Educational Approach

What is EL Education?

EL Education (EL) is an approach that promotes rigorous and engaging curriculum, inquiry-based teaching techniques, and a school culture that teaches compassion and good citizenship. At the heart of EL Education Schools are learning expeditions, which are interdisciplinary units aligned with state and district standards. The EL approach is experiential and project-based, involving students in original research, including field studies and experts, to create high-quality products for audiences beyond the classroom.

Principles of the approach: EL Education is built on ten "Design Principles" that reflect the educational values and beliefs of Outward Bound, the parent organization. These principles also reflect the design's connection to related thinking about teaching, learning, and the culture of schools.

  • Self-discovery: Students are challenged, experience perseverance, and discover they can do more than they think they can.
  • The having of wonderful ideas: Students are immersed in something important to think about, time to experiment, and time to make sense of what is observed.
  • Responsibility for learning: Students learn individually and collectively.
  • Empathy and caring: Students experience caring adults, and older students mentor younger ones.
  • Success and failure: Students build capacity and confidence to meet increasingly difficult challenges and learn from their difficulties.
  • Collaboration and competition: Students compete against their own personal best to achieve rigorous standards of excellence.
  • Diversity and inclusion: Students learn to value their own and others' histories and talents.
  • The natural world: Students learn from nature and learn to become stewards of the earth.
  • Solitude and reflection: Students explore their own thoughts, make their own connections, and create their own ideas.
  • Service and compassion: Students are strengthened by service to others.

Examples of practices you would observe in schools implementing Expeditionary Learning include:

  • Compelling topics and guiding questions within an investigative unit
  • Incorporating field work, local expertise, and service learning
  • Producing and presenting high quality projects
  • Using reading and writing across the curriculum
  • Intentional teaching of inquiry (high level thinking skills) within math, social studies, and science
  • Learning in and through the arts
  • Using effective assessment practices to design daily learning experiences
  • Fostering individual character
  • High expectations of all students
  • Promoting adventure and fitness
  • Using multiple sources of data to improve student achievement
  • Engaging families in the life of the school
  • Sharing leadership and working within teams to improve practice

For more information about EL practices, please visit the EL Education website.

What is the curriculum of EL Education?

EL is driven by the above principles and benchmark practices. It is an approach supported by high quality professional development, not a curriculum. The curriculum is the state standards, district learning targets for each grade level, and the educational materials selected by the school district. One way of thinking about this is that EL provides the structures and practices, and the state and district curriculum provide the content.

What does "inquiry-based instruction" mean?

Learning expeditions, investigative units of study developed from state standards and district targets in social studies and science, provide the context for explicit teaching in the thinking skills of inquiry. Students learn how to be good observers, ask relevant questions, read critically, record and organize information, select research topics, create drafts, and develop high quality products. Teachers develop units and lessons that use knowledge at all levels of Bloom's Taxonomy of thinking – remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. (To see a visual model of thinking skills, click on Bloom's Revised Taxonomy under "Educational Program.")

Will the approach be different from children's previous schools?

EL is a systematic collection of the best of practices in teaching and learning and the development of classroom and school culture. These practices exist in strong classrooms and schools in many places. EL provides the structure and professional development to create high quality instruction across each classroom of an entire school.

What advantages does EL Education bring to Springville?

  • EL provides a framework for developing traditions and a school culture that fosters a sense of belonging and supports the development of character.
  • EL provides the approach to implement the most effective instructional practices school wide, within the context of Oregon Standards and Beaverton School District Learning Targets.
  • There is intentional teaching of high level thinking through engaging and challenging work for all students. There are also structures for planning support for students lagging behind.

What is the research support?

The individual practices that comprise EL Education have strong theoretical and research support. Some practices, such as Writers Workshop using the 6 + 1 Trait Model (Northwest Regional Laboratory) and assessment for learning (Richard Stiggins) have been developed and researched in the Portland area and are becoming common practice in Beaverton.

As an approach to creating high-quality schools, EL Education has been proven effective by third-party research conducted by the Rand Corporation, the Academy for Educational Development, the American Institutes for Research and the National Staff Development Council. For more information about the evidence for success of EL schools, go to the EL Results Website.

How was EL Education selected for Springville?

EL Education has already been implemented at Health Sciences School, a Beaverton option school for students in grades 6-12. This context provided an opportunity for local observations and interviews with the principal and teachers.

In addition, from September to December 2008, founding Principal Cheryl Ames researched EL Education by:

  • Meeting with EL experts
  • Attending two EL institutes for teachers, one in assessment and another on teaching writing, to assess the scope and quality of professional development
  • Talking with teachers at these institutes about their experiences with EL
  • Attending a site visit involving observations and meetings with teachers and leaders in two EL Education schools in Rochester, New York

Before making the final selection, a rubric was developed to evaluate the quality of EL in several dimensions.

  • Match to Beaverton School District goals
  • Match to research-documented essential practices in instruction, assessment, developing character and school culture, and professional development
  • Demonstration of success in other locations
  • Accessibility of professional development
  • Quality of professional development
  • Appropriateness for K-8 school
  • Initial affordability
  • Sustainability (can EL practices be sustained with reduced budgets)

EL Education demonstrated a high score in each of these dimensions. For more information, consult the EL Education website.