The Experiential Learning Model for Delivering Agricultural Education, with a New Perspective on the Role of Communities

Article excerpt

Those of us who work in teacher education occasionally amuse ourselves by coming up with new ways to explain what agriculture teachers do naturally in their classes each day without much forethought. One of our favorite models in agricultural education, and the one we use to explain and justify almost everything we do in agricultural education, is the integrated three-circle model portrayed in figure 1 . This model has explained for almost 35 years the interrelationships between three major concepts: classroom and laboratory instruction, supervised agricultural experience, and the FFA agricultural youth organization participation. Classroom and laboratory instruction are those activities that provide learning experiences within the confines of a school facility. These classroom activities are characterized by learning activities designed by an agriculture teacher and presented to students using formal instruction methods such as lecture, demonstration, guided and independent practice, review and assessment.

Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) is an independent learning program for students enrolled in agricultural education courses, and is designed to provide learning experiences for students in the agricultural career pathway of their choice. Supervised agricultural experience requires an educational plan cooperatively developed by the student, the agriculture teacher, the student's parents, and an employer if necessary.

The FFA is an instructional tool that compliments both instruction and supervised agricultural experience. FFA activities include career development events, individual member awards programs, scholarships and leadership programs.

Until recently, I have been completely in agreement with the threecircle model. Now I realize that it has a few problems. First, the visual representation of the model always has a minimal overlap between the three components. That means a large portion of the FFA is not instruction, a large portion of SAE is not instruction, and two thirds of what we do in agricultural education is not instruction.

The integrated agricultural education model is supposed to combine instruction, supervised agricultural experience and FFA (Talbert, Vaughn & Croom, 2006). However, a number of studies have indicated a decline in the number of students involved in supervised experience. Dyer and Osborne (1996) and Cheek, Arrington, Carter and Randell (1994) conclude that SAE programs lack overall direction and goals by which program quality can be measured. A number of studies (Dyer & Osborne, 1995: Dyer & Williams, 1997; Steele, 1997) conclude that many teachers fail to fully implement SAE in the agricultural education program, even though SAE has a proven economic impact (Retallick & Martin, 2005).

With regard to the FFA element of the model, there is a gap between the number of agricultural education students and the number of students who are official members of the FFA even though FFA membership has continued to increase in recent years (National FFA Organization, 2006). Even though students who join the FFA were more connected to the industry of agriculture and were more engaged in agricultural education coursework (Talbert & Balschweid, 2004; Croom & Flowers, 2001), the National FFA Organization (2006) reported a gap of almost 200,000 students between FFA membership and student enrollment in agricultural education programs.

Of the components in the threecomponent model of agricultural education, instruction occurs with the greatest frequency. If this model is composed in such a way that classroom instruction, FFA and SAE are integrally linked and equally weighted components, then why do the FFA and SAE components generally subordinate themselves to instruction?

Finally, the three-circle model ignores a major component of every agricultural education program - the community it which it resides. The community provides the support and direction for schools, and each school is a distinct mirror image of the community in which it resides. …