Self-directed learning at the new Bedford School aims to provide life skills alongside the curriculum

Sean MacDonald will be the principal when the new Broad Street high school opens this September.  (HRCE - photo credit)

Sean MacDonald will be the principal when the new Broad Street high school opens this September. (HRCE – photo credit)

Students at a new high school being built in Bedford, NS will soon have an opportunity to experience a new approach to education in the province.

The school, which is due to open in September this year and has yet to be named, will provide students with self-directed learning.

The model envisages that students in grades 10-12 spend about two-thirds of their time with teachers in a regular classroom and the other third in flextime.

Students can leave the classroom during flexitime. They will be able to carry out self-directed learning in the school environment of their choice – furniture in the hallways or common areas, the library or open classrooms.

Students start their day with a teacher advisor who will be their main point of contact throughout their years at school. The teacher advisor helps them with their daily flextime planning and meets with them again in the afternoon to make sure they are on track.

Robert Guertin/CBC

Robert Guertin/CBC

Principal Sean MacDonald says the teacher advisor will be key in supporting students.

“High schools are big places and we just want to make sure every student knows they have someone to go to because that teacher advisor will be acting as a mentor and advocate for them,” he says.

learn life skills

Students receive study guides that include reading material, links to videos, assignments, and self-assessments. In the event of material problems, specialist teachers are available during flexitime.

MacDonald says self-directed learning will allow students to use their flexible time to focus on issues they are struggling with, but it will also teach life skills like organization, time management, problem solving and collaboration.

“It creates that autonomy for the students, and when the students have greater autonomy, they step up to it,” he says. “I think that’s the big thing, if you give students options and opportunities on how they work best, you’ll see that they’re more successful.”

Closer student-teacher relationships

MacDonald has visited schools in BC and Ontario that use self-directed learning and says one of the biggest differences he noticed was in the relationship between students and teachers.

“It just seemed so easy with each other in terms of the way they went about it,” he says. “The relationship is not strained in any way because I’m not telling you what you need. The student comes looking for what he needs.”

Carla van der Pauw teaches languages ​​at Thomas Haney Secondary School in Maple Ridge, BC, which has embraced self-directed learning since it opened in 1992.

“Students are very comfortable talking to adults, you know, and standing up for themselves to other adults because we’ve practiced those skills in what we call our open spaces.”

Submitted by Darren Rowell

Submitted by Darren Rowell

She says that during their school years, students can pursue interesting projects — like building a robot — that they wouldn’t normally be able to do under the “factory model of education.”

But some students face challenges with the freedom that comes with self-directed learning.

“Some students are overwhelmed with the choice,” she says. “They will choose to spend their whole day in the art space because they love it and never go to math because they hate it.”

Perle Suddaby, a 12th grade student with Thomas Haney, says through self-directed study she’s learned time management, organizational skills and independence – things that will come in handy this fall when she hopes to go to university to study computer science to study.

“I know it will help me,” she says, adding that she has older friends who went to Thomas Haney and are now at university. “They see their classmates struggling to wake up at 9 a.m. for your class and then not eat anything else for the rest of the day. But that’s just one day at Thomas Haney.”

Program could be expanded

MacDonald sees no downsides to self-directed learning.

“I don’t understand why this scenario doesn’t necessarily work for a particular student,” he says. “Whatever structure or things we need to add to support this student, we would.”

The school, which will be located on Broad Street at Larry Uteck Boulevard, will accommodate 1,200 students in grades 9 through 12 and will be the first in Nova Scotia to offer self-paced learning.

Students do not have to apply to participate; All students in grades 10 to 12 automatically learn according to the new model. Pupils in the catchment area of ​​the new school who do not want to participate can attend another secondary school in the area.

If the model is successful at the new school, it could be expanded to other schools, MacDonald says.



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