Dundee moves to 'personalized learning'
DUNDEE (7/27/16)--Some school districts in the area are looking at a more specialized way of teaching that focuses on individual students. Dubbed as personalized or blended learning, the new method seeks to utilize data and technology to more rapidly assess and address the needs of students on a day to day basis. While some school districts are just in the beginning phases of looking at personalized learning, the Dundee Central School District will be implementing this program for all of its students in the upcoming 2016-17 school year. The practice is also being used in the district's summer school program.
"A lot of initiatives have come and gone, but this is really the one initiative," Superintendent Kelly Houck said. "This isn't about necessarily adding something new, but is more about redesigning our instructional practices so that we meet the individual needs of all of our students. [...] It's about instructional change, not about buying a canned program. It is about creating those personalized learning plans for all of our students based on data, and that data should inform instruction and changes in instruction every single day."
Houck noted the idea for personalized learning at Dundee originated in October of 2015. She said the school had been working for years toward something like the blended learning program without actually realizing it. The school is working with Education Elements to help design and implement the program that works best for the district, with Houck saying they will eventually be phased out after around three years, as Dundee's program will be self-sustaining by then. Other school districts in Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES have been looking at personalized learning, such as Penn Yan, Geneva, Romulus, Williamson, Gananda and Marion. Houck added Dundee will be one of the first to have their program up and running, while other districts are still in the planning phases.
Personalized learning allows more advanced students to work on harder material, while a student who may be struggling in a certain area can get extra help from a teacher to get them back up to speed.
"Because of the digital data that we will get on a daily basis, teachers will be able to target each student's needs very specifically and then plan for support in small group settings," Curriculum Director Pam Rapoza said. "Instruction will be much more focused on what students need. Our students that are excelling at the grade level content will be allowed to work at their higher levels on skills appropriate for them, and our struggling learners will also get instruction at the their level to support their learning and mastery of the content at their grade level.
Houck said the program utilizes four different components: digital content, data driven decision making, small group targeted instruction and student reflection. While students will be more engaged with technology under the blended learning program, Rapoza noted there will still be things like lectures and group projects and discussion in the classroom. She added students will not be in front of a computer all day, and that the district could have a personalized learning program without the use of technology at all. Houck said there are four or five different teaching models teachers can choose from for their classroom and adjust them accordingly to fit the needs of the students.
However, Houck said the technology will more efficiently assist the teacher in collecting data on the progress students are making, letting them know which students might need additional help and in which area. Rapoza said the teacher will also be collecting anecdotal data throughout the day and using this information to determine the best way to help a student progress the next day. Houck mentioned this data driven evaluation can be done as quickly as overnight and have the student's lesson altered accordingly to better address the areas they may be struggling in. Parents will also have access to information on their child's performance online and to things like their child's test and project scores.
Houck said it is still too early to tell what impact the program will have on kids being able to skip grade levels, adding the district will be adjusting the program as they go along. Junior and Senior High School Principal Chris Arnold said some classes in his building may be able to utilize more college-style methods of teaching, where students will get a reading to do at home and have class time focus on discussion and comprehension of the material. While students still have a required amount of seat time, Houck said she is working on getting an exemption from that requirement, so students who are further ahead in their course material could avoid having to sit through course work they already know.