For many years, educators and policy advocates constantly have constantly talked about transforming our schools and our broken education systems. Yet, changes have been minimal, and the future of school innovation seems bleak.
Until Diane Tavenner founded Summit Prep and shared her story with the world.
The book is a long story about Summit Prep (SP), a school filled with students from relatively special backgrounds.
The students here are NOT "excellent", "capable" individuals according to the comments from the high schools where they attended. Some children also have special circumstances: some children have dyslexia, some are extremely shy, some have serious physical and mental illnesses, etc.
But after just four years of studying at SP, almost all of them were admitted to four-year universities in the US, at a rate most selective high schools could not achieve.
How has SP done this?
According to Diane Tavenner, author of the book, as well as the principal, and co-founder of the school, there are four factors that help SP succeed in “transforming” these students from socially neglected people into excellent students with admirable independent learning ability.
1. Real-Life Project-based Learning Model
In Summit Prep, classes do not follow the lecture model. Instead, students collaborate to work on small learning projects and thereby gain the knowledge and skills needed to be successful.
For example, in SP, an urban design project developed by seniors has shocked many educators. They were taken aback to see such a complete final product that even their third or fourth-year college students are unlikely to have been able to do. Some might have attributed that success to luck, but Tavenner believed that the students' success is not accidental, because over the past four years, they have gone through hundreds of smaller projects and built up skills through it.
One question that Tavenner always asks herself is: Do you have a way to relate lessons to reality for them?
2. Self-directed Learning Model
SP emphasizes the role of learning with a sense of purpose, focusing on deep mastery, and student autonomy.
To achieve this, every teacher at SP must continually remind students of the following 05 learning behaviors:
Be flexible in choosing your strategy based on relevant context (strategy-shifting)
Proactively seek challenges for themselves (challenge-seeking)
Respond positively to setbacks
Seek appropriate help when needed
Which behavior is the most difficult to conduct? How do teachers and teachers support them to overcome such difficulties?
3. Reflect on what you learned through mentorship
SP believes that students learn better when they have a meaningful relationship with their mentors. Each student has a mentor to work on difficult and long-term projects (e.g. speaking in public, operating community work, etc.), as well as helping them understand that learning doesn't end by the time they are finished. Learning is a lifelong project that every person has to embark on, and having a mentor who offers to guide you through this incredibly confusing adolescent phase really empower SP students.
With the aid from their mentors, students can actively think about the ways they can make meaning of their learning and their relationship with the world.
4. Cooperation and Collaboration
Each year, the students are reminded that SP is not a competitive environment where they are more likely to become losers or winners regarding university admittance.
At Summit Prep, there is a well-circulated story about cooperation called the balloon activity. On one student orientation, each student was given a balloon and a super-sharp No. 2 pencil. They were instructed to keep their respective balloons intact in 10 minutes. Those who managed to do so would be the winners. However, after only 5 minutes, all balloons were popped. Since no one can be the winner based on the original instructions, students asked whether the person who popped the most balloons can be declared as the winner. Yet, the teacher poses one simple question:
What if no one does anything? That would make everybody a winner.
From this activity, students were prompted to think about the benefits of cooperation. It is hard to think about a scenario where everyone wins, or everyone loses, but it can happen. Hence, cooperation and collaboration are highly emphasized in the learning environment at Summit Prep, as Tavenner believed it would motivate students to realize the extraordinary impact when all of them start to join hands.