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Expeditionary Learning Teaching Strategies

Janelle Cox

Expeditionary Learning is an educational approach that can be described as, “Learning by doing.” With so many different teaching strategies out there today, this particular one has a lot of people talking. Most schools are set up to use teaching strategies to reach masses, and focus on students who are visual and auditory learners. Expeditionary learning, or “EL” as they call it, encourages students to learn by doing, which helps to reach the kinesthetic learners who learn best through hands-on experiences. Here we’ll take a closer look at what the buzz is all about surrounding these teaching strategies, and learn more about the expeditionary approach to learning.

What Exactly Are Expeditionary Learning Teaching Strategies?

Since its inception over 20 years ago, EL has set out to create classrooms where students can achieve it all, and become valuable members of society. Through “Learning by doing,” teachers in EL classrooms focus on students’ character growth, mastery of skills, teamwork, reflection, and delivering high-quality student work. What makes EL classrooms different than traditional classrooms is, instead of sitting in the classroom all day long, EL students’ schedules are broken up (usually into projects) and can be done either inside or outside of the classroom.

Dimensions of Student Achievement

According to the EL Education website, there are three dimensions of student achievement. These three elements serve as the foundation of EL education, and were designed under the notion that once students graduate from school, they will be judged as adults, not by their performance on basic skills tests, but by the quality of their work and character. Here we’ll take a closer look at these three core components.

Mastery of Knowledge

This core area focuses on students having a deeper understanding of concepts and showing mastery of skills. Students also learn to apply their knowledge through meaningful tasks. They learn to think critically, analyze, and combine complex ideas. They are able to communicate clearly and effectively across all disciplines.

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Student Character

The second core element in the dimension of student achievement is the quality of a student’s character. Students learn to become effective learners, and develop the skills that are necessary to succeed in all aspect of their lives – college, career, and beyond. They learn to stand up for what is right, and have compassion, respect, and empathy for others. They do community service and learn to contribute to the world to make it a better place.

High-Quality Work

The last core area for student achievement is demonstrating high-quality work. Students must demonstrate higher-order thinking skills, craftsmanship, and original thinking. They must be able to connect to real-world issues, and be a meaningful part of the community.

Expeditionary Learning Design Principles

There are 10 building blocks to EL educating that teachers and students follow. When these principles are followed, students develop the knowledge and skills that will help them through not only their academic career, but their lives afterward.

  1. Primacy of Self Discovery – Learning happens through emotion, discovery, and passion.
  2. Having Wonderful Ideas –Time is given to learn, experiment, and observe.
  3. Responsibility of Learning – Students learn individually as well as part of a group.
  4. Empathy and Caring – Both students and teachers are respected, and there’s a mutual trust.
  5. Success and Failure – In order to succeed, students must take risks and learn from their mistakes.
  6. Collaboration and Competition – Group and individual learning experiences are highlighted.
  7. Diversity and Inclusion – Students value their talents as well as those of other cultures.
  8. The Natural World – Students develop a respectful relationship with the natural world.
  9. Solitude and Reflection – Students learn to explore their thoughts and exchange reflections.
  10. Service and Compassion – EL Education prepares students to utilize their skills and be of service.

Delivering Results

As mentioned earlier, the EL approach to learning has gotten a lot of buzz and that’s because it’s outperforming other techniques. According to the EL Education website, not only is this approach preparing children for higher education, but students have improved in test sores and graduation rates. In fact, expeditionary schools outperform district averages in both reading and math. Whether this approach is implemented into a charter school, district school, or any other type of school, research shows that results would be similar when using this approach.

Another impressive result is how students perform over a period of time using the EL approach to learning. The EL Education website found that after three years of attending a school in the EL Education network, students gain an average of 10 months in math achievement, and 7 months in reading achievement. There are now over 30 countries with schools in the network, 152 schools across the United States, and 50,000 students who participate in EL Education.

Expeditionary learning appears to have taken off, and more and more teachers and school districts are jumping on the bandwagon. With its impression benefits and results, we see why.

Do you participate in the expeditionary learning approach? Please share your thoughts and opinions on this and your teaching strategies in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you.


 Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.