By Laura Patterson
Leading up to my first visit at a School of One site, I’d voraciously consumed every document and website the team had sent my way about Teach to One (as the program is called outside of NYC) and other blended learning programs. I thought I had a solid grasp of the concept and knew what to expect when I was finally able to visit a site. While having that foundational knowledge was helpful, my experience at School of One was very different from what I had envisioned it would be. Observing the visitors on the tour take in the program was also eye-opening. Their questions were critical and piercing and many were on subjects teachers, principals and district administrators should remember when thinking about bringing new models and programming into their schools. In this post, I’ll do my best to capture the experience of my first observation of School of One and how the practitioners appeared to view it.
The tour began with a presentation intended to provide background on the model and prepare the tour’s participants for what they were about to see. There were a number of New Classrooms staff from a variety of teams, including research and technology, on-hand to answer questions. After the overview presentation, we were led into one of the two School of One classrooms in the school.
The classroom was the length of six typical classrooms. Spaces were separated by bookshelves and portable whiteboards. The lighting in the space was reminiscent of what you would expect at a restaurant pre-dinner rush, but the energy was palpable. In each space, there was a different activity being overseen by a teacher or aide—there was teacher-led instruction in two or three of the spaces, while students were working in groups or individually on laptops in the other sections. Students across all groupings looked engaged in their learning and the teachers appeared calm in their oversight of their sections.
We were provided a short introduction to the space and New Classrooms staff pointed out key features, including the area where students could see what their assigned clusters were and where the support staff for the space was situated. Then we were left to our own devices for fifteen minutes; we could walk the space and observe the different modalities in action and ask questions of students to see what their experiences were.
The educators among us quickly jumped into action, identifying students and asking them to explain what they were working on. Taking it all in, the classroom felt like an organized hive—everyone knew what he/she was supposed to be doing and was working towards the same collective goal of math literacy. Immersion in the School of One program gave what I’d read and heard about the program a level of richness and depth. As someone who had only experienced a very traditional classroom experience—collaborative learning desks and Smart Boards were the most interesting features of my classrooms growing up—I was struck by how a system so different from what I was accustomed to was teaching students in a way that felt more engaging than what I’d seen in other math classrooms.
After the tour, we returned to the empty classroom for a brief Q&A and a few slides on the process behind the program. Educators asked a variety of questions to get at whether the program would work in their contexts. One question was on student ownership and the sense of responsibility students had for their own work. Another was whether teachers get evaluated in any way through the product, and whether they only work in certain modalities. Staff planning and how daily schedule changes may affect teacher preparation was important to one of the audience members. A few individuals probed into the performance metrics shown and wanted to know what the MAP progress scores really meant.
The discussion reminded me of the importance of asking questions. I think it is especially useful to do so when it’s regarding data. Average student growth improvements within a school, versus student growth compared to projections, could look very similar in a chart, but mean two different things.
After the last few slides and the Q&A, the audience was invited back to the New Classrooms office for a behind-the-scenes look at how the product works. Though I was unable to attend, the audience seemed to appreciate the offer to learn more about the algorithm and the model.
It was incredible to see the program in action and to be among educators who were interested in radically shifting instruction in their schools to drive better student outcomes. If you have not taken a tour yet and you have the opportunity to do so, check it out!