Rx for Deeper Learning: Reciprocal Experiences for Schools and Community Partners

Meghan Raftery

Meghan Raftery is a freelance instructional designer for K-12 public schools, nonprofit organizations and the private sector in addition to managing edjacent.org, an Educator Design Collaborative. She leads professional development throughout the country and in her hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia with a special interest in authentic learning, community partnerships and school redesign. She is also a wife, mother and bookseller in an airstream trailer bookshop called Read Books VB and serves as Program Director for The CROP Foundation.

Rather than creating made-up scenarios that mimic the work of people in a particular field, why not center learning experiences on authentic community problems?

Reciprocal experiences (Rxs) do just that. They are mutually-beneficial partnerships between schools and community organizations that:

  1. Seek to to solve real-world problems
  2. Are connected to existing curriculum
  3. Are directly related to meeting the specific needs and interests of the community

Getting Started with an Rx

Rxs typically come about in one of two ways: either the teacher takes the initiative to get his or her class involved or a community partner reaches out to a school with the idea to start a project or projects.

Teachers typically create an Rx because they have a particular organization or cause they are passionate about. Sometimes the teacher is interested in a community issue, knows someone in the area working on an important project, or even remembers a learning experience from their own school days.

Community partners may create an Rx to increase participation with schools, continue to influence future generations, or because they have children in their own lives who have expressed passion or interest in their organization.

Regardless of the reason, the connection the community partner builds with the school is one rooted in authentic opportunities to make a difference.

Weaving an Rx into Curriculum

Once the connection has been made, the teacher may need support from building and division specialists to identify appropriate standards and align instruction to the project. One approach is to use the project as an anchoring activity.

In this method, the Rx is used as the hook for the unit. With a quality pre-assessment, students who have already mastered unit objectives can work on the project while the teacher works with smaller groups of students on content that may have traditionally been organized as a full group lesson.

Students who have not mastered the objectives can complete an exit ticket or reflection journal entry about how the content they learned that day is related to the Rx, providing an opportunity to apply new knowledge and understand the importance of what they are learning in class.

This approach allows the Rx to become an ongoing project rather than a culminating task that may require extending the pacing for the unit.

Making an Rx Work

For an Rx to be successful, students must feel they are truly needed to solve the problem and community partners must believe the information students can provide will actually help them. If both are true, the project can produce one-of-a-kind results.

Because students are often unaware of current boundaries, they may consider approaches which initially seem impractical. Those approaches may turn out to be exactly the kind of new idea a stubborn problem needed.

Other important factors:

  1. Both parties should work to align the project to meet curriculum and community need. This can be done by meeting face-to-face twice: once at the community site and once at the school.
  2. The community partner should attempt to give feedback to students in an authentic way, just as they would to any employee working on a similar project.
  3. The project may conclude with the students creating an authentic product, but it is important not to overemphasize this portion of the Rx. Sometimes, the best learning experience is to understand just how complicated and messy community problems may be.

Making the Case for Rx

The Reciprocal Experiences for Deeper Learning Framework is in its infancy, but it is a simple idea that can be applied to a variety of contexts. Rxs can be year-long projects, but they can also be single lessons or one-day events.

Regardless, teachers and community members who participate in Rx cannot wait to share what they have learned. They have offered to facilitate professional development, present at national conferences, serve on curriculum committees, host student groups for free, apply for grants to call their work, and publish their stories locally and nationally.

The only question they ask now is, “What problem are we trying to solve next?”

This blog is based off of Meghan Raftery’s full VASCD Journal article.

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