Students learn in different ways and in different time frames.
This statement is one of the foundational tenets for the customized learning approach. Think about yourself and the peers you attend (or attended) school with. Did you ever experience a peer who listened to the teacher speak in class and they instantly understood the lesson while you sat there confused? Did you ever complete 25 math problems on an assignment when you totally understood how to solve the problems after 5? Did you ever feel that peers understood material after reading it but that you needed to use the information or you would never remember it? People learn in different ways. One learner may take more or less time to learn a new skill than another. I see it every day.
Now let’s look at our current structure.
Schools are currently based on a time system. What that means is that students enter school or a particular grade based on the number of years they have been alive. When a student is in, let’s say grade 6, the material they learn that year is based on the fact that they are around 12 years old. We run the school year for 181 student days where students come to school for 6.5 hours. At Messalonskee Middle School we break our day into instructional blocks so that learners get 55 minutes of Math, Science, Social Studies and Language Arts. They also get to take a Unified Arts class for 55 minutes, and each UA class lasts a quarter of the year.
Does this honor the fact that students learn in different time frames? No. What if we had a system that allowed students to move ahead once they learned something so that they never had to wait for anyone else? What if our system let that same student spend extra time on a skill that was more difficult for him or her to learn? What if he or she could spend extra time without falling behind and thus increasing the pressure and work load? The future of RSU 18 and MMS, as outlined by the district vision, will allow this to happen.
Currently, in classrooms across the county, students receive instruction that is the same for all. They sit down as a group of 20, 30, or more learners and receive instruction on the same skill, complete the same class and homework, see the same demonstrations and complete similar group projects. Teachers plan lessons to reach learners who learn differently; some by auditory approaches, some in a visual way, and some through the use of kinesthetic methods. What if learners could select a lesson that focuses on how they learn best?
Does the current system honor the fact that students learn in different ways? No.
Although teachers work very hard in the current system to differentiate assignments, materials and teaching for students, they are forced to have students work through similar experiences. What if students could choose from a selection of projects, games, demonstrations, direct instruction and simulations based on they way that they learn? What if that student could then choose from a variety of assessments to use to show that they are proficient at a given skill. What if online material was available for students for when they have questions and need assistance? The future of RSU 18 and MMS will allow this to happen.
Over the past two years, RSU 18 has been investigating how to make the move from our current system to one that has the flexibility for students to learn in the best way for them. In the future, students at MMS will enter classes where they will know what the learning goals are that they are working on. They will then begin working through some activities that they have selected to gather the basic knowledge on those goals. The teacher will introduce the new concepts to the entire class and then begin teaching mini lessons to small groups of students based on each student’s individual readiness. Students will move through a variety of tasks individually, in pairs, in small groups, and as a class. When they are ready, the students will certify their learning and then move on to their next set of learning goals.
This process allows students to have choices in what they learn, when they learn it, how they will learn, and how they certify their learning. Think of the motivation we all feel when we choose to do something instead of being required to do something.
The possibilities for our students are endless. Stay tuned for more information, and feel free to leave comments or questions.