A recent article in The Atlantic, When Schools Overlook Introverts, argues that schools are overlooking introverts with the education trend towards project-based learning and group projects.
“As the focus on group work and collaboration increases, classrooms are neglecting the needs of students who work better in quiet settings.”–The Atlantic
In progressive schools, group projects are a key part of the curriculum. My kids attended The Willows, a progressive school in Culver City, before moving to Viewpoint, a traditional school in Calabasas. I intentionally chose the Willows for my daughter, who is a quiet introvert like me. During her time at The Willows, K-6th, I thought the school’s focus on project-based learning would benefit her tremendously by championing the traits and qualities she was born with, while helping her learn skills that might not come naturally. That turned out to be true. After all, as adults we work in groups in the workplace, when we volunteer and even at home. The ability to learn to work successfully in groups is an important skill, but one that doesn’t always come naturally to young kids.
I learned that introverts play an important role in group projects. My daughter took on roles in group projects that fit her personality. She’d often be asked by her peers or the teacher to lead a project, based on her strong organizational skills, her focus and her ability to listen to input from all group members. She’d edit other kids’ work at their request or quietly help decide which project the group would choose, after the group discussion concluded. The extroverts in the group had skills she didn’t possess. They’d brainstorm project ideas, ask the teacher questions, lead class discussions, use their artistic talents to draw project ideas and debate the merits of a project.
With skilled teachers and just enough structure, progressive schools that incorporate project-based learning in their curriculum can help both introverts and extroverts flourish. Of course, quiet time should be part of the daily schedule. “But cooperative learning doesn’t have to entail excessively social or overstimulating mandates; it can easily involve quiet components that facilitate internal contemplation,” says The Atlantic article. I never felt that there was a lack of quiet time or time for individual work because of the project-based learning. Neither did my daughter. Sometimes, the quiet time occurred in the library, as she and the librarian quietly searched for the right book for her to curl up with at home.
Ultimately, when my daughter started 7th grade at Viewpoint, she was able to apply the skills she’d learned working in groups to the classroom environment at her new school, where group projects are less frequent. Currently, she’s in charge of organizing all the components of a group project for one of her classes.
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There is a common narrative that says moving from a progressive to a traditional school could mean your kid might be unprepared or even fall behind. I’ve never believed that sentiment, mainly because successful students come from all kinds of schools. I hope my kids’ experience helps further dispel that notion. Not surprisingly, some parents wonder (and often worry) about what the transition from a developmental/progressive to a traditional school will be like for their kid. I’ll admit, I was concerned too, but I tend to worry about everything, so this isn’t anything new. Will this change be smooth, with few adjustments needed to deal with different educational philosophies? Or, will the transition between different types of schools require tutoring, lots of hours studying and stress for their kid? Will programs align or will there be a big gap between the schools?
Coming from a progressive/developmental elementary school, my kids entered their new traditional school with valuable skills and strengths. The approach to learning acquired during their early education is intrinsically part of who they are. Yet, crossing over to a new type of school meant they had to quickly learn new skills in areas that were unfamiliar to them.
After seven years at The Willows, we realized it was time for our kids to make a change. By nature they are structured, competitive and self-motivated. This signaled to us that it was time to look at traditional schools.
Below, I’ve listed some of the most/least challenging aspects of the progressive-to-traditional school transition for my kids.
Here’s what has been the MOST challenging for my kids:
1.Standardized tests. Generally speaking, progressive schools place less emphasis on the value of standardized tests than their traditional counterparts. Therefore, very little time is spent preparing kids for these tests. In progressive schools, classroom work isn’t geared to generating high standardized test scores and the way material is taught differs from the way it appears on standardized tests. During the 4th grade ERBs (mandated for all Independent Schools) at Willows, my daughter got strep throat and missed 4 out of the 5 test days. We asked for a make-up test date and were told there wasn’t going to be an opportunity to make up the test. Let’s just say that response didn’t go over well with my husband who pushed for a make-up test, which was administered for my daughter (it was optional for other kids). The concept, Teach To The Test isn’t found in progressive schools, while there are some traditional L.A. private elementary schools that spend substantial time getting kids ready for standardized tests. Test-preparation was money well spent to prepare my daughter for the ISEE (middle school entrance exam).
2. Learning how to take a traditional test. Traditional schools give tests using multiple- choice questions. Sometimes, there are essay and multiple choice portions, but rarely are there tests that only have an essay question. The way progressive and traditional schools test similar material (a book, for example) will be very different. For my kids, this required learning a new study skill. Multiple choice tests with answer choices that are very similar are common at traditional schools. This requires reading and studying with a focus on small details of a story, a poem or a chapter. Scantron tests were also new to my kids.
3.An increase in the amount of homework, tests and quizzes. At a developmental/progressive school, students are given more project-oriented work that requires research, collaboration, planning and writing. In a traditional school, especially in middle school, there is homework in every class and several tests and/or quizzes each week. Tests and quizzes were less frequent at our developmental/progressive school and the homework was much lighter. The first time my son heard the term “pop test” was this year. My daughter had to adjust to a heavy volume of tests and homework, a big jump from the previous year.
Here’s what has been the LEAST challenging for my kids:
1.Organizational skills. My kids benefitted tremendously from their developmental/progressive school’s big, bold projects, which required extensive planning, organization and attention to a timeline/schedule. Staying organized, knowing what comes next and turning in assignments on time has been seamless for both my kids.
2.Working in groups. At the core of a developmental/progressive school is the belief that the sharing of ideas and working with each other is essential to learning. Collaborating with other kids, sharing and expressing thoughts, listening to others’ opinions respectfully are concepts my kids understand. There is a lot less group work at a traditional school, but my kids have leadership skills that have been recognized—and called upon—by their peers.
3.Critical thinking. My kids both developed excellent critical thinking skills at their former school. The ability to ask thoughtful questions both in class–and after class– is also something they learned because it was encouraged. Asking questions and questioning the teacher (appropriately…think debate style) are essential skills progressive schools can teach kids.
Ultimately, your kid’s personality and other factors, along with your own preferences, will help determine the type of school that’s right for him/her. For my kids, a progressive elementary school worked well, but as the kids got older we knew we wanted a more traditional secondary school, one that aligned more closely with their interests and goals. I’m grateful my kids will have the benefit of both progressive and traditional private schools.
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A – We are very proud of the matriculation rates of our students into the strongest secondary schools in Los Angeles. Historically, the vast majority of students have matriculated into the secondary school of their first choice.
These most often include the following:
Campbell Hall School
Lincoln Middle School
Oaks Christian School
Paul Revere Middle School
St. Matthews Parish School
The Archer School for Girls
The Mirman School
Many L.A. private schools are a hybrid of educational philosophies, a blend of school types (traditional, developmental and progressive) that define each institution. However, there are schools that are purely traditional or progressive and have chosen not to incorporate a mix of educational philosophies. Any of these school types can offer an academically challenging, intellectually rigorous learning environment. Selecting a school depends on your preferences as a parent and finding the best fit for your kid.
Here are 5 differences between traditional and developmental/progressive schools:
1. Traditional schools tend to teach critical thinking in conjunction with heavy content acquisition. Developmental/Progressive schools are more focused on the process of learning than detailed content acquisition. Teachers are interested in what students know in traditional schools. Developmental/progressive schools want to know what students think.
2. The curriculum at developmental/progressive schools includes more project based learning, where kids work in groups and projects can take a week or more.
3. Traditional schools have more homework, tests and quizzes. They tend to use textbooks more often than developmental/progressive schools.
4. The report cards and grading systems are very different. Developmental/Progressive schools tend to use narrative written reports for elementary school. Traditional schools use grades and/or numeric evaluation methods.
5. Academic achievement is celebrated in traditional schools. Honor lists are posted, students discuss grades. Developmental/progressive schools de-emphasize the focus on public display of individual academic success.