Some teachers are great at getting children engaged in learning. Paige and classmate Aarav are looking at images pasted on a poster board.
“They look like they’re in the same family,” says Paige, a third-grader. “They’re wearing the same sweatshirt, whispering to each other, telling each other a secret.”
Paige and Aarav are students in Michelle Spratt’s Level 2 literacy class at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Glen Ellyn District 41. Kicking off a unit about how we function as a democracy, Spratt’s class is examining the most basic building block of society — but in a unique way.
Some students are building the relationship tree. Others are interviewing people in the school about the word “relationship.” Still others are looking at different instruments to see how they’re related.
“We are building their foundation for the word ‘relationship,'” Spratt says. “Everything we do will be connected to that word, building a deeper understanding of it.”
It’s an example of an approach to education called Project-Based Learning that has taken off at Franklin and around the district over the past two years.
Such avenues for student development are a big part of why Franklin is one of just 25 schools nationwide, and the only one in Illinois, to be named an Exemplar School by an organization called Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
The group was founded in 2002 as a coalition of business leaders, educators and policymakers to promote 21st-century readiness in education. This is the first year schools have been recognized with the group’s Exemplar award.
Franklin won the honor for its successful implementation of learning practices like Project-Based Learning.
Members of the partnership’s site evaluation team visited Franklin in May to talk to teachers and administrators and observe instruction, basing their conclusions on criteria such as “engaged learning process” and “evidence of commitment to college and life readiness.”
The group only recognizes individual schools, but in Glen Ellyn’s case it also celebrated the entire district’s systemic approach to education that officials said is often found only in individual charter or private schools.
“It affirms that we’re moving in the right direction,” Assistant Superintendent Karen Carlson says.
Through “case studies” like that at Franklin, the partnership hopes to identify key innovations and learning conditions and then spread the word to others.
“It is powerful to see the ways in which teachers and school leaders are using 21st-century learning practices to increase student achievement,” says Helen Soule, the group’s executive director.