Category: School Models

Creating a Peer Coaching Program to Grow Student-Centered Learning (Part 2)

January 16, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at Students at the Center on January 2, 2018. Read Part 1 here.

Mary Bellavance

In part I of this three-part series, I wrote about how Maine’s Biddeford School District created a peer coaching program to support our teachers as they spread a student-centered learning model across the district. Part II shares three of the most important lessons from the experience.

Develop a plan that is closely aligned to your district’s goals

  • Does your district have a strategic plan (or even just a set of well-defined goals) to help implement student-centered learning over a five-to seven-year timeframe? If so, it will help all stakeholders stay focused on the peer coaching steps necessary to help reach this goal. If not, Douglas Reeves offers recommendations in his book Leading Change in Your School: How to Conquer Myths, Build Commitment, and Get Results. Reeves addresses how to create the conditions for change, then plan, implement and sustain it.
  • Also, make sure you are clear about your goals for a peer coaching initiative and how those goals connect with the district’s ambitions for student-centered learning.

(more…)

Creating a Peer Coaching Program to Grow Student-Centered Learning (Part 1)

January 9, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at Students at the Center on December 15, 2017.

Mary Bellavance

In southern Maine, the little corner of the world where I teach, coach and learn, we are in the midst of transitioning to a student-centered learning (SCL) model. The Biddeford School Department is a public, K-12 system serving 2,425 students. I am an instructional coach at the middle school and am in my second year serving as the coordinator of the K-12 peer coaching program, a program that we created as a way to support our staff in building and sustaining a student-centered learning system.

Since our journey began, district leadership has encouraged collaboration among all stakeholders. School leaders engaged staff, students and parents in conversations about what our students need to be college- and career-ready in the 21st century. With the support of our school board, Superintendent Jeremy Ray made sure the message was clear: we were engaging in this transformative work because it’s what is best for children.

Part of our student-centered approach is that it is proficiency-based (also called competency-based). Maine passed a law in 2012 requiring that every school district determine standards for proficiency in eight areas and award diplomas, beginning in 2021, based on those standards being met.

Our SCL Road Map

The state has left it up to educators in each district to collaborate, plan and implement their version of proficiency-based education. The district must provide students with timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. It became apparent that supports would be as necessary for the educators —who are also new to student-centered, proficiency-based learning—  as they are for the students. For help conceptualizing an SCL implementation plan, we reached out to Reinventing Schools, and they provided training and coaching. Reinventing Schools is a division of Marzano Research — one of the most well-known proponents of proficiency-based education.

The Launch Training

Teachers were invited—not mandated—to participate in a training session with an educational consultant from Reinventing Schools. The first group of enthusiastic staff members, about 25 in all, learned how to transform their classrooms to more learner-centered environments, including how to use the Affinity Diagram process with students to create a shared vision and code of cooperation—critical to the infrastructure of the new approach. They also spent time considering how they would build collegiality in their schools to pave the way for the acquisition of new skills among colleagues who did not attend the training session. These early activities were necessary to lay the foundation for our continued work with essential standards and to build a transparent, rigorous curriculum for our learners.

Using the skills acquired at the training, teachers worked with their students to develop shared visionscodes of cooperation and standard operating procedures for their classrooms.  These exercises provided the opportunity for students to take ownership of their learning, one of the four research-based tenets of Jobs for the Future’s (JFF) Student-Centered Learning Model. (more…)

Reaching Out into the Community at High School of Health Sciences

January 8, 2018 by

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the seventh in a ten-part series on Kettle Moraine. Please read the first post on Kettle Moraine before continuing to read this post, as it will prepare you to fully take advantage of the ideas and resources shared in this series.

Image from the HS² website

Although the personalized high schools in Kettle Moraine share a number of common features in their culture, structure, and pedagogy, each has a different design and flavor. The nationally recognized High School of Health Sciences (HS²) builds upon strong medical partners Aurora-Summit, ProHealth, and the Medical College of Wisconsin to create rich field experiences, real-world public health problems for students to investigate as well as a variety of career development opportunities. Employees from the medical partners also often act as adjunct teachers bringing their expertise into the seminars. (Check out videos about HS² here.)

The beliefs that are shaping HS²’s model and pedagogy are based on the following:

  •      learning is contextual,
  •      students will be empowered to be architects of their own learning,
  •      students will make connections between learning and their future endeavors,
  •      student accomplishments are a result of both successes and failures,
  •      learning is social, diverse, and collaborative,
  •      authentic experiences help students understand their role in a global society, and
  •      teachers guide, facilitate, inspire, and coach.

The learning design for HS² includes:

  •      Micro-school serving 176 students with 7 full time faculty
  •      Immersive, seminar-based learning
  •      Interdisciplinary
  •      Place-based learning (referred to as outreach)
  •      Personalized individual learning plans

The mission of HS² is: The High School of Health Sciences cultivates authentic and personalized learning in a health care and research context. We inspire curiosity in a wide range of fields, study, and service by engaging problem-solvers in an interdisciplinary spectrum of opportunity. Students will master a course of study that equips them for success in health care, research, and related fields. Even with its small size and limited number of staff, HS² offers a variety of courses in sciences, health sciences, and the other academic domains.  (more…)

Chasing Competencies at KM Perform

January 2, 2018 by

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the sixth in a ten-part series on Kettle Moraine. Please read the first post on Kettle Moraine before continuing to read this post, as it will prepare you to fully take advantage of the ideas and resources shared in this series.

Image from the KM Perform website

When Kevin Erickson, now the Director of the KM School of Arts and Performance (or KM Perform for short), and his colleagues started the school six years ago, they wanted to start an arts school. They weren’t thinking about competency-based education. In fact, they hadn’t even heard about it. “We wanted to have interdisciplinary seminars, so we started thinking about organizing them around learning targets or completion targets. These are now what we call competencies,” explained Erickson. He also said, “We started thinking about learning targets as standards and have ended up thinking about them as how we engage students.”

KM Perform, now serving 160 students, is one of three thematic charter schools, each with a different school design, housed on the Kettle Moraine High School campus. KM Perform is organized around the arts with four options for focus areas: art, music, creative writing, and theatre.

The school is organized around the “Big 5” pillars:

  •      Interdisciplinary
  •      Career exploration
  •      Building leadership
  •      Academic excellence
  •      Portfolio

Erickson mentioned that most of the academic domains have embraced these five teaching and learning principles. However, math continues to challenge everyone regarding how to integrate the Big 5 into math seminars and how to integrate math into other seminars.

KM Perform uses a continuum of learning targets to organize learning, not courses. Students participate in three different types of learning experiences that provide opportunity for learning new content, application, and performance.

  • Seminars: Each interdisciplinary seminar runs 4-6 weeks and is used for core academics and the arts. Many seminars end with a performance that is open to the public.
  • Studio Day: Once a week, students have time to work on individual projects and meet with staff, as needed.
  • Workshops: These are short 1-2 week learning experiences on very specific artistic or academic skills. Community members or guest artists are often engaged to work closely with students.

Each of the seminars has a number of learning targets. The accrual of learning targets is how credit is awarded. If students have completed 5 of 11 targets, they have earned a half credit. Complete all 11, and you have a full credit. The demonstration of competencies and and credits is how pace is measured. Erickson emphasized, “No one talks about grades at KM Perform. It’s just about red, yellow, green to indicate progress. Competencies have become the currency.” A student explained, “We focus on what we have learned. Each of us moves on when we complete a competency. On any given day, one student might be finishing a course (a set number of competencies or learning targets) and another student might be starting a new one.” Erickson chuckled when he said, “We’ve created a culture of chasing competencies.” Erickson has created the My Learning Collaborative (myLC) information system to monitor progress in completing learning targets in seminars and credit tracking. Final grades are entered into Infinite Campus. (more…)

KM Global: Pedagogy, Curriculum, and Learning Design

December 18, 2017 by

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the fifth in a ten-part series on Kettle Moraine. Please read the first post on Kettle Moraine before continuing to read this post, as it will prepare you to fully take advantage of the ideas and resources shared in this series.

Image from the KM Global website

Once again walking into the large open space with small tables, couches, comfortable seating, and a few small offices and conference rooms, I had a hard time finding the teachers. That’s because they were sitting with a small group of students or talking one-on-one with a student. There was a gentle hum of conversation and, from what I could tell, everyone was on task – except it wasn’t the same task. As I walked around and talked to students, they were all working on their own separate research question. Some told me they had done everything they needed to do today, so were reading a book for English or working on some math problems they were finding really challenging.

As described earlier in this series, KM Global is a charter school, chartered by the Kettle Moraine School District and operating on the campus of the comprehensive Kettle Moraine High School. Similar to the other personalized high school campuses, KM Global is small, with 87 students and six teachers. Of the 19 students who graduated in the spring of 2017, 13 were accepted to four-year colleges.  

Each of the personalized learning high schools have a different theme. The vision of KM Global is: designed for a generation of global learners experiencing education with purposeful interaction and influence. The school provides a unique learning environment equipping students with the tools and experiences to contribute innovative thought and solutions to complex global challenges, and to Know, Be, and Do the work of global leadership. KM Global incorporates a unique curriculum, assessment framework, and delivery model to build a comprehensive learning environment that enables pupils to attain educational goals.

KM Global describes The Know, Be, and Do as a pedagogical framework (See page 3 of Annual Report):

  • Knowing: Attainment of specific learning outcomes guided by rigorous core content standards;
  • Doing: Participation in learning through projects; internships; travel; and other relevant experiences;
  • Being: Development of dispositions that will foster responsibility for personal leadership.

The curriculum is described as four pillars of learning:

Pillar 1: Global Perspective

Pillar 2: Leadership

Pillar 3: Field Experience

Pillar 4: Interconnected Standards Based Learning (more…)

The Sound of Learning at Create House at Kettle Moraine Middle School

December 13, 2017 by

Image from the Kettle Moraine Middle School website

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the fourth in a ten-part series on Kettle Moraine. Please read the first post on Kettle Moraine before continuing to read this post, as it will prepare you to fully take advantage of the ideas and resources shared in this series.

I honestly had a huge moment of cognitive dissonance as I walked into Create House at Kettle Moraine Middle School. Superintendent Pat DeKlotz was enthusiastically explaining the model to me, and I just couldn’t understand a thing she was saying because my mind was so busy trying to understand what I was seeing (i.e., working memory overload!). Across a very large open space surrounded by a few smaller rooms, there were students at low tables working as a group, students lying on their stomachs, students at high tables, students on cushy chairs, and a cluster of students sitting on a floor while a teacher provided a quick mini-lesson. Almost every student had a computer open or by their side. And most were using it as a productivity tool in some way or another. In one classroom, students were talking to scientists through Skype. It wasn’t quiet. But it wasn’t loud either. Create House was humming with the sound of learning. (See video on Create House, bottom left corner.)

Create House has been organized as a multi-age school with 75 students and four teachers. Students may be at different grade levels (think performance levels) in different academic domains. Each student is working on where they are in their learning and skill-building process (i.e., on a customized pathway based on meeting students where they are).

Once I was able to tune in again, DeKlotz explained how Create House was designed to strengthen relationships. “Learning is very social and depends on the quality of the relationships between student and teachers. The size of the school is important. The multi-age structure allows these relationships to grow. Our teachers know our students more than a semester or a year. Our teachers really get to know the children and guide them in the journey. This is absolutely critical in helping students build the skills of independent learners,” she said.

A student explained to me how their school worked, “We are always asking the question What do I need to do? I focus in on the learning targets that I’m working on and sometimes the ones that are coming next so that I’m already thinking about how I’m going to learn and demonstrate my learning.” A teacher chimed in, “The targets are important but they don’t have meaning until we are able to make connections. We want students to understand why they need a target, how it might help them in the future, how it will open doors professionally.”

As to the question of what happens if a student doesn’t demonstrate proficiency on a test or in their evidence of learning that they submit? Students explained that they received feedback, would keep practicing or learning while working more closely with the teacher, and would then submit evidence of their learning or take a reassessment. There isn’t credit or a point system awarded for homework. It isn’t graded. Homework is considered practice and formative work so teachers can understand student progress. The actual grading system at Create is what I would call a hybrid, tapping into some aspects of standard-based grading (in which schools commit to helping students learn all the standards) as well as some aspects of traditional grading. Students didn’t seem to care about the grading much. They were much more interested in talking to me about what they were working on. Some were too engaged to give me much time.

One of the things that KM has done is invested heavily in formative assessment. I could hear it in the conversation with students and teachers. The phrases “failing forward,” “learning from my mistakes,” and “not afraid of making mistakes” indicated a culture of learning and an understanding that mistakes open up opportunities to learn. (more…)

The Five Pillars of Teaching and Learning at KM Explore

December 11, 2017 by

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the third in a ten-part series on Kettle Moraine. Please read the first post on Kettle Moraine before continuing to read this post, as it will prepare you to fully take advantage of the ideas and resources shared in this series.

Kettle Moraine School District has introduced personalized learning into the elementary school level. Of the four district elementary schools, one is fully personalized and one is beginning to make the transition. We visited KM Explore, a charter school chartered by the district to create innovation space, sharing a campus with Wales Elementary. There are currently 148 students K-5 and 6 teachers.

The KM Explore team made the transition to personalized learning in 2015 after having invested in building their capacity in formative assessment for four years with Shirley Clark. They established a new mission and vision:

  • Mission: The mission of KM Explore is to engage a community of learners through authentic learning experiences by empowering them to be self-motivated thinkers, creators, and collaborators.
  • Vision: The vision of KM Explore is to customize student learning through an integrated learning framework that fosters authentic collaboration, engagement and reflection.

They then organized their approach to personalized learning with five pillars related to teaching and learning:

  1. Generative, Interdisciplinary Curriculum
  2. Multi-age Learning Community
  3. Habits of Mind
  4. Place Based Learning
  5. Collaborative Teaching and Learning

This approach is based on the idea that personalized learning and deeper learning experiences can be fully integrated, with students working at different levels, receiving differentiated support, and building lifelong learning skills.

Generative Interdisciplinary Curriculum

The discussion about generative, interdisciplinary curriculum was fascinating, as it suggested an entirely new way of organizing learning. KM Explore explains generative curriculum as the understanding that students, community and teachers work together to develop or create “in the moment” learning experiences.

  • Encouraging voice and choice in learning topics
  • Learning in a flexible manner, which content areas are interconnected throughout the day
  • Generating an experience that empowers a learner to question, engage and build community based on class initiatives or individual student interests
  • Growing learning pathways organically

Place Based Learning is the belief that learning takes place inside and outside of the “school walls” and that the community and its members are all part of the anytime/ everywhere learning environment.

Redefining learning spaces outside of the classroom walls

Using the community as resources, including students, community experts, and family members sharing their expertise with our learners.

The term generative curriculum was new to me, so Director Laura Dahm offered the popcorn project as an explanation. Earlier in the year students had a site visit to a farm where they had talked about plants, including corn. This site visit had been selected as a way of implementing another of the KM pillars of teaching and learning: place-based learning. From corn, the student interest then jumped to popcorn. So they learned about different kinds of corn and which ones were for popping. They then began to learn about the science of what made corn pop. Next, they created a small business to sell popcorn to high school students. The teachers could never have anticipated that the site visit to the farm was going to end up with a small business selling popcorn. KM Explore is designed to be highly responsive to follow student interest and prompting questions that would lead to multiple sets of knowledge and skills being taught. (more…)

Waukesha STEM Academy’s Journey from ABC to the Learner Continuum (Part 4)

November 27, 2017 by

Image from the WSA website

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the fourth in a four-part series on Waukesha STEM Academy. Start the entire series here or read the first part on Waukesha. 

The transition of Waukesha STEM Academy (WSA) to a personalized, proficiency-based system didn’t happen overnight. Principal James Murray and the team at WSA started down this road in 2010, moving through four stages of implementation.

The first stage was moving toward blended learning and incorporating educational software. Murray explained, “The programs provided a lot of data, especially in math. We had to learn how to use it. We had an innovation dip, and the student data plateaued before finally starting to shoot upward. However, we realized there were problems. We were giving students choices. We thought the gamification would be engaging. But we weren’t teaching students the really important skills of how to collaborate, create, and innovate; we were still somewhat stuck in the consumption game and we wanted to transition to the production side of town.” Murray emphasized, “We started to understand that there was a strong and often overlooked nuance between getting something done compared to mastering concepts and owning the ability to contextualize these skills. We realized that students could never get to mastery solely by using adaptive educational software. You simply can’t do it all online. There are definitely powerful supplemental resources for students, but not the core instructional strategy. We never wanted these programs to supplant great instruction and varied modalities and, more importantly, the application of the skills being developed needed to be the keystone of this process.”

So WSA took a big step back. They began to repurpose. Murray explained, “We started thinking about the endgame. We have to put students on a playing field in life. We wanted our students to know how to learn, make progress, demonstrate their learning, and own their education. We needed to think about how we could prepare our students for that.”

In stage two, or STEM 2.0, WSA focused on what it was going to mean to use STEM to help students build higher order skills. They reorganized the campuses so there was now a K-5 and a 6-8 with 850 students enrolled overall. The next step was moving to 1:1 netbooks, expanding the project-based learning to disband projects tied to grade-levels and add in student-proposal projects, and building a platform to support monitoring students. During this stage, they narrowed grading to A-D with the idea that no student should ever be failing a course.

The third stage, referred to as STEM 3.0, introduced standards-based grading (using standards and committing to every student meeting all the standards). Murray pointed out, “We were focusing on proficiency and mastery. We had an adult mental model in which we kept telling students, “You need to do this or that. You need to reach proficiency. Our feedback on behaviors emphasized compliance.” At this point they started understanding that grade-based standards were adult-driven based on what we expected but not where students really were. The standards were transparent but the expectation was that students were all learning the same standards and at the same pace. They also realized that they needed to shift the orientation to learner-driven so they were helping students begin to own their education and their progression.

In the fourth stage, WSA created their own learner continuums that were informed by standards and learning progressions, organized courses to meet students where they were, increased transparency for students about learning expectations and progress, invested in more coaching and reflection in developing personal habits of success, and created the information system to support it all. The vision was finally staring to take shape and people were beginning to really notice the difference in production, engagement, and excitement for learning. This brand new concept of a school had started to grow its sea legs and was now beginning to transform the educational system as we had always known it into a program model that functioned much like a blend of a start-up company and a think-tank, woven into a technical college type-campus.

Use of Technology to Support Students and Teachers

Murray explained, “In order to make the personalized, proficiency-based system really work for students, teachers, and parents, we needed a really good LMS. It needed to operate as a fully-accessible digital file cabinet so that teachers, students, and parents could have access to real-time data and resources.” As every school shifting to competency-based education knows, that’s not so easy to find. “We didn’t just want to build a system and then let it collect dust, as the teachers were the keepers of knowledge. We wanted our most important customers – our students and parents – to be able to access these tools whenever and wherever they pursued their learning. (more…)

Waukesha STEM Academy: Rethinking Space, Time, and Reporting (Part 3)

November 20, 2017 by

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the third in a four-part series on Waukesha STEM Academy. Start the entire series here or read the first part on Waukesha.

“Once you get a new iPhone, you can’t go back to a flip phone…it just doesn’t feel right,” remarked Waukesha STEM Academy principal James Murray. We had been discussing the power of creating a transparent learner continuum and the implications for other parts of the instructional and school design.

Use of Time

One change just led to another, and there was no way to stop or back up because the value to students was so apparent. Murray likened it to climbing a tree, branch by branch. “Eventually, you look down and realize how high you have climbed. We were so far beyond the norm that we weren’t going to turn back and climb down that proverbial tree.” For example, in rethinking the learner continuum, Waukesha STEM Academy (WSA) also started rethinking the structure of time and how it impacted learning. Instead of a semester or a school year, they began to think about how they would use the 540 days of learning students had while at STEM and then stretch the learning experience into the summer and vacation months. They are now pushing to see how they might provide a year-round model with more learning during the summer through seminars.

One of the principles they used is Do less so you can do more. They reduced core courses from eight to three per day.  The WSA considers the schedule a framework (scroll down to see this week’s framework), as it is something that guides but can be changed if needed. The first fifteen minutes of the day is spent for a transition to learning spaces. The idea of transition is that students check in with whom they need to, grab the resources they need, finish up any work they need to, and find their way to their learning space. The schedule is then a mix of four core courses each day with times aimed at supporting students and openings in the day, when students are able to work on focus areas respective of their individual and personalized learning goals.

Twice a week, students have FLEX where they go to whatever teacher and course they need extra help or extra time with to complete their projects. Homework Club is available three times a week for extra help after school, with students working in a math lab or literacy lab as needed. Murray noted that 98 percent of the students who need the extra help stay after school. In addition, twice weekly Advisory has formal reflection time for students to think about how they are using the time in the day for their learning, as well as to focus on personal success habits, digital citizenship conversations, ACP lessons, and other types of training and coaching.

CONNECT happens at lunch every day, with students touching base with staff as needed or as requested. This is a very unique approach to lunch, because 100 percent of students are on, all at the same time. No one tells students when they need to eat or where they need to go. In this hour, students choose when they eat and which teachers they will go to connect with. At first, there were conversations about schooling this concept and telling groups of students when they needed to eat and where they needed to go. This quickly fell by the wayside when the mission of this time was looked at closely. “We wanted to help our students build skills in time management and ownership of their day,” Murray adds. “When you do it for them and tell them when they can eat and where they need to sit, and make them raise their hands to throw their trash out or excuse themselves from the table, you have removed the ability and need to develop that sense of growth. Our goal was to build independence, not dependent students who didn’t need to think for themselves.”

When students first join WSA, they are offered a four-week Bootcamp during CONNECT to fully understand the proficiency-based system and the information management systems that support it. Students only exit the Bootcamp when they have demonstrated that they understand the necessary components to be successful at WSA. They learn how to use Google Docs and the information management system For All Rubrics; they are introduced to how the schedule is organized; they become familiar with the learner continuums and rubrics; and they learn how to use FLEX, CONNECT, and Homework Club to best support their learning. Once they demonstrate mastery in these areas, they are released into Gen. Pop. and are “pushed out of the nest,” so to speak, and show that they can be successful. If, after a few days, it is observed that a student still needs some support, they are reeled back in to Bootcamp so they can further develop the skills they need to build up.

Rethinking Space

(more…)

Waukesha STEM Academy: Personalizing Instruction and Learning Experiences (Part 2)

November 13, 2017 by

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the second in a four-part series on Waukesha STEM Academy. Start the entire series here or read the first part on Waukesha. 

Many people describe WSA as a STEM school or as a project-based learning school. Murray quickly pointed out, “I couldn’t really make a blanket statement that we are a project-based school or not. It really depends on the student and how they learn best. For some students, hands-on learning and projects all day work great; for others, not so well. We organize the instruction and learning around what works for students.” He continued, “We started out as a project-based school until we discovered that not every student is ready to do hands-on learning the day they walk through our doors. We failed forward and learned by doing and not doing. Now we ask and discover through conversations with our students what the best fit is for them and roll from there. What does the student need? What type of environment do they like? What type of modality fits their learning habits best? What type of seat do they like, even! Maybe their best fit is direct instruction from a teacher, possibly a slide-show or presentation, maybe it is to watch a video so they have some control and can re-watch, or maybe what they need to do is create a video to teach other students.”

Instruction

The shared pedagogical philosophy at WSA begins with making learning visible. This starts with an agreed-upon workflow process that has students able to access ‘playlists’ or the resources they need for the unit or progression of skills, followed by students planning for and engaging in learning. The next stages are skill building and practice tasks and experiences with formative feedback, which is then followed by summative work where students submit artifacts that demonstrate their proficiency for a specific level of skill and demonstrating mastery. Finally, the learner continuum is used to monitor and share student progress to help support a competency-based learning system. And the cycle begins again.

As emphasized above, the specific instructional strategies vary based on a combination of student needs and the teacher’s professional judgment about what will be most effective delivery and modality for students. There are different instructional modalities, including direct instruction, complementary and adaptive educational software, Socratic seminars, problem-based learning, and project-based learning. There is an emphasis on students applying their learning through the design process, innovating and creating things, capstones projects followed by gallery walks, and project-based learning. Murray explained, “It really feels unique and pretty real when you walk down the hallways and into learning spaces here, because you don’t see just STEM at WSA, you actually have to step over it.”

WSA knows that teachers need time for planning. Given the high degree of interdependence of math skills, with students needing to access prerequisite concepts and processes, the math team has 80 minutes [together] every day for planning and strategizing for providing support to all students. “When we sat back and reflected on our schedule for about the hundredth time in Year 3,” Murray laughs, “we recognized that we truly needed to be responsive to our teacher’s needs and not just our students’, or burnout was sure to follow.  Similar to how a teacher would ask a student how they learn best, I asked our staff how they would work best, and they gave some amazing feedback and a vision. This vision blended with our students’ needs and brought upon our new daily and weekly framework, which is quite fluid to support needs of all learners in the school.” Feedback was then gathered from students, staff, and parents to continue to grow the best possible framework for optimal learning and teaching conditions.

Mix of Courses and Educational Experiences

Before WSA made the transition to personalized, proficiency-based education, there were eight core courses and transitions a day. “With that many transitions and classes came that much less time to learn and time wasted moving between classes,” Murray says. “What if we didn’t have bells, reduced the amount of transitions between classes, and built up the amount of time that students were able to spend on experiments, projects, and collaboration? What if we just gave students more time to apply their learning and opened up the pacing a little bit?” It seemed to be the switch that needed to be flipped, because engagement and performance skyrocketed, and WSA currently organizes their day into four main COREs, as they’re called. Murray insists that the day isn’t a block-schedule and there is evidence to prove it. “When we visited other schools or teams come to visit us, they quickly ask if our schedule is a block schedule when they see it and I show them the past two, three, and four weeks that we have just experienced. Every single week this year has been different for the most part, based on what took place each week – which trips were built in, which mentors and partnerships came to visit, when Advisory took place, and when we felt the need to build in a FLEXible afternoon, where students created their own schedule for half of the day. Folks aren’t sure how to take that, but it excites them when they see that it’s possible.” Murray shared that at WSA, they even run mornings and half days where the students are able to visit Passion-Project Seminars based on their own interests and, at times, the students are the ones who are running the seminars. (more…)

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