Term Paper: Learning Communities: New York State Education

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Learning Communities (New York State Education based)

What are they?

What is the mission and purpose?

What are their benefits?

How can they be implemented in the curriculum planning process?

Who established them?

Where did they originate?

When did they become an educational trend?

How do they affect the technology trend?

Strategies to promote the learning culture?

This paper focuses on education-based learning communities, with emphasis on New York State education-based communities. Evaluated are the school district, instructional leaders, teachers, parents, students and community partnerships that comprise the learning community. Learning communities are a not new, but they are gaining popularity as a theoretical framework for developing students' intrinsic motivation and ability to succeed outside the classroom. The premise behind learning communities is the philosophy of integrated learning. Students are encouraged to become active members of their community by engaging in workshops and seminars sponsored by organizations and community programs that teach students real life skills in addition to the textbook learning they acquire through traditional curriculum and educational formats.

What makes learning communities popular in school districts including those in New York is the decreasing numbers of student dropouts and the increased percentage of students who graduate and obtain meaningful and directed employment, employment related to their course of study (Felner, et al., 1997). Should this trend continue, it is likely students will be more prepared than in times of old to graduate and become active and participating citizens and competent, career-oriented, lifelong learners. To understand these concepts further, an analysis and overview of learning communities is provided below.

What are they?

What learning communities are depends on who you talk to. Most define learning communities as experiential type learning programs encouraging students to adopt a self-directed approach to learning, one that engages them inside the classroom and outside the classroom. Driven by an increasing need for students to develop "real life" skills in a dynamic, often changing and culturally diverse market, learning communities embrace community members, organizations and families as part of the key components critical to the successes and failures of students at all levels of the academic chain, from k-12 through higher education.

Bielaczyc & Collins (1999) suggest learning communities are an approach to education where practices in the community emerge through "interaction with different knowledge sources and co-construction and negotiation among members of the community" (p.23) They are a means whereby communities develop a common language that helps shape and articulate the "learning process, plans, goals and assumptions" of education. This compares with traditional models of learning where teachers tend to "promulgate a formal language" students must learn and adopt (Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999:22).

Learning communities are established on the premise that students are better prepared for living a productive life if they learn not only within the school, but within their community. Experiences of their community help children grow into adults that are more readily able to connect with and become active and participating members of their communities. Learning communities are literally communities comprised of faculty, staff, students, administrators, family members, community agencies and organizations. Also important to learning communities are regional, state and national government representatives whose job it is to continue to provide funding and grants that support experiential and community-based learning (Felner, et al., 1997).

What is the mission and purpose?

Bielaczyc & Collins (1999) note the mission and purpose of learning communities is to encourage the facilitation of student-directed activities, and to encourage a move away from teacher directed activities. This in turn removes traditional "power" relationships and students are able to become more responsible for learning and helping others in their learning community excel (Dede, 2004:12).

The mission of learning-based communities in New York is to enable students an opportunity to experience a wider range of learning experiences, including those derived from the communities in which they live. Public schools must rely on the communities they serve to enable students the opportunity to achieve at the highest level possible and to become participating members of their community (Felner, et al., 1997). Learning communities seek to integrate all members of the community so that exchange networks are created, where information is clearly disseminated to students, to teachers and to the communities they serve. Through clearer knowledge sharing and clearer guidelines established for what is expected of students following graduation, learning communities provide students an opportunity to thrive and excel in their future, and in their future communities.

What are their benefits?

Learning communities have multiple benefits, including encouraging teachers to engage in greater professional development to increase their capacity for extending facilitative skills in the classroom, and preparing them for changes in power relationships in the educational process so students become more self-directed when learning (Dede, 2004; 2003).

Learning-based communities also provide students the opportunity to take advantage of experiential learning (Bucknam & Brand, 1993; BIelaczyc & Collins, 1999). Students achieve more because they not only learn from textual reference, but learn to apply their experiences of the community and the knowledge they gain in the classroom to future work environments or situations. Students are better prepared to problem-solve in the "real" world on graduating, and more likely to become active and contributing members of their communities if afforded the opportunity to engage in community structured educational practices; this is true whether students engage in programs in New York or elsewhere (Felner, et al. 1997). Teachers and educators also benefit from continuous learning experiences and the opportunity to learn more about technology and how it affects learning. Many teachers report being able to grasp new concepts quicker and with greater ease thanks to the increasing use of technology as part of classroom learning (Dede, 2003). Teachers are also able to access the most up-to-date information and encourage students to do the same in the modern classroom.

Businesses are also invited to take an active role in educational preparation courses, so students are better able to function in the career they choose on graduation. Traditionally, one of the biggest complaints corporations had was that students did not posses applicable skills on graduating; that is, they were "book-smart" but not prepared to work in the global and dynamic market that is characteristic of modern society (Dede, 2003; Felner, et al. 1997). Families also benefit, because they have an opportunity to be actively engaged in their children's learning experiences, providing teachers with feedback and engaging teachers more frequently in a honest and directed manner about their child's learning progress and achievements (Felner, et al., 1997). When everyone becomes part of the learning process, motivation increases from all participants in the education process, from teachers to administrators to students and family members, and the businesses student's will eventually come to serve.

Lastly, learning communities provide a new, innovative and creative process and approach to learning. This new approach discourages boredom in the classroom and instead facilitates curiosity and eagerness to explore the diverse and intriguing global marketplace students will help nurture as they graduate and enter the global community and workforce.

How can they be implemented in the curriculum planning process?

Felner et al. (1997) provides a detailed overview of learning communities implemented at the national and state level. The researchers suggest learning communities can be implemented into the curriculum planning process in many ways. First, the authors recommend creating smaller and more personalized "communities" for learning; next, they recommend offering students a core academic program; then, schools are encouraged to work with and connect with their communities, and to reengage family members in the education process so that all people are involved in a student's education (Felner, et al. 1997:520). Anthony Jackson, program officer for the Carnegie Corporation of New York, suggests that to help schools' reforms, the state must establish an infrastructure supporting professional and organizational development, which may included company sponsored weeklong summer institutes whose purpose is to improve curriculum, instruction and assessment of students (Felner, et al., 1997:520). Further, the New York representative suggests professional development seminars be initiated and facilitated by faculty members throughout New York school districts, so that exchange networks can be created to disseminate and share information (Felner, et al., 1997:520).

Who established them?

Learning communities arose from the need for school reform, reform that "creates educational contexts in which all children and youths are nurtured and challenged in ways that lead them to be productive citizens in the democracy" (Felner, et al., 1997:520). For year's educators, state and national officials have been working to implement a new model of reform that will prepare students to become active members of their communities and society at large. In time previous, reform efforts had not recognized the role corporations, businesses, communities and family had on public education. More so than ever, especially during the 1990s, educators began to realize a strong link existed between learning and student's future participation in society and with the economy (Felner, et al., 1997).

It is difficult to credit one single entity for establishing learning communities, because the concept of experiential learning has… [END OF PREVIEW]

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