Nancie Atwell Global Teacher Award screenshot PBS

Pop quiz: who’s the coolest teacher around? Answer: Ms. Atwell.

Today, for World Teacher Day, we’re shining a spotlight on Nancie Atwell, the “World’s Best Teacher” who doesn’t give her students tests or quizzes.

Atwell received the first “Global Teacher Prize” earlier this year–but she’s been changing the profession for 25 years. She created “The Center for Teaching and Learning” in Edgecomb, Maine, to let students and teachers learn alongside each other. Her philosophy boils down to a simple motto: “Give kids choices.”math teacher CC BurningQuestion

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“Anybody’s achievement is driven by interest,” Atwell told PBS News Hour (watch the excellent video below).

She believes the students will invest in their learning if there is a “real curiosity and passion.” The classrooms in the school are designed to promote collaboration, with students and teachers freely moving to work with one another on projects.

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The 75 students in her Kindergarten-through-8th Grade school take the standard school curriculum, but they approach it much differently than most schools. Each student is encouraged to research what he or she finds interesting in each course.

The baseline $8,000 tuition is set up on a sliding scale based on parental income — the less parents earn in their jobs, the less they have to pay. That allows kids of doctors and lawyers to share the same classes as kids of farmers and lobstermen.Oliva Haillsey Google screenshot Google Science Fair

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Teachers from around the world are offered four-day internships to learn alongside the students. They see her ideas in action and look for ways to improve their skills while incorporating some of her ideas into their classrooms when they return.

It is true that Atwell’s school really doesn’t allow tests or quizzes. Instead, teachers are required to assess each student’s daily progress and the students keep portfolios of their work through the year.

She’s using her global award to call attention to the profession of teaching as an intellectual opportunity and is investing the one million dollar prize money back into her school — including new scholarships for students.

(WATCH the video below from the NewsHour) — Photo: PBS NewsHour video

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  1. Congratulations to Ms. Atwell. She has managed to develop a viable balance between androgogy and pedagogy. I’ve been espousing the inclusion of adult learning principles for K-12 instructional design for decades – especially self-directed learning. (Perhaps now we can drop ‘adult’ and refer to it as ‘human’ learning.) A delightful side effect of teaching kids this way: the teacher feels more engaged and stimulated, which reduces burnout. For those teachers reading who are about to huff and puff about being hamstrung by standardized tests, core curriculum, etc., notice Ms. Atwell also manages those regulatory requirements. It can be done!

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