Two years ago, I wrote about a New Year’s Resolution for 2016, to “honor the understanding that every student learns differently.” Since stating that goal, it has been a constant beacon for me and for the team at One Schoolhouse. Back in 2016, we had just started the work to get there. Today, we’re a good way along in this journey, and constantly trying to find new ways to reach this goal. It’s time to reflect on our journey.
In 2016, I wrote: “Increased choice in the learning process leads to increased engagement, and engaged students learn more and love learning more.” That was theory then. We’re seeing this in practice now. Teachers at One Schoolhouse have built pathways for students so that they have choice at all stages in the learning process. When students learn new content, they pick the pathway or pathways that help them reach the learning objectives. Choice doesn’t stop there, though. Students also have choice on how to check their understanding of learning (in almost always ungraded formative assessments), and then apply their knowledge to new (almost always real-world) situations, cases, and opportunities.
Agency and choice are important in the classroom. So is design. And, that’s the purview and role of the teacher and coach in a personalized classroom. For personalization to work, design must be intentional, thoughtful, and purposeful; focus is placed on developing competencies for the school, the classroom, and the individual learner. At One Schoolhouse, that has meant a reorganization of our classrooms towards two key competencies: engaging constructively in a diverse and changing world and gaining academic maturity. Moreover, we’ve trained faculty to build competencies for their individual classes and organize their courses around them.And, most importantly, we’ve focused time, energy, and attention in classes on student goal setting. Students work with faculty at the beginning of the year to develop goals, and then reflect on progress towards those goals quarterly. We even devote an entire week of class now at the mid-year point to review, reflection, goals, and growth.
Adult Learners Are Different, Too
We’ve found that personalized approaches to learning work well for adults as an andragogy. In 2016, we started to implement badging in our courses and saw immediate benefits.For years, we’ve had a strong and successful partnership with the National Business Officers Association (NBOA), including exceptional participation within courses. After we implemented badging in courses, participation in discussion boards and activities doubled from 1.1 posts participant/week to more than 2 posts participant/week. We also introduced pathway choice for professional development participants. Plus, we’re building out a professional development ecosystem that includes new choices for adult learners to engage in person and in targeted more flexible ways. (More on that in an announcement next week!)
What’s most exciting, though, is that there is a long way to go to “honor the understanding that every student learns differently.” What started as a year-long resolution has become an invigorating long-term (dare I say, lifetime) pursuit to reach every learner and amplify the work we’ve tried to do in independent schools for generations.
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)