the sound booth in the back of the room with the full attention of two of their teachers. 

It’s quite a stretch from the traditional classroom scene that typically comes to mind, but according to Associate Principal Rob Burnside, it’s becoming the new normal - and it’s working. “The instruction is just different and it’s better. This is the kind of immersion and focus I’m seeing every day in our classrooms,” he said. “It’s exactly what personalized learning should look like.” 

It’s known as LINCC Lab at East Freshman and Humanities Lab across town at West Freshman. But the concept is the same: Give the same group of students the same schedule across two or three core subjects and consecutive class periods, then remove the division (or the bell changes). Known as co-teaching among educators, it’s a model that lends itself to student choice and cross-curricular projects that tackle all the same standards, but oftentimes add in skills of real world learning like collaboration, communication and creativity, for example. 

“The lines that normally exist in a classroom aren’t there. We base the lines on our curriculum, which is so much better than basing it on a clock,” said East Freshman art teacher Emily Edwards. Through their involvement in Lakota NEXT last year, she and English teacher Roxanne Begley got “sucked” into the idea after seeing a similarly flexible structure during a tour of area districts, but knew some key elements were missing. They eventually linked up with social studies teacher Stacey Cooke to to co-create the LINCC Lab this year - short for “Learning Ignited by Non-traditional Course Collaboration”.

Teacher works with a small group on stage and around a tableRather than own their individual 48 minutes of class time a day, the trio shares 152 minutes (including unused bell changes). The time they have is fluid, meaning they “borrow” from each other to complete a more complex topic that requires more time or even to continue working with a small group that needs more attention in some area while the rest of the class moves on to something else. Their units oftentimes overlap, too - like the latest on “Romeo & Juliet” that segued into a group project challenging students to ultimately produce a video of modern day scenes from the play, putting all three subject areas to work. The project coincided with Cooke’s focus on the Enlightenment period. 

“The hardest part about starting a unit is that depending on what they have or haven’t gotten in other classes, their references may be pretty light,” Cooke said. “But with three topics working together at once, the ability to chunk information becomes much more rapid, giving us more time to dive more deeply into units and give them hands-on experiences.”

Through her work in West Freshman’s new Humanities Lab, English teacher Cathy Bella is still fulfilling her storytelling unit, but says, “We can read or write about anything.” She purposefully selects stories that match up with social studies teacher Jennifer Parrett’s current unit. The duo rattled off several examples, including a personal narrative they introduced surrounding apartheid that out context, would have had much less meaning. 

“Each one is reinforcing the other and you don’t get that a lot when you go bell to bell,” Parrett said. “They’re definitely getting a deeper understanding of the information.” 

Student looks over shoulders of two students working on computersBeyond the cross-curricular connections, all five teachers have appreciated how the new model allows them to circulate and interact with their students in small groups more frequently. “That conference time is so invaluable,” Begley said. “I can get a grasp for where they’re at and what they might need next.” 

That individualized attention is just one defining point of personalized learning, one of Lakota’s four vision statements and a major emphasis this year across all grade levels and subject areas district-wide. The new labs have facilitated other results of personalized learning, including student choice (in how they demonstrate mastery of content) and working at their own pace. In other words, it’s about giving students the authority to take ownership of their own learning.  

“We can pace ourselves and we have the freedom to do what we want when we want, as long as we meet the deadlines given to us,” said East freshman Hartman Hamlin. “I really like that they’re giving us the responsibility to get things done and not holding our hands.” 

“You get your own freedom, but you still have to keep yourself on task,” said another East freshman, Cierra Loukinas. “It definitely feels like it’s setting us up for the real world in that way.” 

Edwards reiterates that the model allows students to get so much more than a “sit and get” experience. In fact, it was her own student experience that inspired her to take on the co-teaching challenge. “I have so many students in my class who are like me,” she said. “As a student, I would have been so much more invested because I would have been able to create and have a say in how I’m learning.” 

“This is what the future of learning is supposed to look like,” Begley added. “The idea of having flexibility with time and linking content has kids so much more focused on quality than quantity.” 

The shift has stretched teachers to grow in their learning just as much as their students. 

“We’re learning from one another,” Bella said. “You learn from seeing how someone else is approaching something. It’s like having professional development embedded into every day.”