When my colleagues and I built the Integrated Studies Program (ISP) three years ago, our intention was to create a program that removed major hurdles to student learning and meet our core mission as a vocational school. By rethinking the schedule and integrating the curriculum, we were able to create a program that is adaptable to student needs and more tightly tied to their chosen trades. Students rarely ask “Why do I need to know this” because they are given the opportunity to apply their learning to their engineering, IT, or performing arts career areas immediately. All of this is made possible by leveraging technology to add asynchronous components to the learning environment, allowing students to move more quickly than their peers or receive additional help from members of the learning community.
The changes worked beautifully (Slide 10)….but not for everyone. For a minority of students, ISP was culture shock. They craved more structure but they also needed the opportunities afforded by the open schedule. Because of this , ISP has an attrition rate of about 20%. These students move back to traditional classes with a rigid schedule.This is often due to comfort with the “game of school” – grading for compliance rather than learning, being told exactly what to produce rather creating true original work, checklist learning, etc. My colleagues and I found the situation to be disheartening and needed to address it.
Enter ISP Lite (we do not have an official name yet)- an amalgam of traditionally organized classes and the fully open schedule of the original Integrated Studies Program. In building ISP Lite, we preserved the aspects of ISP that are obviously beneficial – Teacher-student advisors and advisory time, all teachers having common students, and asynchronous learning components. We did however, bring back aspects of the rigid schedule to give students (and some teachers) the structure that they felt was lacking in ISP.
To preserve the flexibility in the schedule, we incorporated a daily 20% time period called Advisory. During this time, students and teachers can engage in cross-curricular projects, perform independent work, get extra help, or do whatever is necessary to meet their individual needs. ISP Lite will be offered only to freshman next year with the hope that 20% time will eventually morph into 100% time in subsequent years as students learn how to work in a self-guided learning environment.
The 2012 – 2013 school year is shaping up to be an interesting one with traditional, ISP, and ISP Lite all being offered to students. By providing 3 different types of learning environments, we are that much closer to meeting the needs of 100% of our students 100% of the time.