Foxfire Concept Glows and Grows after 25 Years, the Student-Directed Education Idea Continues to Spark Teaching and Learning

By Kristine F. Anderson, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 8, 1991 | Go to article overview

Foxfire Concept Glows and Grows after 25 Years, the Student-Directed Education Idea Continues to Spark Teaching and Learning


Kristine F. Anderson, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


`EMPOWERING kids is scary at first.... I didn't think they could handle choices - but they proved me wrong," says Sandy Jones, a resource teacher in Rockdale, Ga., a community east of Atlanta.

Ms. Jones is part of the rapidly growing Foxfire Teacher Network, and her students are involved in a project sponsored in part through the Foxfire Fund. As the mountain-based program celebrates its silver anniversary, Foxfire has become a nationwide model of a student-centered, hands-on approach for Jones and more than a thousand teachers across the country.

Jones, who has more than 15 years teaching experience and considered herself to be a traditional teacher, recently adopted the Foxfire approach to use with elementary students who have learning disabilities and behavior disorders. They develop a variety of skills by stocking and managing a school store and keeping a loose-leaf ledger. "Working in the store really builds their self-esteem," Jones says, "and helps them develop life skills they'll need in the real world."

But she quickly points out that the Foxfire concept and student-centered approach works with students at any academic level at any age.

As proof of Foxfire's on child safety. Another group of elementary students in a predominantly black school in Atlanta designed a billboard urging students to stay in school.

Kindergartners in Washington State made a video about the fears children face when they first start school. High school students on an Idaho Indian reservation designed a calendar highlighting the legends and historical sites of the area. And high school students in New York State organized and financed a corporation that sold discount coupons for local businesses and services.

Staff members note that it takes most teachers, even those who are experienced, two or three years to become comfortable with the method.

But some teachers say that becoming a Foxfire teacher is a lifelong process, since Foxfire focuses on collaborative learning. Heather Biola, a middle-school teacher in the metropolitan Atlanta area, says, "There's a certain element of risk involved - you have to be willing to give up control and help students engage in their own learning."

Wigginton agrees. "We know it works, but it's hard. It's not clean - it's an open-ended, ambiguous process," he says. "All of the students are no longer on the same page and the question of (classroom) management becomes a different issue."

The core practices that evolved out of the early publication efforts provide a guide for instruction, but the approach lends itself to a lot of different styles and personalities. Teachers are not expected to teach one way. Hilton Smith, one of the Foxfire staff, explains: "It's not a formula. Individual teachers figure out how to 'Foxfire' their own classes, according to their own talents and concerns and their kids' abilities."

After the publication of his autobiography, "Sometimes a Shining Moment: The Foxfire Experience," Wigginton was awarded a $1. …

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