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EL Education’s comprehensive improvement model transforms schools into hubs of opportunity where all students are able to reach their unique potential. The model redefines student achievement to align with what is most celebrated in adulthood—mastery of knowledge and skills, high-quality work, and character—and outlines a set of Core Practices that help bring these to life. Grounded in the belief that greater engagement leads to achievement, EL Education’s Core Practices support students in becoming self-directed learners as they grapple with complex, real-world issues like professionals. The model positions students as active and collaborative learners alongside their teachers, or as part of a crew rather than just as passengers.

The full EL Education model requires intensive in-person training and coaching over multiple years, and 152 schools spanning 35 states currently employ the full model. EL Education also has an open-source K-8 Language Arts Curriculum and a menu of professional development opportunities to support its implementation. 

  • Cognitive Thinking Skills
  • Academic Knowledge & Skills
  • Civic & Social Engagement
  • Integrated Identity
  • Learning Strategies & Habits
  • Relationship Skills
  • Advisories
  • Project-Based Learning
  • SEL and Well-being Supports
  • Inquiry-Based Learning
  • Resource Toolkit
  • 1:1 Coaching & Consulting
  • Professional Development

What Makes this Model Innovative?

Relevance
EL Education’s instructional approach is “real work for real students,” actualized through a curriculum that connects directly to real-world issues and needs. Students engage in case studies, fieldwork, collaboration with experts, and service learning.
Connection & Community
The EL Education model is grounded in the principle of “Crew”—the belief that all members of the school are strengthened by collaboration and service to one another. Crew is both a school structure (similar to advisory) and a spirit or way of being that is achieved through character education, team building, and adventure.
Active Self-Direction
Every aspect of the EL Education model supports students in taking responsibility for directing their own learning. Students track their progress toward standards-based learning targets, set goals, use assessments to understand the root causes of their successes and failures, and lead family conferences.

Goals

EL Education’s model is designed to transform public schools into places where all students achieve excellent, equitable outcomes by redefining and raising student achievement. They outline three dimensions of achievement. Dimensions of Student Achievement

Mastery of Knowledge and Skills

Students demonstrate both proficiency and deeper understanding in the knowledge and skills within each discipline and can apply that learning to novel tasks. Students demonstrate critical thinking and clear and compelling communication.

Character

Students develop the mindsets and skills to be effective learners in school, career, and life. They also work to become ethical people who use their learning to contribute to a better world.

High-Quality Work

Students create complex, beautiful, authentic work that connects to real-world issues and formats, and when possible, is meaningful to the community beyond school.

Experience

The EL Education model defines a set of Core Practices that fall within five domains of schooling that shape student achievement: Curriculum, Instruction, Culture and Character, Student-Engaged Assessment, and Leadership. In the full expression of the model, these practices are implemented simultaneously and naturally overlap, creating a student experience that is centered on real-world application (via Learning Expeditions), student-directed learning, and community (via the culture and structure of Crew). Core Practices Domains

Learning Expeditions are the hallmark of the EL Education curricular structure. Lasting 6–12 weeks, Learning Expeditions focus on a compelling topic that connects an academic concept to the real world and provides students with a variety of experiences that allow them to grapple with complex, real-world issues and produce high-quality work products as though they are working professionals Expeditions Sample Grade 1 Expedition Sample Grade 7 Expedition Sample Grade 10 Expedition.

Here are some examples of these experiences:

  • Case Studies: These are investigations of unique people, places, institutions, or events that help students focus research and become experts on a given topic.
  • Fieldwork: These are experiences where students use the same research methods and standards of presentation as professionals in a given field. Fieldwork Overview
  • Engaging with Experts: Teachers bring experts from the community into the classroom to collaborate with students on projects, teach them field-specific skills, and critique their work using professional standards. This helps students ensure the accuracy and quality of their work. Experts in the Classroom Guidance
  • Service Learning: Students create academic products that provide a service to the community.
  • Culminating Celebrations: To close out a Learning Expedition, students will share their learning in a professional manner that allows authentic audience members to ask questions and provide feedback to students. Sharing Learning in Kindergarten Sharing Learning in Middle School

The EL Education model supports students to direct and manage their own learning. One of the model’s crucial components is communicating with others about their progress. Here are some examples of experiences that promote student-directed learning:

 

Crew is both a culture and a structure in the EL Education model and is a key component of the Character Framework. Purpose of Crew Building the Culture & Structure of Crew

  • Crew Culture: The spirit of Crew serves as the foundation of an EL school’s culture where all community members work as a team to help one another become effective learners and ethical people who contribute to a better world. To that end, schools establish and cultivate their own Habits of Character (e.g., respect, responsibility, kindness, courage) and support students to apply them both within and beyond the classroom. Crew Culture
  • Crew Structure: As a structure, Crew involves regular meetings (similar to advisory) where students and an adult Crew leader build meaningful relationships, discuss academic progress, and work on character development, among other things. The structure of Crew ensures all students are known and supported by a caring adult as well as by a group of peers for the duration of their time in school. Crew Structure

Supporting Structures

Individual Core Practices can be integrated into an existing school model. However, full execution of the EL Education model will require significant shifts to the way most schools approach curriculum and instruction, culture, and use of time as described below.

The EL Education model requires schools to align their curricula, instruction, and assessments to the three Dimensions of Student Achievement. 

To implement the EL Education model with fidelity, schools should be prepared to revise their existing approaches so they align with the Dimensions of Student Achievement. A subset of the model’s 38 core practices that specifically address curriculum, instruction, and student-engaged assessment breaks down how schools can bring the Dimensions to life. Core Practices

At a high level, schools should prepare for the following:

  • Curriculum: Use, design, or enhance existing curricula so that they allow students to grapple with standards-based content, complete projects aligned to real-world needs, and produce high-quality work. 
  • Instruction: Implement instruction that centers student voice and provides opportunities for critical thinking, inquiry, and collaboration.
  • Assessment: Establish assessment practices that position students as leaders of their own learning.

Every member of the school community should be part of a Crew that supports and strengthens one another.

Leaders and teachers establish a culture of Crew among staff, including structures for cultivating a positive team culture such as team building activities, protocols for discussing diversity and equity, and conflict resolution processes. They also participate in Crew meetings focused on staff relationships, emotional health, and more. In turn, teachers foster a culture of Crew among students through practices that help students feel a sense of purpose and belonging within the community. 

Crew is also a structure—similar to advisory in secondary classrooms or morning meetings in elementary classrooms—where small groups of students engage in a variety of activities focused on building relationships or developing character.

Adults must demonstrate a willingness and capacity to reimagine many aspects of their school’s systems and structures to implement EL Education’s comprehensive model.

In addition to learning and championing the Core Practices, leaders must also commit to facilitating one-on-one or small-group coaching cycles to help launch and improve the execution of new school-wide systems and structures. 

Teachers must be willing to implement changes to their curriculum, instruction, and assessment in line with EL Education’s Core Practices and Dimensions of Student Achievement—a task that requires hard work, time, and a belief in student-directed, real-world learning. In addition, staff must be prepared to assume the role of Crew leader and commit to developing meaningful relationships with a small group of students over the course of multiple years.

Time must be set aside for Core Practices such as daily Crew meetings, Learning Expeditions, and Student-Led Conferences.

When learning to implement the EL Education model, leaders are taught to align school calendars and schedules to the vision they establish for their specific EL Education school, which sometimes requires that they advocate for control over time in conversations with district leaders and school boards. Here are some examples of a few key Core Practices and their influence on school schedules:

  • Crew: Teacher and student schedules include 30–60 minute Crew meetings, ideally every day. In elementary schools, this often takes the form of a morning meeting; in secondary schools, it serves a similar function to advisory. 
  • Learning Expeditions: Teachers are supported in scheduling Learning Expeditions multiple times throughout the school year. Learning Expeditions are typically 6–12 weeks long and involve various experiences that immerse students in real-world learning and allow them to produce high-quality, professional work.
  • Student-Directed Learning: The school also schedules periodic activities that promote student-directed learning, such as Student-Led Conferences, which occur twice per year, and Passage Presentations, which occur once per year for students transitioning between lower and upper schools or graduating.

The model is best supported when schools build relationships with community organizations and cultural institutions to support Learning Expeditions.

A hallmark of the EL Education model is the Learning Expedition. Students engage in fieldwork at community organizations and cultural institutions, and teachers bring experts into the classroom to mentor students in aspects of their profession. These experiences rely on the cultivation of strong relationships with community partners.

A strategy for continuous improvement is vital and EL Education supports partner schools to establish one in their context.

In the initial years of partnering with EL Education, schools that implement the full model are supported to establish a strategy for continuous improvement and are taught about the effective use of data and change management.

The EL Education model requires schools to align their curricula, instruction, and assessments to the three Dimensions of Student Achievement. 

To implement the EL Education model with fidelity, schools should be prepared to revise their existing approaches so they align with the Dimensions of Student Achievement. A subset of the model’s 38 core practices that specifically address curriculum, instruction, and student-engaged assessment breaks down how schools can bring the Dimensions to life. Core Practices

At a high level, schools should prepare for the following:

  • Curriculum: Use, design, or enhance existing curricula so that they allow students to grapple with standards-based content, complete projects aligned to real-world needs, and produce high-quality work. 
  • Instruction: Implement instruction that centers student voice and provides opportunities for critical thinking, inquiry, and collaboration.
  • Assessment: Establish assessment practices that position students as leaders of their own learning.

Every member of the school community should be part of a Crew that supports and strengthens one another.

Leaders and teachers establish a culture of Crew among staff, including structures for cultivating a positive team culture such as team building activities, protocols for discussing diversity and equity, and conflict resolution processes. They also participate in Crew meetings focused on staff relationships, emotional health, and more. In turn, teachers foster a culture of Crew among students through practices that help students feel a sense of purpose and belonging within the community. 

Crew is also a structure—similar to advisory in secondary classrooms or morning meetings in elementary classrooms—where small groups of students engage in a variety of activities focused on building relationships or developing character.

Adults must demonstrate a willingness and capacity to reimagine many aspects of their school’s systems and structures to implement EL Education’s comprehensive model.

In addition to learning and championing the Core Practices, leaders must also commit to facilitating one-on-one or small-group coaching cycles to help launch and improve the execution of new school-wide systems and structures. 

Teachers must be willing to implement changes to their curriculum, instruction, and assessment in line with EL Education’s Core Practices and Dimensions of Student Achievement—a task that requires hard work, time, and a belief in student-directed, real-world learning. In addition, staff must be prepared to assume the role of Crew leader and commit to developing meaningful relationships with a small group of students over the course of multiple years.

Time must be set aside for Core Practices such as daily Crew meetings, Learning Expeditions, and Student-Led Conferences.

When learning to implement the EL Education model, leaders are taught to align school calendars and schedules to the vision they establish for their specific EL Education school, which sometimes requires that they advocate for control over time in conversations with district leaders and school boards. Here are some examples of a few key Core Practices and their influence on school schedules:

  • Crew: Teacher and student schedules include 30–60 minute Crew meetings, ideally every day. In elementary schools, this often takes the form of a morning meeting; in secondary schools, it serves a similar function to advisory. 
  • Learning Expeditions: Teachers are supported in scheduling Learning Expeditions multiple times throughout the school year. Learning Expeditions are typically 6–12 weeks long and involve various experiences that immerse students in real-world learning and allow them to produce high-quality, professional work.
  • Student-Directed Learning: The school also schedules periodic activities that promote student-directed learning, such as Student-Led Conferences, which occur twice per year, and Passage Presentations, which occur once per year for students transitioning between lower and upper schools or graduating.

The model is best supported when schools build relationships with community organizations and cultural institutions to support Learning Expeditions.

A hallmark of the EL Education model is the Learning Expedition. Students engage in fieldwork at community organizations and cultural institutions, and teachers bring experts into the classroom to mentor students in aspects of their profession. These experiences rely on the cultivation of strong relationships with community partners.

A strategy for continuous improvement is vital and EL Education supports partner schools to establish one in their context.

In the initial years of partnering with EL Education, schools that implement the full model are supported to establish a strategy for continuous improvement and are taught about the effective use of data and change management.

Supports Offered

EL Education’s comprehensive school design model requires a 4-year commitment and provides ongoing, intensive support. Below are details about those supports as well as stand-alone resources and services EL Education provides for schools that do not have the capacity or desire to commit to the full model at this time.

School Design Partnership
Cost Associated

Schools accepted as EL Education School Design partners engage in a 4-year process for a fee. This involves a predetermined schedule of direct service days as well as slots at EL Education conferences, seminars, and institutes via the following timeline:

  • 4-month partnership development process
  • 5-month partnership launch
  • 4 years of support with school-wide implementation
  • Optional support for continuous improvement years 5+

As of 2022, 42 of the 152 EL Education schools have gone through the process of being Credentialed, which means that they have been an EL partner school for at least four years and have met a set of rigorous goals and outcomes aligned to the three Dimensions of Student Achievement. See pages 16-18 of the partnership document for an overview of credentialing requirements. Request for Partners

Core Practices
Free

Schools that do not have the desire or capacity to commit to becoming an EL Education school but would still like to implement some of its research-based practices can refer to the open-source Core Practice document for access to the 38 practices and steps for implementation. School design partners also use this document in their daily work.

EL Education Library
Free

EL Education has a searchable library of videos, guidelines, and artifacts on its website. Some resources are open-source while others require a $35 annual subscription.

K-8 Language Arts Curriculum
Free

The EL Education K-8 Language Arts Curriculum was created by teachers for teachers and aligns to college and career readiness standards. Currently reaching over 500,000 students, the open-source curriculum is designed to support equity and inclusion, social-emotional learning, a deep understanding of rich literature and complex texts, and real-world learning. It also supports students to own their learning.

Curriculum Services
Cost Associated

Schools that do not have the desire or capacity to commit to becoming an EL Education school but would still like to receive support to implement the K-8 Language Arts Curriculum (which was designed around many of the same principles as the comprehensive model) can pay to receive curriculum support services. Options include:

  • Professional development
  • Self-paced, stand-alone online courses
  • District partnerships
  • Coaching

Reach

152
Schools
35
States
60000
Students
53%
Free & Reduced Lunch

Impact

EL Education’s whole-school model has been shown to improve student performance on both Reading/English language arts and math tests across all student groups, including students receiving Special Education services and students who are from low-income families. Mathematica Policy Research, 2013

  • Overall, students outperform peers by 10 points on Reading/ELA exams and 6 points on math exams.
  • Special Education students outperform peers by 9 points on Reading/ELA exams and by 6 points on math exams.
  • Low-income students outperform peers by 12 points on Reading/ELA exams and by 7 points on math exams.
  • After three years of attending an EL Education middle school, students gain an average of 10 months in math achievement and 7 months in reading achievement.

Additionally, a study by the UMASS Donahue Institute calculated the number of non-proficient students in comparison schools who would have been expected to reach proficiency on state exams had they been taught in an EL school as captured below. UMASS Donahue Institute, 2011

  • Elementary ELA: 47% in 2008; 62.6% in 2009
  • Elementary Math: 59% in 2008; 71.6% in 2009
  • Middle School ELA: 44.3% in 2008; 71.6% in 2009

A 2019 study looked at whether students in EL Education school develop stronger ethical character than students in non-EL comparison groups. They found that EL Education students have a greater sense of purpose and belonging and are more likely to say that their teachers care about them. EL Education Annual Report, 2020

  • In 2019, EL Education high schools saw a 94% graduation rate and 94% college acceptance rate. EL Education Annual Report, 2019
  • In 2020, the 42 Credentialed Schools also saw a 94% graduation rate and 94% college acceptance rate (EL Education Annual Report, 2020).

Contact

Ryan Maxwell
Managing Director, Partnerships
August 1 - 3, 2023
Virtual

EL Education: Implementing Toward Impact--K-8 Language Arts Curriculum

EL Education is transforming literacy education with an acclaimed curriculum, proven professional development, and a suite of resources that empower teachers to master their greatest aspirations and build equitable and inclusive learning opportunities for all students. Join this professional learning experience to discover:
-How students can be engaged in meaningful work that fosters both rigor and joy in learning through the EL Education K-8 Language Arts Curriculum.
-How teachers and leaders can implement the EL Education K-8 Language Arts Curriculum towards impact in the form of equitable and excellent student outcomes across dimensions of achievement.

Register
December 7 - 9, 2022
In-person

EL Education: 2022 National Conference

The 2022 EL Education National Conference will be held in person in Chicago, IL, from December 7th to 9th. Save the date and plan to join more than 1,000 fellow educators, experts, and innovators at #ELNC22 as we strengthen our support for the whole child and celebrate remarkable student achievement across three dimensions.

Register
February 6 - 8, 2023
Virtual

EL Education: We Are Crew

In EL Education schools, Crew is both a structure and a culture. Join this professional learning experience to discover:
–How Crew is an engine that drives equitable outcomes for all students.
–How to implement the structure of Crew to cultivate a culture of Crew-centered on belonging, purpose and agency- among staff and students alike.

Learn more