As an educator, Dr. Corinne Martinezvalues the importance of quality education, but also understands that sometimes students don’t comprehend the relevance of what’s being taught in the classroom.
Answers to the age-old question, “How will I ever use this in real life?” are different for every learner. But Martinez, associate professor of Teacher Education, is helping current and future teachers provide those answers one student at a time through Linked Learning.
Linked Learning’s aim is to make every class in high school relevant to careers that might interest students. It is based on the simple idea that students work harder and dream bigger if their education is relevant to them.
“There are a lot of kids that say, ‘Why am I taking this?’ and ideally, you want to bring relevancy to that particular experience and be able to connect the academic curriculum to the real world, which helps us answer that question,” Martinez said.
Since 2006, the James Irvine Foundation has invested more than $100 million in Linked Learning. The Irvine-funded California Linked Learning District Initiative launched in 2009 within nine California districts. Together, these districts served 14% of the state’s public high school students.
In a Linked Learning-participating high school, students are enrolled in a pathway or are co-horted based on their career interests, and they stay in the same group until graduation. Teachers are grouped as well, so they can follow the same students as they matriculate.
Martinez said the groups are identified as “pathways,” and each reflects an industry the group of students is interested in studying, such as manufacturing, information technology, legal services, media and entertainment.
In an era of large comprehensive high schools that have enrollments of 3,000 students or more, Linked Learning helps individualize the high school experience by creating a community within a community.
“Teachers within that community are talking to each other, and they are saying ‘Hey, what are we going to do to better help the students understand how mathematics relates to the field of music or engineering or whatever their pathway is?’” Martinez said.
“We have learned that smaller is better, and it allows for more collaboration.”
As the demand for Linked Learning continues to increase, Martinez is pioneering the way for California Educators.
She has spearheaded the process of infusing Linked Learning methods into the university’s teacher credentialing program, as well as led a team of colleagues that wrote the curriculum for the only master’s program in the state to have Linked Learning integrated into its program.
So far, more than 200 teachers have gone through the credentialing and master’s program on campus and are now teaching at the high school level with Linked Learning principles guiding their teaching.
Andrea Glenn, who graduated from Cal State Long Beach this past spring with a master’s in curriculum instruction, is on pace to be added to the numbers. While pursing her degree, Glenn taught a class for students who were interested in social justice at Milikan High in Long Beach, California.
Glenn said Martinez has improved her effectiveness in the classroom and that the Linked Learning principles she learned throughout her master’s program have not only increased participation amongst her own students, but also made teaching more exciting.
“Without Linked Learning I would probably still be teaching to the text book and be more of afraid of taking risks,” Glenn said. “Now in my elective class called ‘History of Social Justice’ we are trying to get in touch with the Long Beach city prosecutor and make a partnership to get our students out there. Without Linked Learning I wouldn’t have done that.”
Sandra Gutierrez also taught at Millikan High and was enrolled in the same master’s program as Glenn. She said Martinez changed the way she approached her history class.
“For the past 12 years, I was teaching from the book and when students asked me why they had to take my class I would tell them ‘because it’s history and you have to learn it,’” Gutierrez said. “Now with Linked Learning engrained in my brain I’m more focused on how my instruction is relevant to their life.”
Within the California State University system, San Diego State, Cal State Northridge and Cal State East Bay have adopted Link Learning principles developed by Martinez and her colleagues into their Teacher Education programs.
Martinez said she is traveling to Tokyo this year to speak about Linked Learning at one of Japan’s largest universities.
Martinez still has a lot of work to accomplish, but she said it’s worth it if it makes students’ high school experiences more rewarding.
But she has also seen what happens to those who do not further their learning.
“I have several of my cousins who struggled. They are struggling now,” Martinez said. “They are struggling adults trying to find a skillset that will provide them the financial stability that they need.”
The sight of family and friends struggling keeps Martinez going.
“My passion comes from seeing kids be dismissed. We still have a lot to learn, but I think we can do more by our kids in this country in the public-school system,” said Martinez. “My hope is that the idea of access to college and careers is open and available to all students.”