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Scenario Response Assignment #3

Scenario Response Assignment #3: School Structures for the 21st Century Learner
Auguste Meyrat
Administration of the EC-12 Curriculum
University of North Texas

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School Structures for the 21st Century Learner
Purpose
With the opening of a new school comes the opportunity to open up education altogether.
For too long, districts have followed the traditional structures for schedules, groupings, and
building design even though this model increasingly fails to best serve the needs of 21st century
learners. While the rest of the world moves in the direction of flexibility, connectivity, and
customization, the traditional model stubbornly enforces rigidity, separation, and standardization.
In regards to this contradiction, Heidi Hayes Jacobs (2010) asserts, we need new forms, not
reform (p. 62). District leaders should consider a new model altogether instead of working
within the confines of the traditional one in the hopes of tweaking it to perfection. For a new
school, the following changes should take place: a freer, more individualized schedule; a greater
diversity of groupings that moves beyond grade level and subject area; and a building design that
is brighter, more spacious, and better suited for multiple uses and arrangements.
Schedule
Currently, schools in the district all follow the same timeline that involves thirteen years
of instruction, kindergarten through 12th grade, with each grade level featuring a prescribed set of
courses that students must complete in the allotted time. Students who need more time for a
course often fail to learn the material and are passed on anyway, or they drop out, and students
who learn the material faster must still wait and dawdle until the next school year begins (Jacobs,
2010, p. 64). This problem does not necessarily mean that the amount of time must be changed,
but it does suggest that the use of time should be reconsidered.
Under the traditional schedule, teachers create activities and units to fill out the year;
under the new model, activities and units would define the year (Jacobs, 2010, p.65-66).

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Teachers could spare their students the unnecessary busywork and downtime that constantly
plague todays classes that are framed by time instead of content. Students could attend classes
with a purpose in mind like completing a complex task or contributing to a meaningful project.
Jacobs (2010) cites the example of the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center
(MRCTC), which does away with bells and immovable blocks of time and is organized around
the students needs along with real-world projects and internships (p. 67; Big Picture Learning,
2015).
Following this idea, the daily schedule of the new school would split the day by having
formal instruction in the morning and independent study in the afternoon. In a more natural and
student-centered fashion, teachers could introduce concepts and skills in the morning while
students could apply these lessons with teacher assistance in the afternoon. Big Picture Learning,
the nonprofit organization which designed the MRCTC, demonstrates the value behind such an
approach: students have more personal investment in their learning and thus take more
responsibility for it, and they learn how to learn, developing metacognition in addition to
advanced cognition (Big Picture Learning, 2015; Costa & Kallick, 2010, pp. 217-221).
Groupings
A new schedule will require new kinds of groupings. As mentioned earlier, time spent in
a class, rather than what the student accomplishes, determines whether a student has learned a
sufficient amount or not; in other words, time determines groupings, not the students. This reality
prompts Jacobs (2010) to ask the vital question that too many educators ignore: What grouping
patterns would best help our learners meet their needs? (p.71).
Towards this end of helping learners needs, a new school should implement institutional
groupings based on proficiency and function and set aside groupings based on age and

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developmental spans (Jacobs, 2010, p. 69). In such a system, students would take as much, or as
little, time that they need to learn and master a concept, and they would be placed in a class with
an appropriate level of rigor. To ameliorate the gaps that may occur because of time
discrepanciessay, if a student took too long for a class, or another finished earlyonline
classes or online class supplements would be offered to allow students to continue their learning
or accelerate it (Jacobs, 2010, p. 68).
Additionally, a new schedule that frees up students along with a new building design,
which will be discussed in the following section, could allow for greater variety of instructional
and independent groupings. Simply put, the students would have time and space to collaborate,
compete, work independently, work with other levels, or simply take a much-needed break from
work (Jacobs, 2010, p. 69). Similarly, teachers would have more freedom to meet in different
types of groupings to better define and align their curriculum and instruction (Jacobs, 2010, pp.
71-73). Because of stringent schedules and close spaces, most students and teachers never
experience the full potential of these arrangements, even the conventional ones, and how they
enhance the learning experience.
Building Design
It is depressing to think about, but it must be stated: schools are often the most ugly,
confining, and oppressive environments that a person must endure in his or her life. Teachers
desperately try to brighten their rooms with decorations and posters and break the monotony with
various arrangements of desks, but they can only do so much. The environment will take its toll
on them and their classes, not only in terms of mood, but also in terms of instruction which tends
to reflect the buildings unimaginative and unnatural design (Jacobs, 2010, p. 71).

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Like the schedule and groupings, a school designed for the 21st century learner needs to
allow for more flexibility and fluidity. This means that the building would include common
spaces, meeting spaces, and various nooks and crannies, all filled with natural light and made
with environmentally sustainable materials (Sims, 2010). Using the idea of eliminating the fourwall configuration advocated by architects Mark Quattrocchi and Laura Wernick, Randall
Fielding of Fielding Nair International (FNI) designs schools in which walls are mobile,
creating an endless configuration of flexible spaces (Jarraud, 2011; Sims, 2010). Such a design
allows teachers and students to create their own spaces instead of forcing them to cope with
space that is too big, too small, too open, or too closed-off.
Finally, the building design must allow for innovations in technology. With the growing
use of hand-held devices and computers with high-speed access to the Internet, contemporary
school designs have given up the narrow concept of classrooms in favor of the broader concept
of learning spaces. As architects Adele Willson and Jennifer Cordes report, we are seeing the
traditional classroom change into a highly flexible production studio with a centralized control
room that provides a space for production and editing of content for distribution, content
creation and distribution for digital signage, and content storage (Willson and Cordes, 2015).
Admittedly, technology will continue changing and evolving, but this only reinforces the idea
that a schools design becomes more open and flexible than otherwise.
Conclusion
The world is changing, and schools need to change with it. That change must start with
its structure. Once this is done, other innovations can follow. In planning a new school for the
21st century learner, school leaders must consider whether they want a place that conflicts with
authentic learning, or a place that finally harmonizes with it.

References
Costa, A. L., & Kallick, B. (2010). Chapter 13: Rethinking Curriculum for the 21st Century. In
Jacobs, H.H. (Ed.), Curriculum 21 (pp. 30-59). Alexandria: ASCD.
Big Picture Learning. (2015). Learning Goals. Retrieved from:
http://www.bigpicture.org/schools/learning-goals/
Jarroud, F. (2011). Should a Classroom Have Four Walls?. DesignShare: Designing For the
Future of Learning. Retrieved from
http://www.designshare.com/index.php/articles/should-a-classroom-have-four-walls/
Jacobs H. H. (2010). Chapter 4: New School Versions: Reinventing and Reuniting School
Program Structures. In Jacobs, H.H. (Ed.), Curriculum 21 (pp. 18-29). Alexandria:
ASCD.
Sims, T. (2012). Designing Schools For 21st Century Learning. School Construction News.
Retrieved from http://www.schoolconstructionnews.com/articles/2012/08/15/designingschools-21st-century-learning
Willson, A., & Cordes, J. (2015). Technologys Influence on Todays Education. DesignShare:
Designing For the Future of Learning. Retrieved from
http://www.designshare.com/index.php/technology_influence_2013/