CHIP was a self-directed learning program that ran in a secondary school during the first semester of two consecutive years. It operated as a school within a regular secondary school. Students spent their days together in one dedicated classroom, and it was their choice to participate in the program.
The only requirement for students choosing the program was that they be committed to learning. An average of 25 male and female students enrolled in the program each year. They were comprised of a three-year cross-age mix ranging from grades 10 to 12 and they represented a good cross-section of the school’s population, approximately 800 students. Their lunch hour was the same as the other students and they participated in the extra-curricular activities of the main school. The CHIP room was not furnished like a typical classroom. The students set it up to best meet their needs. How the CHIP Students Organized Their Room describes how they arranged it.
The program was a move in the direction of democratic learning, but it was still far from a full implementation of it. CHIP students were expected to complete the requirements of four regular courses and to write the same exams as other students. They therefore didn’t have control over much of the content of their learning, but they did have control over when, where, how, with whom and for how long they worked on a task. For example, they could work on their math course when it suited them and for as long as they wanted. They had the freedom to plan their own days, but with the freedom came the need for them to learn the life skills of how to be responsible, self-directed learners.
Two teachers were involved in the program. One was on duty in the morning, the other in the afternoon. This provided the students with the resourcefulness of two teachers while also providing each teacher with enough time to build solid relationships with students. It also provided the teachers with a colleague for support and development.
The teachers’ role was non-coercive. They were facilitators, coaches, co-learners and equals striving to be good role models. Democratic processes were used to solve problems. If a resolution required a vote, the “one-person, one-vote” principle applied. Like the students, the teachers had only one vote with no veto power which was important to setting the stage for equality. It also meant that the teacher was not responsible for discipline. Students were responsible for themselves and if they had conflicts with others, they could launch a grievance through a judicial committee comprised of peers and designed to give real-life experience with legal matters.
The following links give a taste of the benefits to giving students more control over their learning. There are signs of the uniformity and conformity cultivated by traditional classrooms dissolving into an appreciation of differences, which speaks to the issue of bullying, and there are signs that the competitive nature of traditional education gives way to a more compassionate and collaborative learning environment.