A Mosaic of Learners

Since 2017, in the early phases of the design of the Burlington City & Lake Semester, a core part of BCL’s philosophy has been our commitment to heterogeneity. Having a mix of students matters. Not only does it ground and fuel our learning, it also ensures that we are able to tap into the rich diversity of our city. That diversity takes many forms, including race, gender/gender-expression, culture, language, sexual orientation, religion, etc. The list is as long as the number of identities in Burlington. There is, however, another area of diversity that we also embrace: the differences of learners themselves. 

Each semester, BCL has welcomed a wide variety of students, and each semester, we do our level best to help empower each one of them. We differentiate and personalize whenever possible; we deliberately build community and expand students’ confidence; and we constantly invest in relevance and meaning, which fuels intrinsic motivation. This isn’t easy, and every semester (every day, in fact) feels like a work in progress. 

The good news is that there is a secret ingredient — a fool-proof way to support a wide variety of learning styles, and meet a complex mix of students where they’re at. It’s simple, actually; anyone can do it. All you need to do is listen to students. At this point in their lives, high school Juniors have spent nearly 15,000 hours in school. If there’s one thing they know, it’s what works for them, and what doesn’t. In a recent assignment, students reflected on their experience of, and their relationship with, learning itself. Below are anonymous excerpts from their writing. Each excerpt is from a different student. Taken together, their wisdom is inescapable.

Crazy Quilt, c.1900
Sarah Ann Hinkley Tucker; Whitehall, Wisconsin
Silk and velvet; 60 x 75 in.
Image courtesy of the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana California

If a typical classroom is a mosaic of learning styles, then BCL might be more akin to a crazy quilt. When seemingly random shapes come together in harmony, the impossibility makes it all the more beautiful. 

I find it easiest to learn when I’m at the moment doing something that I love. This is usually when I’m running, biking, and participating in other hobbies that I have. I remember one time last summer when I was biking and I want to learn how to ride the 10 foot dirt jumps.  This was the first time I thought that I could even do them. I went in and gave it my all the first time and fell on my butt very hard. Something then clicked in my head when I got up and I then knew that I figured it out. The next attempt it was smooth as butter and this was when I learned that if I want to get better at things that I just need to throw myself out there and be vulnerable.

I feel excitement is contagious when it comes to learning. For me, it helps me significantly when the teacher is very inclusive and talks one-on-one with students as if the whole class is both learning and teaching together… Besides the teachers, it helps me to be surrounded by passionate students who are ready-to-learn. My hope for BCL– given it’s a much different learning environment than most BHS classes–is that I can be genuinely interested in my studies with further communication and connection with my teachers and classmates. I’m really looking forward to challenging myself to think deeper about what I’m learning, and then apply it to my everyday life.

I feel like when I am in a class with my best friend, I tend to have a hard time wanting to exceed and do better in my classes. When I am around people who have bad energy towards what we are learning, it affects me without the person knowing, and then I think its ok to do the bare minimum. I am so excited to be in a class where I do not have many friends. I want to  make new friends and experience a new way of learning outside the classroom.

Something that makes learning a struggle is being confined to a concrete room. It feels demoralizing and makes learning a struggle. This has been the case for the majority of my life, and I have always searched for ways to escape, whether that is physically doing something else or spacing out.

I enjoy learning the most when the material is interesting to me. When I learn something new and feel genuinely excited to understand, and want to know more, I learn the best. Learning for me is not about shoving information into my head but by gaining a foundation that I am eager to build upon. Today in pre-calculus I asked a question because my understanding of the problem led me to believe it could be done a simpler way. My teacher didn’t know what I meant for a second but after another student added to my thought he congratulated us on thinking about it in a way that would have benefitted him as well. Even though pre calculus is not my favorite class I was excited to be able to contribute using my new understanding.

What feels motivating is when I am on a roll. I know it sounds kind of weird, but in order for me to do good I have to be good. Like if I understand whats going on in math, then I’m going to keep paying attention, taking notes, and doing good work. If I get a good grade on a quiz, I am going to continue to do well.

Something that makes me learn better is ”adventure.”  By adventure, I mean having new experiences, meeting and talking with new people, and challenging myself. These kinds of challenges have pushed me to be better in areas where wasn’t as good as I would like.  

After students reflected in writing on their learning journey, they each copied-and-pasted an image or a meme that illustrates their experience, perspective, or learning style. What they shared were as eye-opening as the ideas they expressed in writing. 


For me, a lot of learning is figuring out how things work and what to do. This is how I feel when I am just about to learn.



I have a lot of ideas, but often I feel as if my head is exploding because of my constant thoughts.


funny cow

I usually feel like how this cow looks in school. I just like to be chilling out.



This image represents my learning experience, because sometimes I think that I’ll have something down, and end up still being confused when the due date on that homework is tomorrow.



This image pretty much shows that my mind is like an open book, I’m open to anything really, as long as it sparks curiosity and interest.



This woman is my conscience telling me                    This is what my face looks like
to stay awake and/or pay attention in class.              on the outside.



As much as I hate to admit it, I am often late for school, the main reason being that I didn’t want to be there to begin with, so consider me being on time a sign that I enjoy BCL.



Everybody learns better doing something they love.


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