By Jon Hill, Middle School Principal
I just spent the week in the US at the iNACOL conference in Nashville. The conference was focused on personalized learning (PL). PL has become a key to establishing equity for all students. Equity is not about giving every student the same opportunities to learn, but rather a conscious and informed choice to give every student the support they need to own and maximize their learning. It is about recognizing the interests, talents, and challenges of every student, and then supporting them in their pursuit of meaningful learning and creative problem solving.
Personalized learning, in its highest form, puts the student in the driver's seat and the teacher comes alongside as a co-learner and supporter of the student's learning journey. If we want students to make good choices in the future, it is less important that we give them a wide body of "essential" knowledge (because it is only deemed essential today), and more important that we give them opportunities to practice making choices and learning from the results.
Many of these choices will result in failure and probably some stress for students. Our job is to be the caring supporter that helps students make sense of both failure and success and develop their identities as learners. We can help them break complex problems of their choosing into manageable chunks and coach them in their choices. If we make all the choices about what students spend time doing, then when they fail it is much easier for them to just disengage and blame something external or say they just are not good at the task given to them. Their investment and resilience is much higher when they choose the problem and are given feedback and support throughout the learning process.
Ignite Weeks at ISB challenge Middle School students to master new skills in projects of their choosing.
The Middle School at ISB offers a lot of personalized learning opportunities. Many of the core subjects are divided into theme-based units, which allows students to engage with elements that spark their imagination. With a high degree of project-based learning and integration across disciplines, ISB educators work together in small teams to monitor student progress and ensure academic differentiation in accordance with individual ability. Each trimester, students can choose an interest to pursue or academic group to take part in during their Enrichment periods. The aim is for every Middle Schooler to experience new activities and discover their passions.
Can we offer personalized learning all the time and in every subject area? Probably not. But we can make sure students are getting it in places and ways that really matter to them and motivate them to take the lead in their own learning journeys.