WHAT IF YOUR FIRST ASSIGNMENT WHEN ENTERING A NEW LEARNING COMMUNITY WAS TO SIMPLY SPEND TIME DISCOVERING YOURSELF—your interests and passions, strengths and weaknesses, and overall wellness? At Norris Academy, that is exactly what new learners are tasked with. By focusing on four interwoven diagnostic assessments, learners at Norris Academy explore their unique identities through the lenses of academics, citizenship, employability, and wellness (physical and mental). These assessments form the foundation for tracking future growth as the learner develops their knowledge, skills, and dispositions toward learning.
During the 30-60 days of self-reflection and exploration, learners engage in “mini explorations” that immediately introduce them to open-walled experiences within the broad disciplines of Skill Trades, STEM, Business, and Creative and Community. By creating multiple touchpoints throughout the Waukesha community, learners develop a rough road map of the possibilities Norris Academy and the overall community provides.
They are able to develop a master plan to accelerate their growth and development as lifelong learners. And, if learners have already identified their passions before setting foot in this learner-centered environment, they can head straight to the makerspace to work on individual and collaborative pursuits.
When the creative gears start churning inside each learner’s head and the individualized learning paths are established, learners take their newly developed agency and begin advancing their self-accountability in dynamic ways.
One learner discovered a curious concept known as a backwards bicycle. While this might come off as little more than an insignificant curiosity for most, Norris Academy’s learning framework allowed him to run with it. He identified a specialist within the Skill Trades sector, created a learning plan that would backwards map the competencies he developed throughout the project, and identified opportunities where he could demonstrate his learning. During the research and making phase of the project, this learner built competencies in ELA and geometry, while continuously growing his socially embedded skills in communication, collaboration, and failing forward. So, from just watching an eight-minute video on “backwards bicycle”—an activity that could have been seen as a distraction to be quelled in other settings—months of purposeful learning were launched for this young man.
Norris Academy provides a great lesson in how taking a simple first step toward something as complex as learner-centered transformation can catapult a learning environment into creating personalized, relevant, and contextualized opportunities for each and every learner. As their system continues to grow and develop, they will continue reaching into the unknowns of what’s possible in learner-centered education.