Friday, February 24, 2017

Personalized Learning: An Observer's Perspective

Last Friday I had a great opportunity to visit two schools in the Eastern Carver County School District in Chaska, MN.  We went to visit the district because they are using personalized learning throughout the district, with various schools and teachers at different places in their journey to personalized learning.

We started the day at Pioneer Ridge Middle School (PRMS), where one of our awesome Mathematics alumni, Andy Ott, is teaching!  I have to admit that I was as excited to see Andy as I was to view personalized learning.  While the math courses are not part of the Adventurer track in PRMS, Andy and his math colleagues do personalized learning within their classrooms.  The three content areas that are the focus of the Adventurer track at PRMS are Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science.  At the beginning of the day, students select which of these content areas they will learn during four periods of the day.  Students are to make choices based on the question: “What is best for my learning?” These students attend their other courses during the remaining three periods of the day.

How are 11, 12, and 13 year olds able to answer the question, “What is best for my learning?”  It takes time for 6th graders to figure this out, but by the time they are 8th graders they certainly are better at answering the question.  The 6th graders that talked with us said that it took them 1 to 2 months to figure out that they shouldn’t choose the learning path based on what their friends were doing.  The administration agreed that by November of the school year, most of the Adventurers had been trained to make good choices for their learning.

PRMS has another track for students called the Explorer track. This track is similar to a traditional middle school, where students have the same schedule each day, but many of the teachers offer personalized learning in their classrooms.  One of the group asked if students switched between tracks during the year, but it doesn’t seem possible to make that switch. Any switch from Explorer to Adventurer would take place during the summer.  In addition, they have orientation programs for parents so parents are very aware of the responsibility that is being placed on their child.

I think the one thing that impressed me the most was the student panel.  All four students were on the Adventurer track and the maturity they showed was remarkable. They were all very clearly articulate, intelligent, and good time managers.  The thought that kept going through my head was: “these kids are going to be great college students.”  One of the things that freshmen in college struggle with the most is their freedom of time.  These students have experienced this freedom for many years so they won’t have this issue when they go to college.

We also visited Chanhassen High School, where we learned more about the district’s philosophy on personalized learning and we toured the school.  We didn’t really get to experience the personalization as much as we did in the PRMS. I think we all wanted more time to actually be in their classrooms—but there is only so much you can do in one day.

For me, what was most impressive was that the entire district has embraced personalized learning and that the administration and teachers have worked together to make this experience the best for all of their students.  They said that they have made mistakes along their journey, but they learned from these mistakes and moved on.  This is the exact philosophy that we want our students to embrace and this entire district is operating under that philosophy.

The district has been creative in reallocating resources and providing teachers with collaboration time and professional development so that they can be the best at personalized learning.  They have developed a star (pictured below) that represents what exceptional personalized learning looks like in their district.  

Prior to this visit, I was in favor of personalized learning and thought that many students would thrive in this type environment.  Now I am even more intrigued by personalized learning as both an educator and parent.  It was a privilege to visit this district and see what they have done to make personalized learning the “center of their circle.” They embraced the idea, researched what they needed to do, and jumped in with both feet!

1 comment:

  1. Your reactions are similar to my own, Sharon. Putting responsibility in the students' hands and offering support in multiple ways from teachers, peers, and technology meets the learning needs of adolescents. The team approach also impressed me in that the staff is not isolated in their own rooms. I know that's typical middle school philosophy, but this approach pushes that concept even more.
    Another takeaway for me was the report card with the "Not yet" category.