LifeReady Teaching & Learning at McDonogh School

Key Ideas

  • LifeReady is McDonogh’s Academic Strategic Plan, which was launched in 2014

  • It was developed over roughly two years and was built on input from stakeholder groups from the McDonogh community: faculty, students, parents, alumni, newly-admitted parents, the administrative team, and the board of trustees

  • LifeReady is McDonogh’s understanding and plan for implementing, in a purposeful and deliberate way, 21st-century learning into its already successful liberal arts curriculum

    • 21st-Century Skills (sometimes called “The Four C’s”)

      • Creativity

      • Communication

      • Critical Thinking

      • Collaboration

    • The plan promises to develop these 21st-century skills in students while at McDonogh

    • Ideally, the pedagogical approaches utilized to teach these high-order skills simultaneously deliver core content that makes up McDonogh’s liberal arts curriculum

      • For example, project-based learning engages students in solving real-world problems. As they pursue solutions to these problems, they necessarily learn traditional content since that information is needed to complete the project.

      • We concur with Bo Adams’s big question about education: “If school is meant to prepare kids for real life, then why doesn’t school look more like real life?”

  • Beware of the false dichotomy: when a school commits to blending 21st-century learning into its program and seeks to move away from teacher-centered instruction (teacher at the head of the classroom, students in their seats), this does not mean that we are abandoning the liberal arts curriculum (English, history, science, world language, fine and performing arts, mathematics). In fact, liberal arts curricula prepares students to think well and to gain critical knowledge; it’s the pedagogy—i.e. the mode of teaching—that changes.

  • At the heart of LifeReady is the immutable conviction that learning must be deep. This is learning that

    • resides in long-term memory (not just for the “big test”)

    • changes our ways of understanding

    • can be transferred to other, novel circumstances

  • Deep learning is best achieved when students are

    • motivated

    • when they enjoy their learning

    • when it involves them in active ways

    • when students come to school to think and not to merely remember (memory is a consequence of thinking; to learn something, one must think about it)


Does 21st-century, student-centered learning mean that teachers don’t teach?

Not at all. In fact, teachers must continually renew and learn in order to be the best coaches to student learning they can be. But, rather than teachers merely delivered content from the front of the room and testing students on this information, teachers become active and responsive to students who are inquiring, creating, and discovering. The science says that we learn what we think about and not what we are told to remember. Remembering is a consequence of thinking. (Daniel T. Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School?)


If school is more about projects and student-centered learning, will school still be rigorous?

Student-centered work will actually get more rigorous. When students are responsible for much more than merely memorizing for tests that only have one audience (i.e., the teacher), then they have greater responsibility to each other, and this leads to greater motivation and investment in their learning. What’s more, LifeReady learning requires both formative and summative assessments. Formative assessment refers to the kind of timely and rich feedback a person gets while learning something—think of how a coach helps an athlete in practice or how a director helps and actor in the studio. Summative assessments are tests and other culminating demonstrations of mastery and achievement. When the assessing of learning happens during process, the learning is deeper and “stickier” for students. It also prevents students from procrastinating, hiding, or simply “getting it done.”


Where is the research to support the direction that LifeReady proposes?

The world is full of scholarship on 1) the need to change educational practice and 2) the science to support it.


Why Change?

Tony Wagner, The Global Achievement Gap

Howard Gardner, Five Minds for the Future

Denise Pope, Doing School

Bob Lenz, et. al., Transforming Schools


The Science?

Daniel T. Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School?

Peter C. Brown, et. al., Make it Stick

Susan Ambrose, et. al., How We Learn

John Hattie, Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn

Mariale Hardiman, The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model