What does the research say?

In November 2015, a group of Memphis students, parents, educators, and community members collaborated on an application to the XQ Super School Project on behalf of Crosstown High. We are thrilled to announce that we have made it to the round of finalists! From an initial pool of more than 700 applicants, Crosstown High is in the final fifty candidates vying for one of at least five $10 million prizes. In celebration, we are kicking off the Twelve Days of XTH by releasing portions of our XQ application every day between now and August 1. The content of this work is the foundation on which we will continue to build the high school, but we’ll need your help in the coming months to shape it into the school that Memphis students need and deserve.

In the first — or “Discover” — phase of the XQ application, our team was asked to research the science of adolescent learning, in order to answer this question:

What are your top three insights about how young people learn — the insights you’re most passionate about bringing to life in your school?

Through hundreds of hours of research, including exploring best practices in local learning, we found that students are deeply ambitious and crave opportunities to discover and contribute. They are frustrated because current status quo learning environments make it difficult to foster creativity, innovation, or collaboration in a broader culture that evolves so quickly. We believe that Crosstown High can enrich adolescents’ learning by acting upon three key insights from our research.

Kids learn best when their HUMAN NEEDS are met. In “The Science of Scarcity,” and numerous other studies, we learned that scarcity — of assets like food, relationships or even time — diminishes mental capacity. Schools must work to alleviate the stressors that create obstacles to student success.


The Science of Adolescent Learning team at a November meeting to review their research.

Kids learn best when they’re ENGAGED where they are, EMPOWERED to envision where they want to go, and CHALLENGED to do the work it will take to make this happen. Kids don’t come to school to simply receive education and knowledge.They want, in all parts of their lives, to feel successful, make progress, and help generate new knowledge. Many resources, including “Rethinking Student Motivation,” showed that methods that provide instruction at the “just above” level for individual students are far more effective than the lockstep delivery method of traditional schools. Mastery-based learning, responsive online tools, and adults who listen and respond to students where they are, all have the potential to achieve these goals.

Kids learn and grow best when their work has MEANING. From sources like Springpoint Public Schools’ white paper “Positive Youth Development & School Design,” we learned that “Taking on challenges, having authentic responsibilities and making real decisions – with real consequences –capture the essence of learning in adolescence.”

A sampling of the attachments to our XQ application:

How They Learn: A Visual Bibliography – Explore some of the research that led to our insights. (PDF)

Learning in Memphis – Best practices in learning across the local landscape. (video)

Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

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