In a recent article in School Guide, Vermont is lauded for its work on Personal Learning Plans. Tom Alderman, from the Vermont Agency of Education, defines personal learning plans as a “mechanism designed to engage educators, parents, as well as the students in partnership to develop the student’s unique flexible pathway to graduation….the primary aim of this technique is to put the student at the center of construction of their learning experience….result in greater relevance and engagement and excellent outcomes.” The law, which took effect in 2013, is designed to be phased in over the next few years, starting with current 7th and 9th graders and adding classes until all 7th through 12th grade students have a personalized plan.
What does personalizing mean? How can we personalize and make sure students get the required knowledge? This means moving toward proficiencies rather than Carnegie Units in our construction of classes and grades. Think of a web page. Today, there are many tools out there for people to create their own web pages to capture their passions. Websites all look different, with different ways of highlighting important information or sharing a message. Yet the backbone of each webpage is the same, the code that is written must exist in every page and the basic structure is the same. In personalized learning plans, proficiencies help us to be clear about the basic structure of what students need to know. They may not need to memorize when the War of 1812 was (that was a joke), but they do need to know how to find the information and be able to critically think and interact with it. Communication, collaboration and critical thinking skills are among the proficiencies to be met but can be met in a variety of ways, ways that lend to supporting the personal learning interests of the student.
In RNESU, we have begun tackling personal learning plans and proficiencies. This year, elementary report cards report on achievement of proficiencies. The high school is having discussions about grading practices, which leads to discussions about assessments and curriculum as well. We are in the early process along this continuum and likely we will “fail forward” as we learn and develop in this way of thinking and teaching. Our Wow Wednesdays, designed to give teachers (K-8 currently) opportunity to talk with each other about student learning, is a way for us to develop these skills. Our professional development plan for teachers for the next few years is on Brain Based Learning, a way of learning (and teaching) that moves toward proficiencies as well, helping the teacher structure classroom work with student ownership and engagement in mind.
Stay tuned as we continue to learn and move toward personalized learning and proficiencies. If you have specific questions, email us at Let’s Talk, our interactive communication tool, and join the conversation!