Alternatives to Traditional Classroom Learning

Written by Sally Bunce, a Clonlara School guest blogger, (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).


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Although still swimming against the mainstream, alternative schooling has been present in America since colonial times. Education varied depending on wealth and location and could have been conducted at home by private tutors or in groups under religious guidance, for example. In fact, there seems to have been many more accepted options back then, which have been filtered and ‘refined’ into the main educational systems that the majority follow today.

These systems can be pretty restrictive, though, considering how unique each child on the planet is. And the systems don’t really seem to have developed or adapted much in line with the changing world. Coercive schooling can be difficult for children. Natural instincts to explore, question and play are muffled in favor of strict curriculums enforced through the logic of reward and punishment. By nature, children are designed to control their own learning. You can see this working up until the schooling age. At this point, though, learning becomes a chore.

Alternative learning is about creating the worlds required for children to continue to flourish — environments that encourage curiosity, exploration and diversity. Suppressing these vital instincts can be crushing and promote feelings of anxiety and helplessness that may become lodged in the mind. These feelings continue throughout the schooling system and a legacy of fear and inadequacy often rules. You don’t have to look far to see this at work. Placing a child within a school that will nurture their spirit as well as their academic spark seems to be the obvious choice when it comes to education.

Imagine a school where children could continue to learn in ways that make them feel happy and calm, where parents can contribute to their child’s particular learning scheme so that the right approach is taken for the individual and where children have choices. There are a variety of alternative learning options available and it’s worth exploring all avenues if you have an interest. Benefits of alternative schooling include the following.

Tailored Programs

Teachers, specialists and parents work together to design a plan of education that suits the needs of the child. This always involves looking at a wide range of learning approaches and materials. Although it takes time, the plan will evolve with the student and the results are extraordinary.

Holistic Approach

Most schools focus purely on the academic at the cost of individuality and creativity. Alternative methods look at what’s beneficial for the child’s happiness and health because these things have a direct effect upon development and achievement.


Students can take charge and have a say in their education. There’s not a blanket curriculum, so there is flexibility in how students choose to study. No matter how old a child is, feeling independent at the same time as knowing you are safe is an important but sadly overlooked necessity.


No matter where you come from or what decision has led you to alternative education, these schools have an inclusive, nurturing philosophy that embraces all types of learners.

Sally is a serial networker and writes for Richmond University. She enjoys traveling around the country, advising students on how to make the most out of their studies, encouraging people to explore all of the options available to them.


Road Trip of a Lifetime

This infographic was supplied by Danny Dodd, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

We know that many of you travel and coordinate that as part of your schooling.  A few things to keep in mind…….

Are you and your family planning the road trip of a life time? As exciting and thrilling as road trips can be they can turn into a real bummer if you are ill prepared. Prior to leaving for your road trip vacay there are some tasks you should check off your to do list. Make sure all regularly scheduled maintenance is completed on your vehicle such as oil changes, tune ups, or changing of brake pads. Be sure tire pressure is at an acceptable level and tires are free of bulges and tears. If your battery has build up on the terminals clean it off. Now that you have completed car maintenance tasks go ahead and pack up the vehicle, do not forget your first aid kit in case of emergencies. Remember delicious snacks and movies for the kids. When routing your route with your GPS check out rest stops you may want to stop at along the way. Once you are on your way practice excellent road manners and your defensive drivingskills to ensure your road trip is a safe one.


About the Author:  Danny Dodd is a defenstive driving instructor with a passion for helping people become better, safer drivers.  

Collaborative Learning in the Classroom

Written by Gael Luzet, a Clonlara School guest blogger and author of the Collaborative Learning Pocketbook (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

Much has been said recently about the power of learning with others, but how can collaborative learning make a significant difference in the classroom?

Collaborative learning is a planned opportunity for two or more people to work together in an educational context. It is not just about putting pupils in groups, it is about facilitating their team work and providing great outcomes. Historically, collaborative learning has always been at the forefront of effective teaching and learning. Plato in Ancient Greece used to give his students philosophical dilemmas to solve through a dialogical process. Students who collaborate effectively have developed important lifelong learning skills such as:

•    The ability to express their thoughts with clarity
•    The ability to listen to and understand others
•    Awareness  and management of their own emotions and feelings

Collaborative learning tasks tend to be open-ended and require high levels of thinking. They demand a wide range of skills that younger learners may not have acquired yet. It is important to assist them in improving their cooperative skillset. Students learn that the answer does not always have to come from the teacher. In fact, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator, a guide on the side who paves the way for learners to acquire knowledge.

Thorough planning is crucial for the teacher-facilitator who ventures into the collaborative learning world. Set the ground rules for group work, which can be discussed with your class in advance (pupils should take it in turn to speak, make eye contact and encourage everyone to participate, be silent during instructions, etc…). It is useful for the teacher to have a zero noise signal. A whistle, a bell or a hand clap could do the trick. Consider the composition of your groups: should pupils sit in friendship, mixed gender or mixed ability groups? How many pupils should there be per group? How about the roles within each team (a leader, a scribe, a researcher, etc…)?

And last but not least, give careful consideration to unwilling learners, the ones who sit with their arms crossed or a giant bubble gum in their mouth when you speak to the class. Regardless of their reluctance to participate, they have to be included in the task. They need to be placed with the right peers and the teacher has to boost their motivation before group work starts. By and large, children crave acceptance from their peers. Reluctance generally comes from a lack of confidence buried behind a confrontational or indifferent front. When handled properly, collaborative learning helps the unwilling learner to become a more active (and happier) classroom participant.

Strategies for collaborative learning range from the simplest technique to the more complex one; from the small scale paired activity to the full blown group project which stretches over several lessons. Here are four simple strategies to facilitate group learning:

1.    To create mixed groups of pupils, give each member in the class a number from one to four. Ask all the ones, the twos, the threes and the fours to sit together. You now have four heterogeneous groups of learners ready to tackle the collaborative task ahead.
2.    To encourage students to talk to each other, sit them opposite each other in a long line and ask the students on one side to move down a seat every 3 to 5 minutes. This speed dating-style activity works well when the task involves peer questioning or data gathering.
3.    Mind maps and graphic organizers are the perfect partners to classroom collaboration. Enthusiastic pupils sitting together around a large mind map are more likely to discuss, negotiate, evaluate and compromise.
4.    Group activities such as the card game ‘Higher or Lower?’ provide a great opportunity to develop ordering and sequencing skills. Create a set of cards with ideas to rank in order of importance, value, chronology, etc… Ask pupils in pairs (or threes) to reveal each card in turn, and place it higher or lower than the other visible cards on the table.

It is generally accepted that once children understand the value of working together in unity, performance, motivation and outcomes improve.  Of course, children should also be given time to think for themselves and work on their own, but collaborative learning adds another string to their skills bow. A string which is invaluable as it gives them the confidence to interact effectively with the world around them.

Author Bio:  Gael Luzet, Advanced Skills Teacher, teacher trainer and author of the Collaborative Learning Pocketbook

Project-Based Learning In Today’s Classroom

Written by a guest blogger from Launch Education Group (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

“When are we ever going to use this?”- Many teachers have been stopped mid-lecture by a student asking this simple question.  And you probably have experienced days in the classroom where you have wondered the same thing: How will memorizing the phases of mitosis benefit my life, especially when I will forget everything right after I finish the test?

Successful school drop-outs like Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook; Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple; and Alex Banyan, the world’s youngest venture capitalist, are making the world rethink how education should be done. These men succeeded not because of the information they crammed for a test but rather because they were able to critically think, problem solve, and collaborate with others. As schools begin to recognize the importance of these skills, the lecture-and-test style that bored so many of us is being replaced with a new style called Project-Based Learning.

Not the Projects of Old:
Before you start thinking “I did projects in school and they were useless,” you should know that Project-Based Learning (PBL) is not the same as the family tree you had to create. Where projects are done after the learning is finished and by following the teacher’s instructions, PBL is done as a way of learning the information by using investigation, problem solving, and collaboration. In an article on PBL, Launch Education describes Project-Based Learning as a way of establishing skills that will continue to benefit them as they grow older.

Project Based Learning begins when the teacher and students contemplate a question like “Should our school cafeteria use a compost system?” After discussing the question as a class and identifying many areas that need to be considered, students work as teams to provide an answer. In order to find the answer, students will need to research many areas like how is composting done, what are its benefits, how costly is it to implement, and how would our school use it. Through PBL, students not only learn about the process of compost; they also see the relevancy of the information. Additionally, the process demands the skills employers are looking for: critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration as the students work together as a team. Launch Education explains that it is a method that “allows children to explore their own talents and ways of thinking.”

No More Daydreaming at your Desk
Students complain frequently that school is so boring, and frequently, they are right. Sitting at a desk and listening as a teacher drones on is not something that many of us enjoyed. This is one more traditional classroom set-up that PBL is changing. Project Based Learning rejects the concept of a passive learner. Students are not vessels for stuffing information. Instead, PBL makes students active learners, placing them at the central role of the process where they are directly engaging in the concepts and their implications. By getting students active in their learning, PBL takes the focus of the classroom off the teachers and places it on the students. Teachers become guides who assist students in their learning process.

This departure from traditional education is becoming especially popular in the political world. With the falling test scores, increasing drop-outs, and failing schools, the educational world is becoming an increasingly heated issue, and education reform is on every politician’s radar.  Politicians like mayoral candidate for NYC Jack Hidary are using Project Based Learning as one of their methods for reforming the school. He suggests that PBL will be more effective for, “… Preparing students for the kinds of jobs we have now in our economy.”  As more politicians adopt PBL as part of their educational platform, this style of learning may gain more ground in the classroom.

One Method Among Many
While PBL is beginning to gain popularity, it is important to remember that it is not meant to be the only method of learning used in the classroom. The National Academy Foundation recommends using Project Based Learning for learning goals that include “applied learning and demonstration of deep core understanding,” but not for things like spelling or addition.  With effective preparation and placement, PBL is an effective strategy for preparing our students with relevant skills; without preparation and proper usage, it can be just as ineffective as a lecture.

Doing What’s Best for Our Students
In the end, Project-Based Learning is all about engaging students in real-world scenarios and forcing them to use real-life skills to solve them. When we consider that school is a method of preparing students to be successful, thoughtful members of our society, we see that PBL is a very beneficial tool. By starting students young and engaging them in this kind of thinking and learning, we are creating the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders for our world.

How to Handle Dyslexia

Written by Sharon Simmons, a Clonlara School guest blogger  (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***)

Dyslexia can cause various learning difficulties because it is a language based learning disability. The symptoms of this disability is a range of learning difficulties. This condition that can affect any person of any age, gender or ethnicity. Most of the time the problems of word recognition is what comes as the very first sign of this condition. The brains of those who suffer from this condition see the words differently than a non-dyslexic person. When an individual found to be having difficulties of reading fluently, writing, misspelling the chances are high that person is having a dyslexic condition. During the childhood sometimes these conditions are not recognized. Then further studies such as handling grammar becomes even harder since they have difficulty of understanding words. Performing mathematical calculations is another common difficulty for dyslexic students.

The dyslexic people often find it difficult to have a clear conversation with the others. As they have problems of handling the language what they say might mean very little or even be taken as gibberish. Often the children who have this condition gets misunderstood as lazy or dumb. This is a really sad situation since they are practically getting punished for a condition they are born with. Also it can affect their personality when they are labelled like this. How much they try they will not be able to improve themselves as it is beyond their personal control. When they grow up this seeps in their thinking and they find themselves to be unsuccessful individuals and that may lead to many other psychological conditions as well.

So it is really important to have them consulted with a qualified professional. If a child is identified with this condition at a very early stage a considerable change can be made to the way the he/she learns and can be trained to learn the way they understand. Sometimes when they read the context does not get to their heads but if they hear the same context they will perfectly understand. So it is mainly a way of understanding their capabilities of grasping and processing information on a personal level. Since it is a neurobiological disorder the way each person react to sound and sight may be unique to each person. Hence the way you treat one dyslexic child may be totally different to the way another child with the same condition will react.

After all adults with dyslexia who happened to get the right guidance can blossom into professional individuals. There are so many engineering, architecture,design and medical professionals who had struggled with their primary education before they got the appropriate attention for their dyslexia. Though it is said that some of those professionals still have difficulty with time management and organization.

Unfortunately there is no cure for this condition. But proper diagnosis and dedication from the family members and friends can help these individuals to learn any subject just like the others and achieve high school or even university education.

About the author:  This is a guest article by Sharon Simmons from Paddington. Sharon is working as a freelance content writer. Currently Sharon is writing some interesting articles about internships in Madrid. Have a look on her Tweets@SharonSimmons90″.

Youngest Entrepreneurs Reflect A Creative Society

This infographic was supplied by Gerri, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***)

Nice compliment to our February 15, 2013 blog post.


Youngest Entrepreneurs Reflect A Creative Society
Experience still counts for a lot in today’s marketplace, but in an age when electronics and software are such hot commodities, it’s no wonder that the wild, creative minds of youth are profiting so much from today’s economic climate. Taking risks and thinking outside of the box are two things that young people excel at without question, and although these young entrepreneurs must also keep a level head at appropriate times, they’re showing the world a whole new kind of innovation and wealth.
Many of today’s richest young people have developed online products, a relatively new marketplace and industry that older businessmen aren’t familiar with and therefore leave to the younger people to figure it out. Judging from the long list of young millionaires making big bucks from the online website and software world, it’s very much a young man’s game in the tech universe. Take a look at some of the world’s richest, and most creative young lives and see for yourself.

Source: Entrepreneurs Under 30 … -under-30/

Managing Brilliance: Prepping a Gifted Child for College Admissions

Written by Jason Lum, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***)

When reading what this author has to offer, plese remember that MANY of these things can be incorporated/accomplished right here in our Clonlara programs.  Our ability to individualize each student’s program allows us to support gifted learner’s needs and create a program that embraces their differences and their specialized needs.  We can do this inside the classroom, grant credit for ‘credit worthy work’ outside the classroom and summer programs, and even incorporate the work your student would do with a college consultant for a credit earning opportunity.  Please read on……..

As someone who has worked with gifted children for over 12 years, I can say without reservation that parenting a gifted child is a challenge in the best possible way. You have a young man or young woman bursting with intelligence and creativity, and the challenge now becomes how to harness that energy into a way that gets that talented child into a top college.

One thing to keep in mind is that unlike 10 years ago, a gifted child with exceptionally strong grades and standardized test scores is no longer a shoo-in for places like Stanford, Harvard, and Yale. Stanford and Harvard Universities, for example, routinely accept less than 5% of all applicants. Therefore, being a gifted kid will almost certainly get that child into 98% of the colleges in the United States, but in my experience those are the kind of students that are desperately trying to get into the top 2% of colleges and universities. That means Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and others.

Here are some steps that parents and students can take to help increase their chances of getting into a top-notch college.

Lesson One: accept the fast track. From a very early age your child is likely to be separated from lesser-achieving students. Some parents see this as a problem because they feel as though their child is being segregated from the general student population. My feeling is whether or not a parent likes it, it is a fact of life. Your student is going to be surrounded by people who are nearly as intelligent as they are, and soon your child will be taking almost all AP classes or IB courses. In fact, by the time they are juniors or seniors they may be totally off-campus taking courses at the local college through PSEO. From the moment you realize your child is a gifted student, they will no longer be just an average person at the high school. In fact, if your child were in classes with average students, both your child and his or her classmates would suffer (your kid will be bored by the slow progression, and the other kids won’t have a chance to compete with your gifted child).

Lesson Two: create a dream team. Most of the high-caliber students I work with have literally created a team of professionals that help them in all areas from academic development to college preparation. They will invariably take Kumon classes, do Suzuki music instruction, will have personal coaches in sports, music, or the arts, and of course the family will hire an independent education consultant like myself to work with them as early as grade 7 to help prepare their course selections, summer planning, and extracurricular activities.

This is obviously not cheap, however the parents I work with that invest in these “dream teams” see it as an investment in their children’s future. As a parent, I agree with this approach. The fact of the matter is that most high schools are woefully underequipped to work with gifted children, and have neither the resources nor the money to invest in extremely intelligent kids regarding getting into top-notch colleges.

Lesson Three: pinpoint opportunities. There are some incredibly important markers that high-achieving students should be looking at very early on. The Intel Science Competition is very important, as is the National Merit Scholarship Program. The Coca-Cola Scholarship Program is also a marker of high distinction, as well as things that are common but still are signals to college committees that the student has achieved something. The National Honor Society, for example, is an organization that in many high schools is a formality and is given to students who achieve a certain GPA. However, in my years of experience there are some high schools that treat membership in NHS as a highly political game, so it’s important for parents to understand how that game operates to ensure that the gifted child does what is necessary to make a positive impact upon people who have the ability to make decisions for admission to NHS.

Finally, Lesson Four: summers are critical. You can forget about summers being wasted with your son or daughter doing nothing except reading comics and playing video games. The students I’m working with currently are not only spending their summers strategically but are also doing internships, traveling to interesting countries, or doing incredible volunteer work, AND they’re also splitting their summers. It’s not uncommon for my students to spend 2 to 4 weeks at an intensive summer program at a place like Northwestern or Harvard, and to come back to their hometown and do intensive volunteer work or perhaps intern at a local hospital. Summers should be seen as an opportunity to fill in the blanks, and to address any weak points in your application. These also terrific ways to expose gifted students to the many opportunities of thriving in a college setting.

If you’re the parent of a gifted student, you are a truly lucky individual. You have a student who has the intellectual firepower to make an incredible difference in the world around us. By just having a short and long-term strategy, you can maximize your son or daughter’s opportunities to get your child into one of this nation’s top universities, and to launch a career that is worthy of your child’s intelligence.

About The AuthorJason Lum is the founder and college consultant at ScholarEdge.  Jason has won over $250,000 scholarships and graduated debt free.  Jason has helped students gain admission to some of the top universities in the country including Harvard, Yale and Stanford.  Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.