Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Voice & Choice: Taking on Personalized Learning

I wanted to share the following article from the June 28, 2015 Janesville Gazette showcasing another path our students are taking to Educational Excellence.  Personalized Learning Initiatives like the one piloted this year at Lincoln Elementary School are a step towards increased achievement among all students.

School program focuses classroom on each student
By Nick Crow

  Melissa Van Tuyl’s son, Michael, is a planner. “He’s on a kick of saving for a laptop,” Van Tuyl said. “He sets these little goals of doing chores for money to save for it.” What makes that surprising is that he just finished kindergarten. “What 6-year-old saves for a laptop?” she said. “He’s independent. He wants to do things for himself. He’s more of a ‘let me try it, let me see if I can do it’ kind of kid.” Michael picked up goal-setting skills as part of the personalized learning initiative at Lincoln Elementary School, Van Tuyl said.

  In its first year, the program focuses the classroom around the students, rather than teacher instruction, said Principal Shawn Galvin.  “Personalized learning is when kids have a voice and choice with their learning,” Galvin said. “They are kind of co-designing along with their teacher a personalized learning plan and still held accountable to the same standards as everyone else. But it gives them more ownership of their learning, which equals more buy-in and more engagement with kids.”
What it is?
   Personalized learning has been around for decades but has recently emerged as a more viable option because of advancements in technology, Galvin said. Lincoln is a 1:1 school, which means each student has access to an electronic device, making it perfect for personalized learning, he said. “It was kind of a natural fit to move forward,” Galvin said. “They (technology and personalized learning) are independent of each other, but they complement each other very well.” Hannah Barry, third-grade teacher at Lincoln, said her students keep pace and are successful by making goals for themselves and supporting one another in reaching goals.    “It’s figuring out what each individual student needs,” Barry said. “We could have one student, for example, working on subtracting with regrouping, but I have another student who has proven that they know how to do that through and through. Rather than making that student sit there and listen to another lesson on subtraction by regrouping, he’s working on double-digit multiplication. So it’s just taking each kid where they’re at and taking them to that next level.”Some kids at a higher level overall need more help in certain areas, Barry said. Personalized learning allows students to take the time to focus on those areas, she said.
 “The kids use each other a lot more now,” Barry said. “If I’m working with another student, they know they can go to this other student who they know has got this down, and then they work together. Then, not only is the student learning, but also the one that’s teaching is deepening their understanding, too.” Barry said kids reach their goals however they are comfortable. Some use Chromebooks. Some use iPads, and some use pencil and paper, she said. “It depends on the student and depends on their interests,” Barry said.  “Instead of me giving them one worksheet that everyone is going to do, they know their goal, and that’s what they work on,” she said.  For example, rather than a worksheet for homework, students have an individual goal they work on at home, Barry said.

  ‘Excited for school’
   Last year, the program was in its pilot year. Van Tuyl said she couldn’t be happier with her son’s experience.“It’s really helped him as far as him setting goals, even at home,” Van Tuyl said. “He’s just excited for school. My older sonhad worksheets, and he didn’t want to do it. He would come home exhausted from learning.”Students aren’t required to sit at their desks. They come and go throughout the classroom, working on goals they need to complete.Galvin said the program, which was piloted in kindergarten, one second-grade and one third-grade class last year, will be expanded to some other classes throughout Lincoln next school year. There will also be one class at Van Buren Elementary School, two at Harrison Elementary School and one class at Franklin Middle School using personalized learning.  “I think it’s exciting, and every place we’ve visited, every teacher doing it for any length of time says, ‘I hope they never make me move back because it makes so much sense,’” Galvin said. “Every teacher has been traditionally trained, and it’s been a shift. But once they embrace the shift, they never want to go back. It makes so much sense with how kids interact with information.”Galvin said students still are assigned to grades, and students still are accountable for knowing the same curriculum as students at other schools.“We’re still following the traditional age-based grades,” Galvin said. “If they’re in third grade this year, they’ll be in fourth grade next year. But the great part about this is they are still with their same-aged peers, but they can be working on something at a sixth-grade level. The goal isn’t to create acceleration with the kids, it’s to create a deeper understanding of the content.”Galvin said it is the ultimate goal to introduce personalized learning at all grade levels and in all class types.“It’s not limited by grade level or age,” Galvin said. “The ultimate goal is to allow kids to experience it at  the elementary level and continue all the way through. It really can go into any area.”Galvin said the transition to personalized learning has been gradual so teachers familiarize themselves with it.  No parents have asked to opt their child out of the program, and some have even asked how they can get their child into it,” he said.

   Better behavior
   “It’s letting them learn at their own pace,” Galvin said. “One of the other parts of this is our system has been ‘you sit down, you listen, you learn, you then show me on the exact same test in the exact same way, to a contribution-based system where kids are now showing what they learned and adding worth to the classroom.”  “I think that’s the biggest eye opener for us,” he said. “They are now adding value by collaborating with peers rather than just existing and learning on their own in isolation. Working together to be creative and contribute to the group as a whole deepens the level of learning and understanding the kids are getting.” Barry piloted the program in her class last year and said she never wants to go back to a traditional classroom.  “There’s a lot less trying to get what you want them to do and more figuring out how to tailor it to meet each student’s needs,” Barry said. “It’s finding that hook that’s going to keep them driven through the whole process. They take the standard they’re working on and create something I never would have thought of before, and it’s just really cool to see them process their way through each standard and kind of take ownership of it.”  Barry said personalized learning tailors lessons to each student’s interests and even helps with behavioral issues.  “From day one to now, my kids choose not to sit at the table,” Barry said. “They are up moving around doing what they need to do. Having that opportunity and freedom to move reduces behaviors in the classroom.”  The initiative has reduced student behavior problems in the classroom by 30 percent because there is no longer a powerstruggle, Galvin said.  “It goes back to compliance versus contribution,” Galvin said. “Before, it was power struggles trying to get them to sit there when they don’t care because they already know the information. This eliminates all the battles we’ve traditionally fought to try and get them to comply. They don’t happen because they are contributing. They are motivated because it’s at their level, challenging and not way above them or way below them. It’s not a competition because they are working on different things.” The switch has changed how Barry plans as a teacher, she said.
   “It’s totally different,” Barry said. “It’s more making sure that I have everything I need for them rather than planning a specific lesson. It’s making sure I have the resources because they’re all working on their individual goal and that I’m prepared for what they’re going to need that day.”  Van Tuyl said she was skeptical at first but couldn’t be happier with the results she’s had with her son.  “He loves working in groups with other kids,” Van Tuyl said. “It’s been such a positive difference as far as his social skills. It’s been amazing. I’ve loved it.”  “My advice to parents is to give it a chance if their school tries it,” she said. “I was skeptical, but it’s been absolutely wonderful.”

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