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Design 2015

Design 2015

Written by Jay Thomas
March 01, 2013

As we look to continually transforming pedagogy in Albemarle County Public Schools to maximize student learning and opportunities for our young stakeholders, we have undertaken a creative initiative called Design 2015.  As a principal this is an exciting opportunity to challenge not only ourselves, but our staff to take risks and redefine optimal learning for all of our learners.  It truly is an exciting time to be an educator in Albemarle County Public Schools!  We have had the opportunity to share and collaborate with various stakeholders.  We have developed grants both in-house, and as partners with other schools.  We have had our first Technology “Petting Zoo”.  The “Petting Zoo”, a name I absolutely love, was coined by a 3rd grader in one of our elementary schools.  This was an opportunity for school personnel to see, touch, and play with new contemporary devices that are likely to become useful tools to place in our educational toolboxes.    

I would like to take the opportunity to share with you Albemarle County Public Schools Design 2015 Grant and the Patriot Writers’ Studio, one of several innovative ideas we are developing under this grant at Albemarle High School.

Design 2015 Program Information

Design 2015 is a learning grant aimed at the 21st Century Learner, the 21st Century classroom, and 21st Century instruction. Today, learning spaces do not adhere to the industrial, assembly line model of instruction, as innovation in the classroom liberates the nailed down desks in a row and a steady stream of groundbreaking brain research expands our understanding of how children learn.

The utilization and conversion of space in the classroom, aligned with innovations in curriculum and learning technologies, has opened doors to transform pedagogy, blending best practices from the last century with those of the 21st century. Through this proposal, Albemarle County Public Schools seeks to increase student performance while redefining optimal learning through the Division’s Lifelong Learning Standards to ensure that quality, relevant learning occurs for all young people enrolled in our schools.

What is a Design 2015 Learning Grant?

Albemarle County Public Schools uses continuous improvement processes to move forward work that will advance learning consistent with the Division’s Vision, Mission, Goals, Priorities and Core Values. Utilizing Deming’s Plan, Do, Study, Act model. Division departments will allocate funding for innovative approaches to using instructional design, tools, resources, and professional development to elevate contemporary instructional practices and learning for all students.

About the Patriot Writers’ Studio

In August 2013, Albemarle High School will open the doors of the Patriot Writers’ Studio, a student-centered, student-led learning space designed to lend support and encouragement to our school’s writers as well as address the obstacles they face in their writing – both in attitude and mechanics. Tutors enrolled in the Writers’ Studio course will be trained in coaching techniques to assist their peers with any writing task they may bring to the Studio through one-on-one tutorials.  During a session, the tutor and student select priorities and set goals, and work together on improving the piece of writing.  In addition to offering tutoring, the Writers’ Studio will serve as an inviting space for creation and collaboration.  Students who seek a place to work on a writing project, whether academic or personal, will find a variety of tools, supports, and work spaces at their disposal, as well as friendly tutors ready to help or offer feedback should they request it.  The Writers’ Studio will emphasize the process of feedback and revision; therefore, students are welcome to come back as often as they need to perfect their pieces.  It will also offer students a wide range of publication options – from film editing to blogging to open mic events – so that they can share their voices with the world.

Vision for Learning

The Writers’ Studio represents several significant shifts in traditional pedagogy.  It transforms learning from a one-way, top-down model in which teachers are the informational gatekeepers to a constructive, decentralized model where students share knowledge and collaborate to develop skills and accomplish a writing task. The environment is both cooperative and highly individualized.  It encourages discussion and open-ended questions, rather than the judgment that comes with rubrics and grades.  The tutoring process places the responsibility for self-assessment on the writer, who must determine the purpose of the tutoring session and make all of the decisions about how the writing might change.  Most tutoring sessions are conducted without any input from a teacher, which is possible because the tutors possess uniquely relevant knowledge about effective high school writing. It also allows students to receive authentic feedback in real time, rather than days or weeks after they’ve done the writing.  The power of the Writers’ Studio lies in face-to-face communication – learning happens as a result of back-and-forth communication between reader and writer, where the emphasis is on students learning to be confident, effective, cross-audience authors rather than on students merely improving a piece of writing.   We seek to reframe writing so that students see it not as a necessary means for accomplishing an assignment, but as an exciting way to communicate ideas.

All high school students, no matter their ability, have a need to communicate their ideas through written expression.  Therefore, the Writers’ Studio has the potential to impact every student at our school, from teens with learning disabilities to English language learners to already confident writers seeking to expand their reach and effectiveness.  Those coming to the Writers’ Studio will be able to receive immediate, individualized feedback, or group feedback via in-room or on-line collaboration; they enter with questions and doubts, and leave with strategies and confidence.   The Writers’ Studio treats all as writers who want to take ownership of their learning and who have the desire and capability to successfully collaborate with peers.

The Writers’ Studio is intended to support both students and teachers.  We will demonstrate that writing can and should be done in all disciplines, and that the features of great communication are consistent no matter the subject or even the medium.  The Writers’ Studio will naturally serve as host to an ongoing, school-wide conversation about how we can teach our students to be great writers, and all teachers will be encouraged to make use of its human, digital, and curricular resources.  

Role of Technology

In addition to communicating their message, the tutors at the Writers’ Studio will encourage students to consider the best medium to share their ideas.  To this end, we will offer a variety of technology, including computers, tablets, cameras, projectors, and recording equipment.  These tools will allow students to plan, draft, revise, and publish their writing in a huge variety of formats, from Google docs to timelines to ebooks.  In an era where teachers increasingly require electronic submission of assignments and administrators envision paperless schools, the Writers’ Studio will also create equity by allowing students without home access to computers and the internet to meet those expectations.  Students with adaptive learning needs will be able to use software like translation and dictation programs to assist with composition while also consulting peer tutors on areas of challenge.  The computers will also allow for students to conduct research and access the school’s subscription databases.

As students are conferring and collaborating, they’ll use furniture specifically selected for its functionality, durability, and flexibility.  Wired couches will allow students to charge their electronic devices while working comfortably; rolling chairs and tables will allow for quick rearrangement of the space to accommodate students collaborating in various combinations; and digital production studios will allow students to record and edit.  When students aren’t using the computers, they will serve as tools for the tutors’ professional development.  The laptops will assist the tutors in creating lessons, presentations, and hand-outs as requested by teachers.  The tutors will also use the laptops to gather and analyze data about their performance so that they can use that formative feedback for improvement.  They’ll also use videoconferencing applications to confer with other tutors all over the county.  


At any given time, a visitor to the Writers’ studio would observe a variety of projects underway:

  • a group of creative writing students workshop their latest poems and check the bulletin board for new scholarship essay contests
  • a pair of girls wander in to ask about the school-wide 6 word memoir project
  • three sophomores collaborate to draft a lab report for AP biology
  • a senior proudly affixes postage to her first completed college application and high-fives the tutor who read at least six drafts of her personal statement
  • a freshman taking his first honors English class plans out an essay with a tutor
  • two tutors help to digitize the high school’s literary magazine while a third helps a student edit a commercial for the morning announcements
  • a student without a home computer writes an email to his brother, who is serving overseas
  • all of the eleventh grade history teachers gather to create a historical fiction-based project
  • another teacher meets with a pair of tutors to develop a lesson on paraphrasing that they will teach to her class at the end of the week.  

The Writers’ Studio is a hive of activity and excitement.  Each person is working on a unique task at a self-directed pace.  Students and teachers seamlessly transition between working independently and collaboratively; between thinking, writing, questioning, responding, revising, creating, and publishing.  We can wait for this vision to become a reality!

Jay Thomas is the principal at Albemarle High School in Charlottesville, Virginia and can be reached via email at

Hannah Baran teaches English 10 and 11 at Albemarle High School and has been a Teacher Consultant with the Central Virginia Writing Project since 2011.  Before becoming a teacher, she was a peer tutor at her high school’s writing center.  Contact her at