The New School is perhaps best thought of as a middle/high school version of a liberal arts college. Our students feel an exciting mix of freedom and academic challenge. The average class size is 10 students, and teachers and students are on a first-name basis and interact as colleagues. Most importantly, the learning is purposeful and guided by essential questions, projects, and reasoned dialogue that require students to think critically and creatively and master essential academic skills. A New School graduate is an autonomous, skilled learner: an individual who “owns” his/her education and is fully prepared for college.
Memorization of information is not enough. Rather, students should be asked to use their minds well and create meaning from information. For us, this means a focus on applied learning and mastery of academic skills (e.g., constructing a cogent argument, annotating a scholarly text, writing an effective essay or lab report, conducting an experiment, creating an original work, participating in reasoned discussion).
A significant advantage of a skills-based education is that it allows students to choose their classes and determine the direction of projects. It also allows the teacher to focus on a concentrated body of knowledge, rather than “teach to the test” and race through a textbook of information. The result is what we call ownership: students feeling empowered and invested in their work, and also self-motivated in their lives in general.
Without question, the hallmark of The New School is our vibrant and thought-provoking classes, and each student plays a significant part in the learning within a class. Most importantly, with classes ranging from 5 to 12 students – and a student:teacher ratio of 6:1 – teachers work meaningfully with students, recognizing their strengths and weaknesses, giving them honest and specific feedback on their work, and challenging them to grow in all areas.
We believe the best tests are those that require students to apply course content and skills. Our small class sizes allow us to put this belief into practice, because teachers have a limited number of students and devote their energies to evaluating and providing feedback to students’ work. Rather than multiple choice tests, then, we use papers, presentations, portfolios, and projects to assess students.
We use the word dialogue a lot at The New School, and our pedagogy and culture are indeed rooted in collaboration between teachers and students. Here, the teachers are highly skilled, intelligent, and dedicated to working with students; and the students, in turn, are active participants in their education. Every individual learns differently – there is no-one-size-fits-all education – and such a collaborative model gives students both voice and a sense of purpose in their learning. It’s a powerful partnership, one that brings out the best in both students and teachers, and our graduates emerge not only having the academic skills for college, but as self-aware and poised individuals.