1. How do you "structure" the acquisition of literacy? Do you follow a framework? Where do you draw the line at core "functional" levels of literacy?
We use a contextual framework which includes big ideas and skills inspired by (but certainly not limited by) different educational models including U.S. common core standards. These big ideas and skills are always in keeping with the kind of real-world challenges we expect our learners to face, such as: understanding technical language, communication and listening skills, presenting to persuade, reading across genres, building vocabulary, etc. The focus is always on the real world, and that keeps things relevant and grounded.
We also put a lot of emphasis on language as a tool for self expression, giving learners choice around which text types they would like to dive further into. Through our amazing "Express Yourself" sprints, we are able to build literacy skills through continuous practice in creating scripts, screenplays, TED talks and philosophical reflections, to name just a few. There is so much room for creativity, and support for our learners to express who they are.
2. So how do you “test” literacy at Learnlife if everything is scaffolded around the learner? How do you know what they can do, and how does the learner know?
At Learnlife we do not carry out standardized tests (read more why we think it's time to throw out traditional credentialing). We believe that assessment should be continuous, formative and authentic. There is a big emphasis on self-reflection, iteration, peer editing and growth, with the belief that most of what we produce can always be improved.
Our literacy sprints are almost always geared towards an authentic output which will often be shared with the whole community. This ensures that learners are invested in producing the highest quality of work and are held accountable for the results. These deliverables will often form part of the learner's final 360-degree session, during which their families, learning guides and peers give them meaningful feedback. Isn’t that better than getting an “A” on a piece of paper? We think so!
3. How transversal is literacy at Learnlife?
Literacy is embedded in everything we do, from LNS (Life Navigation Skills), Adelantes (learner- facilitated workshops), Science and Wellbeing experiences to Real Talk and Rites of Passage. Learners have to write reflections for most of the work that they do and many learners participate in regular journaling for self-reflection and personal growth. This is such an important life skill.
Because we offer learners plenty of self-directed work options, they are very adept at following written instructions and engaging with independent reading practise.
Through the Express Yourself building block, we tackle literacy in a more direct way, designing a combination of engaging learning experiences and authentic challenges so that learners use literacy to create marketing campaigns, write love letters, learn about philosophy and psychology, write their own raps and hip hop etc.
4. What kind of questions and concerns do you get from parents around Literacy?
Parents sometimes like to know how they can encourage more reading and less screen-time for their teenagers, and we try to create as much space as possible for learners to find their sources of motivation. Rather than being “assigned” a book, we prefer to explore areas of passion and interest, and then support learners with areas of reading around things they connect to.
They also may ask how the learners are learning key skills. Through our 360 reflections at the end of each cycle, the focus is always on growth and development and the learner's growth is always evident as they often showcase their literacy skills in a "before and after" format to highlight improvement in skill development and expression. Rather than us trying to evidence the acquisition of key skills through standardized tests, the learners evidence it themselves in ways that are useful and meaningful to them.
5. How do you approach literacy at Learnlife in an inclusive way?
Because we believe in meeting every learner where they are, we focus on growth and engagement above all else. During self-directed work time, which is built into our culture at Learnlife, learning guides are able to provide extra support to those learners who need it.
We have an expert in self-direction and executive functioning on staff. This person runs workshops with learners around executive functioning skills and strategies to raise awareness and autonomy. We also offer 1-1 sessions with a learning specialist for those learners who want further support.
6. Any success stories that stand out to you?
Oh, so many! We have a learner in the Explorers program writing her own novel about a fantasy cat world. We have several learners who have participated in podcasts, conferences and learning events. Several Changemakers who hated writing have a new-found love of using journaling and personal essay writing as a tool for self expression and catharsis.
By celebrating authentic outputs, we see learners really taking pride in the writing that they produce. Learners themselves have hosted community writing challenges and anonymous "love lettering" and the Changemakers also started a peer-to-peer Express Yourself format during which they develop facilitation (as well as literacy) skills while delivering gourmet learning experiences to their peers.
One of our learners has found, in story writing, a way to deal with the death of a family member, others have written scripts that they then performed for the rest of the group. Many found a passion for science through creating characters and then writing science fiction stories around those characters! Many, many learners tell us that they used to hate writing and now they love it!
7. What challenges do you encounter in the way you approach literacy at Learnlife?
During the last year of Covid restrictions, we have had to drastically reduce the amount of time we usually would take learners outside of the Urban Hub. This has forced us to think creatively about how we can expose them to real-world situations without necessarily leaving the space. Watching documentaries, designing community projects and implementing more creative ways to use the space through literacy and art has been one approach in the face of this challenge.
The Changemakers group suffered a bit of a dip in motivation mid year. Our creative response to that was to codesign a new format for Express Yourself for that group, involving more peer-to-peer learning. It has been an amazing success, increasing learner engagement and enthusiasm exponentially. We will definitely be using this format with the Changemakers as a springboard when designing Express Yourself for next year.