Expeditionary Learning's Core Practices drive whole-school improvement within five key dimensions of education:
EL's approach to curriculum, which links learning to real-world issues and needs, makes content and skill standards come alive for students. Academically rigorous learning expeditions, case studies, projects, fieldwork, and service learning inspire students to think and work as professionals do, applying knowledge and skills to environments beyond the classroom. EL schools ensure that all students have access to a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. Teachers and school leaders uphold a clear alignment to curricular standards, and are committed to helping all students reach those standards.
Elementary-school teachers who teach all academic subjects as well as middle- and high-school math, science, technology, English, history, social science, and language teachers find that the EL principles of interdisciplinary, project-based learning help their students produce meaningful, high-quality work with exceptional results.
EL classrooms are alive with discovery, inquiry, critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. Teachers lecture less. Students speak and think more. Lessons have explicit purpose, guided by clear learning targets for which students take active responsibility. In every subject area, teachers carefully tailor their lessons to specific and ambitious learning goals, a practice that brings out the best in students and cultivates a culture of high expectations and achievement.
Teachers and staff in EL schools don't just believe in the value of their approach; they verify it. EL has developed a variety of proven methods for assessing student progress toward standards-based learning targets.
Teachers Review Data
Teachers review everything from patterns in student work to results on critical examinations, using data analysis to track student achievement and provide systematic support.
Teachers Provide Models
Teachers become partners with students in evaluating student work. "Models of excellence"—exemplary work created by students in classrooms just like theirs —are used to give students a clear and concrete picture of what excellence looks like. Students learn to gauge their own progress against the models and to define learning rubrics for themselves. Step by step, they begin to internalize learning targets and reflect on their own and others' work on their way to success.
Teachers Bring In Experts
Students receive feedback from experts in the field who review their work as professionals. For example, students at an EL school who completed a comprehensive energy audit of city schools had their final presentation evaluated by a city facilities engineer. Going "public" with their projects raises the stakes for students, who learn how their work holds up against the standards of the profession.
Culture and Character
EL schools build cultures of respect, responsibility, courage, and kindness. Adults and students alike share a strong commitment to quality work and citizenship. School structures and traditions such as community meetings, classroom dialogues, exhibitions of student work, and the careful nurturing of strong adult-student relationships create an environment of safety and civility. Students learn to trust that teachers will know and care for them, celebrate their achievement, and cultivate their capacity for leadership. Throughout the school, students and staff are supported to do better work—and be better, more thoughtful people—than they thought possible.
EL school leaders build a shared school vision focused on student success, and they make sure all school activities align with that vision. Leaders use data wisely, boldly shape school structures to meet student needs, celebrate joy in learning, and devotedly build a culture of collaboration, trust, and creativity. EL schools go beyond a single person, team, or classroom; they uphold—and fulfill—expectations for all.
Students in EL schools score significantly higher in reading and math, demonstrate greater engagement and motivation, and have a higher acceptance rate into college. Ten of Expeditionary Learning's 47 high schools boasted 100 percent college acceptance in 2010. Students also gain skills critical to college readiness and success—problem solving, critical thinking, persistence toward excellence, and active citizenship.
The success of this approach and its outstanding track record in improving student performance have attracted powerful support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Fund for Teachers, and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Find out more about the benefits of the EL model for students and educators alike.