Here at this small school we have been working for the last three years on educating ourselves and trying to make some progress with the education that we provide our students. It has been a slow process but has had some very positive results.
We have been working within the backdrop of the Dept. of Education supporting a more individualized education environment and a focus on the Common Core Standards within a proficiency base system. These were on our minds as we did our work on our learning environments. What did we see as outstanding examples or models? There was talk of classes based on interest and ability rather than the day that you were born. There was an interest in a schedule that could be flexible enough to accommodate many remixing of students across an age span. These ideas or questions all seemed to be headed in a common direction, not just in our minds, but also with the Dept. of Education.
With the Dept. of Education supporting the individualized program models (Inevitable- Mass Customized Learning) made possible with the implementation of technology, we spoke about a blending of options that we could possible offer here at AVS. We have the technology and an interest in a change, as modeled in the 1st and 2nd grade program, and with leadership from the teachers supported by the principal, we spoke of teachers teaching their strengths or passions and students filling in at a level that would be a match for them. This called for the loosening of the “classes” that we have based on birth order. Both the State and we recognized that in the present education landscape students and teachers might be better suited by an environment that would offer choice around learning paths.
To fit with the idea of learning paths we were able to dovetail into the proficiency based learning environment that is being promoted both nationally and at the state level. The idea that an individual can demonstrate proficiency on a topic and move on to another topic of interest based on assessments administered by teachers was a natural fit with the idea of individual learning paths.
We tried to prioritize ideas and then develop a implementation plan that had both short term and long term goals. We felt very positive about the work that we had done and the path that we had created before us. We were so ready to set off on this next chapter of learning here at AVS.
Our first step was to see what we could do about creating a schedule that would start to have some flexibility in it to allow for the beginnings of student movement around the ecosystem. There were two pillars that we tried to adhere to. One was to have a school wide math time and the second was to have a dedicated time for teachers to work with students who were needing intervention with core subjects and enrichment topics.
Having math classes at the same time would allow individual students to find their “best fit” for learning math. They could move to a class were the level of instruction was a match for their learning. A 6th grade student could go to learn about functions or solving multistep questions with a group of students were working on that topic in advanced math. They could do this because they would have demonstrated a level of proficiency in content that leads up to solving multistep equations. Again, the schedule is fitting with the proficiency based model to allow students create their learning paths.
The intervention/enrichment block would allow teachers and students time to work on learning that is based on individual student needs. This might be a student getting time to work on a few of the reading standards that they need to demonstrate proficiency in or it may be a student working on an independent research project with a teacher. It could also be a time to explore learning with a foreign language or in the visual and preforming arts or science and technology. This would allow students to have their individual learning paths and also allow the school to fill a requirement to provide intervention for students who do not meet benchmark standards.
As we started the year we had in place a schedule that was a step in the direction that we had defined in our visioning work. The first trimester was a success from a number of perspectives. We were able to work with students who needed intervention at most every level. Students were able to be placed in a more advantageous learning environment for their math standards. Students were able to have experience an enrichment in art or spanish or music for at least one day of the week. There were students excited about the new opportunities that were now a part of their new learning environment. Teachers were feeling that they were having time to successfully work with students and meet them on a more individual scale. It was a very positive environment to be working and learning in and that was our goal.
We had to abandon some of this schedule as there were fiscal issues beyond our control that resulted in reduced teacher time. The schedule had to be changed and the result was a limited intervention time for teachers and students. The common math time remained intact.
As I write this, the second trimester has just finished and things that are still in place are working, those that had to be let go are being missed and will be from the remainder of this year. It has involved the intervention time that was everyday and had to go to a three day a week offering with fewer opportunities for enrichment and intervention. Students have had to backtrack to an environment and schedule that is less focused on the individual and does not allow students time to explore topics of interest or need. This negative impact has been felt at our school this last trimester but if we can get back on track, I look forward to getting back to that level of learning that we were able to offer last fall.
Are we proficient at it this yet? Not yet!
When will we be? I am hoping sooner rather than later.
Here is to a forward looking group of teachers and administrators to move our learning environment to a successful place!