The Dalton Plan is an organisational framework/educational model developed by Helen Parkhurst at the turn of the 20th century that supports self-regulated learning in schools. It had the objectives of enhancing student’s social skills and sense of responsibility towards others, promoting independence and dependability and tailoring teaching programs to each student’s individual needs, interests and abilities. This was achieved by the use of three core principles, laboratory, house and assignment (The Dalton School, www.dalton.org)
“I am of the opinion that the influence of a teacher’s conversation with an individual child on any ordinary academic subject is much more potent than what is said in a class lesson. Those of us who are older often hear sermons or lectures which inspire us, and if we are privileged to talk over points with the preacher or lecturer afterwards, the effect is much more emphatic and permanent. But how many class lessons have children to listen to which are boring and useless, and others where they are not sufficiently interested to ask a question? If we use class teaching and individual work in their proper places the best results will follow.”Helen Parkhurst
Parkhurst’s idea behind ‘House’ was the strong belief that each student should be part of a smaller community within the larger school. A group in which each child could learn the skills to be a successful part of the group under the attention of a caring teacher. These smaller community groupings were regarded as so fundamental by Parkhurst that she called them ‘House’ rather than ‘homeroom’ or ‘advisory’.
In the Dalton Plan, the Assignment was a contract between student and teacher. Setting out the obligations for daily classwork, long-term projects, and homework. However, Dalton Assignments were structured to promote learners’ time-management and organizational skills at the same time as giving learners opportunities to develop their individual strengths and address specific needs.
The third underpinning principle to the Dalton Plan was the Laboratory. this is not an actual physical space as the name implies but refers to one-to-one and small group sessions between learners and teachers, combining study, research and collaboration and augmenting traditional classroom instruction. These labs were scheduled at specified times throughout the school day to discuss Assignment projects as well as expand upon questions of interest that have arisen in class or clarify issues and explore new facets of a topic learners want to pursue.
In the Dalton Plan students were given the freedom to achieve, but at the start were set the standard in specific topics they were expected to achieve. This also included specific time constraints as time/work management is a noted outcome of Dalton education.
The Dalton Plan today
To put her ideas into practice Helen Parkhurst founded the Dalton School in New York, in 1919. It is today an independent, co-educational day school (K-12) with international recognition. The success of the Dalton Plan has also led to other schools in the United States, such as Philadephia State School taking it up (Members of the Faculty of the South Philadelphia High School for Girls, 1927) and many schools internationally (The Dalton School; Dalton International).
The Dalton plan was introduced to the UK in the 1920s and taken up by some schools such as Bryanston, St Trinneans, King Alfred School, Tiffin School and Stretham Secondary School (Rosa Bassett School) (Lee, 2000 citing Stewart 1968; van der Ploeg, 2012). At Tiffin School, Kingston upon Thames, the Dalton Plan continued until the headmaster who supported it left. However, Streatham Secondary School (renamed Rosa Bassett School in 1951) is known to have continued with a modified form of the Dalton Plan from 1920 to 1977 until the school was amalgamated with Battersea Boys Grammar School and Furzedown School. Bryanston reports that it still keeps principles of the Dalton Plan within the current educational model that their students use.
[This article is based on updated unpublished academic research carried out in 2007]