Our guest blogger this month is Jacob Janin, who is in his second year teaching English at LEADPrep. He received a BA in philosophy from Whitman college, and loves audiobooks, cooking, and sports.
At LEADPrep, we believe that our primary responsibility in English class is to foster within our students a lasting love of reading and writing. We know that when students are engaged, empowered, and invested in their work, learning and skills development happen naturally and authentically.
Because of this, all the work we do is heavily reliant on student choice, and always prioritizes expression and fluency over conventions. While at first glance, English may seem like an impossible subject to teach to the wide age range of students we have at LEADPrep, the fact that our students are at so many different levels forces us to abandon the false assumption that one size can fit all, and necessitates a curriculum geared towards personalization. In other words, the logistical realities of our classroom are also aligned with our pedagogy.
The way we achieve this in class is through open-ended projects that challenge students wherever they may be. For example, in our first quarter unit on storytelling, student’s in-class project was simply to write a story. By starting with such wide parameters, we allow students to not only create what they want, but to achieve success regardless of their level of skill and experience.
Together as a class, we work on mini-lessons that are about the more general aspects of storytelling (i.e. plot structure, theme/meaning/purpose, character development, “showing not telling”, etc.), in which students are exposed to a number of different examples and practice activities that range from beginner to advanced. Individually, students apply these lessons to their own work, which then serves as the basis for that student’s specific learning goals.
As a micro-school with smaller class size, we are able to work closely with students on their projects, and individual needs, instead of having to curate lessons for the entire class that may not be applicable for everyone. This system allows students to move ahead and be challenged at their own pace, but it also means that doing so is predicated on their willingness to take initiative and ownership of their own work and learning. Each quarter the focus changes: storytelling, persuasive writing, poetry, technical writing, etc. While each unit is different, they all follow the same basic structure outlined above.
One of the facets of this type of classroom that I enjoy and appreciate the most is the way the younger students learn from the older ones, and the older ones gain confidence and learn to be leaders when they see themselves in the eyes of their younger peers. This is a situation uniquely available to students in micro-schools like LEAD-Prep. I have seen how students thrive in this type of learning environment and how it helps them learn more and more deeply.