LYNDON CENTER — Lyndon Institute is about to embark on its sixth annual January Term (J-Term), a three-week intersession between the fall and spring semesters. This year, J-Term begins today, Jan. 13 and conclude with a public exhibition of student learning on the evening of Friday, Jan. 31.
J-Term was borne out of a series of conversations between a group of teachers at Lyndon Institute nearly seven years ago. The group considered a driving question: If you had the opportunity to reinvent school, what would it look like? It’s an unusual question for a school to ask, and it drew some initial curiosity from LI faculty members. At the first meeting, a handful of teachers bounced around various ideas in casual conversation, but reached no firm conclusions. A couple of weeks later, the follow-up meeting drew even more teachers. A third meeting found even more teachers at the table. Soon after, a guest was invited to share some perspectives on the prospect: Dr. Chris Unger of Northeastern University’s Doctor of Education program.
Dr. Unger, a firm believer in connecting both teachers and students to their passions as a part of the teaching and learning process, asked the members of the group to introduce themselves. Each teacher took a turn sharing their name and specific discipline. Dr. Unger thanked the group and then said he’d like to know not just each teacher’s name and discipline, but their passions as well. Again, teachers introduced themselves by name, this time including something that they were passionate about.
The array of responses was as varied as the individuals in the room. One teacher mentioned her interest in baking; another described his passion for DJ’ing music. Yet another described his interest in fly-fishing. What if these individual passions were the building blocks for designing engaging learning opportunities for students for a few weeks? This is how J-Term at Lyndon Institute was born.
LI’s latest rendition of J-Term brings with it a mixture of both established courses and new offerings provided over four instructional blocks per day. While many courses are one block in length, some are all-day experiences that include a variety of internships within the community. Students are given the opportunity to fill their day with the courses they want to take. Regardless of the length and type of course, each learning experience has been designed to help LI students develop their skill sets within five specific domains: Clear and Effective Communication; Self-Direction; Responsible and Involved Community Engagement; Creative and Practical Problem-Solving; and Collaboration. These domains represent LI’s set of transferable skills, intended to be applicable in every class as well as in life beyond the school setting.
J-Term is a product of the passion for teaching and learning. When provided with the opportunity to tap their own personal interests and creativity, teachers design engaging learning experiences. In other words, J-Term provides opportunities for both students and teachers to engage in and be inspired by their own deeper learning. It turns out that this inspiration has spread beyond the local communities in the Northeast Kingdom. While the concept of J-Term isn’t unique to LI, the school has recently served as an example for other schools that are considering or have recently embarked on a similar endeavor in states like Connecticut, Ohio and Pennsylvania. LI’s J-Term recently caught the attention of cognitive scientist, educator and author Dr. Lindsay Portnoy in her recent book, Designed to Learn: Using Design Thinking to Bring Purpose and Passion to the Classroom.
While designing learning experiences that are meaningful and engaging is fun and memorable, it is also an enormous amount of work since each teacher designs nearly all such experiences from scratch. That’s the beauty of J-Term: the learning and the work are one and the same for both teachers and students alike.
Submitted by Adam Norwood, Ed.D., Assistant Head for Curriculum & Instruction, Lyndon Institute.