Demystifying Experiential Learning
This summer I had the privilege of participating in the Art of Leadership program at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education’s Principal Center. On our first day, our instructors took us to Project Adventure to enjoy a day of team building and experiential learning. During this excursion, I found myself pondering how we might enhance our implementation of experiential learning in the Middle School, understanding that this pedagogic approach highlights the act of reflecting about one’s own actions.
Aligning with the Portrait of a CESJDS Graduate, we have learned that when students engage in reflecting on their experiences and begin articulating their thoughts, feelings, and observations during and after an experience, they grow important life skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, creative thinking, empathy, and perspective taking. Simultaneously, they build their self awareness. The most popular interpretation of experiential learning is field trips. Students are experiencing situations and scenarios as a group in a way that they could not experience them in school. We have several field trip opportunities in the Middle School and we are proud of the fact that our students always end their field trips with an opportunity to debrief as a community.
Field trips are just one of the many ways in which we incorporate experiential learning into our Middle School program. Experiential learning also occurs in multiple places throughout the day and throughout the year. One small example that occurs on a regular basis is when students are asked to reflect on the learning process, including the instructional activity. For example, students might be asked to reflect on the process of learning b’hevrutah/in pairs or in small groups after they complete the learning task. They are able to identify where they succeeded as individuals and as partners as well as name ways they could improve the experience for all involved. These insights are what students take with them to their next group activities, creating a wealth of experience for them to draw on as they better understand how to work in a hevrutah or small group.
We are enhancing our experiential learning this year in ways both subtle and visible. We are excited about our new 8th Grade trip to the South and the unique experience this trip will offer. We have no doubt that our students will emerge from the trip with a newfound understanding of how they can apply what they learned from their experiences to themselves and their community. We are also excited about the changes we made to our Humanities Experience and Jewish Journeys courses during which reflection on the learning process is becoming a central part of the program. And, we are beginning to bring this type of purposeful reflection on “doing” into our discipline specific classes. We are confident that these commitments will help bring our experiential program to the next level.