Experiental Learning

Expansion of the 21st century schools beyond the four walls of the school building motivates adolescents and enhances their capacity to successfully participate in modern society.

Practices Associated with this Principle

  • Strong emphasis on field trips and learning outside of the classroom.
  • Collaborations with community organizations and use of other resources beyond the school walls to provide additional support for students and families.
  • Implementation of programs such as internships and community service activities.
  • Organization of curriculum primarily around project-based activities that culminate in a product (experiment, research paper, art work, debate, presentation, exhibition, etc.)
  • Use of movies, visuals, outside speakers, pictures, etc. to provide students with a shared experience to enhance access of content and multiple access points to content.
  • Assessment of students through portfolios that comprise authentic tasks and/or classroom projects developed over a period of time to demonstrate understanding.

Philosophy Behind Core Principle and Practices

Conceptual understanding precedes language. In first language acquisition, understanding what something means comes before one can actually articulate a name for it. For example, a baby understands the concept of “Mother” long before he knows the word for mother (Dunetz, N., 2007). While reading and writing are essential skills that students need to develop in English, conceptual understanding often cannot come just from reading words off of a page, especially when those words are not in the students’ first language. Providing students with rich experiences beyond the classroom offers an entry point into texts – (i.e., if students have an experience with a topic such as listening to a holocaust survivor speak, they are better able to access text that discusses that topic), engaging them in ideas and learning, from which language and content understanding can emerge.

External experiences, specifically career internships, are a significant motivator for adolescents. The Internship Program, a key element of the Internationals educational program, is an experiential program that provides students with the opportunity to explore their career interests while applying and extending their developing linguistic, socio-cultural, and cognitive skills in meaningful settings (DeFazio, T., Dunetz, N., Hirschy, D. (1993)). Internships, as well as other experiences outside the classroom (e.g. community service work, research projects about community issues, field trips to local museums, interview projects with people outside the school, a lab experience in a real science lab, meeting a Holocaust survivor), enable students to see the connections between what they are learning and the outside world and to better understand the relevance of their schooling.

Authentic assessment is connected to experiential learning. In contrast to one shot tests, authentic assessment such as the semester and graduation portfolios as well as ongoing project work throughout the semester, enables students to demonstrate what they have learned and are capable of. With authentic assessment in place in International High Schools students are lead to: retain content longer, use higher level thinking, draw upon a wider range of resources, employ creative and various problem-solving strategies, and develop social skills and academic language (DeFazio, T., Dunetz, N., Hirschy, D. (1993)).