I spent last night as I spend every Monday night – on dorm duty in The A, where I live with my wife, my dog, and 37 sophomore and junior boys. It’s common for a few of the boys to stay and talk for a few minutes throughout the evening, but last night involved a series of long conversations about Saturday Academy and next year’s new academic schedule, which had been presented to students for the first time yesterday at Morning Meeting.
I have been involved in the planning process for Saturday Academy for most of this year and have recently spent countless hours dealing with some of the smallest details of the program. Last night’s conversation was refreshing, because in answering some of the questions that the boys asked I was able to spend some time talking about the overarching goals of the program, which are the aspects that drew me to it in the first place.
I have spent most of my time working with the ECHO modules. Here are just a few of the aspects that I found myself excited about again as I talked about them with the boys in The A.
Structure: Modules meet six times for two and a half hours. This provides opportunities for students to learn new material in different ways. For example, science labs will be able to complete sections during each meeting as well as follow the trajectory of an experiment for weeks, and history offerings will be able to devote significant time to guided research, collaboration, and production of student work.
Grading: Students will receive credit for the courses and be assigned one of three grades: Honors, Pass, or Fail. By removing the traditional grade structure from these modules we hope to allow for students to focus on learning for the sake of learning, rather than trying to simply earn high grades. Additionally, we hope that students will extend themselves to take courses in areas in which they might feel less confident once the threat of a GPA-lowering grade is removed.
Content: The traditional schedule (multiple meetings per week for months at a time) precludes our offering some courses for multiple reasons - they are too specialized a topic to sustain multiple marking periods, or they consistently require student work for more than an hour, among others. The ECHO schedule allows for a substantially more diverse offering including American history in 1968, an in depth study of microbial infection, or an exploration of ekphrastic poetry.
Teachers are already planning and refining their modules, which will be distributed to students in the spring. We are months away from the first ECHO day in August, but I look forward to the continuing the conversations about it on campus this winter and spring.
Mr. Davies teaches Ancient World History and Constitutional Law at Western Reserve Academy. He serves as the Sophomore Boys Class Dean, the Housemaster of the Athenaeum and coaches JV soccer and lacrosse.
Wednesday February, 1, 2012 at 04:32PM