This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. Lynn and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.
In Episode 22, we learn about learner-centered education in the Fraser Public Schools. Superintendent, David Richards, along with learners Emily Ruebelman and Julia Wallace shared stories that highlight learning in Fraser. a school district of over 5,000 students located in Macomb County, Michigan. The District is currently in the process of implementing a competency based education model across all grade levels which will allow students to progress through their academic experience based upon demonstration of proficiency in each of the subject areas.
Learner-centered leaders provide learners with new opportunities. While this can be difficult and very different from traditional learning, leaders can open a new realm of possibilities.
We started the conversation by asking the learners to share three words to describe their learning. The learners described their learning as engaging, well-rounded, valuable, new, personalized, and open. Because the learning is competency-based, learners see the value in learning. Because the learning is personalized, the learning is self-paced and different for each learner. Learners may be more receptive to this kind of learning environment because they appreciate being co-creators.
What does personalized learning/competency-based learning look like in Fraser? It is difficult to personalize learning without making it personal. The District is driven by a system that allows every child to proceed at his/her own pace toward mastery. Learners in a learner-centered environment need to persevere. Learners need to learn, monitor their learning, and re-learn. The focus is on mastery and proficiency instead of having learning be fixed around time or the school year. Can they create a system which allows every child to advance at their pace? “This is not a one and done environment.” Some students need more time, and other students need less. While learning in Fraser still has community and social emotional components, the grade levels become more blurred.
Students have the opportunity to have 1:1 time with teachers in a seminar. During seminar, students have diverse opportunities for their learning. Sometimes the learners need individualized time with teachers during the seminars in order to master content. There are also seminars for clubs and other activities (student council, peer-to peer, band). Learners may also use the seminar time for collaboration in the media center.
Technology makes personalization more convenient and efficient. In addition to getting extra practice, students can also accelerate. Teachers build content in the learning management system, and students can access the resources. Having this learning management system has given more control to the learners. Teachers have transformed by letting go of control of content in the LMS. Students appreciate that they can accelerate and move at their own pace.Even learners as young as 3rd or 4th grade understand they can create an individual path and move on to new content when they are ready.
Learners shared some challenges in this new system. Self-motivation can be a challenge for students. Learners have to learn new skills to manage the choices in a more personalized learning environment. Learners need to own the learning, and that can be a challenge.
Memorable learning experiences included a student-selected inquiry project as well as respectful, safe class discussions. Students relate content to their world and their personal values. Real-world connections are a norm.
Learners are leaders in Fraser. Learners need to take initiative and understand growth. Because they are responsible for their own learning, they need to have their own drive and devotion. Students are required to persevere throughout the competency-based learning process. Learners trust learners during these discussions and group collaborations.
Thinking about advice for learners and leaders…Today’s learners have grown up with technology and are learning differently than students in the past. We need to be open to the new changes and adaptations so today’s learners are different. The heavy lift is creating flexible environments where learning is the focus. Learner voice is critical as we look at how we will redesign schools. Leaders need to rethink, redesign, and take back the conversation!
Connections to Practice
- Our learners are different from the learners when many of our staff members started teaching. Do we all understand our Generation Z learners?
- We have some opportunities for learners to earn college credit through dual enrollment and specific programs. Additionally, we are piloting an internship program this spring.
- We need a clear profile of what it takes to graduate. Students need to have the 4Cs. They need to be equipped with how to learn and relearn, They need to have grit and get through learning struggles. They also need to uncover their passions. How do we help people to do this?
- In Fraser, learners are leaders. Certainly our elementary students view themselves as leaders largely due to the Leader in Me. Do all of our secondary students view themselves as leaders?
- Releasing control is necessary to release agency. What are our challenges in releasing control? How do we help learners and the adults manage choices?
Questions Based on Our Context
- How would students benefit if they could set their own pace?
- How do our students have the opportunity to develop inquiry projects?
- How do we provide authentic audiences for our students?
- How can we embed college experiences?
- How can we be courageous enough to provide opportunities so all learners have a personalized path?
- How do we balance the struggle of covering content for the test and ensuring each student reaches competency in a given skill?
- When is self-motivation addressed? Before an implementation or during?
Next Steps for Us
- Engage in conversations with learners about their experiences in our schools. Do they view themselves as leaders? Do they own their learning?
- Engage in conversations with our leaders. What components of the Profile of a Graduate and Learning Beliefs do they have a deep understanding of? What support do they and our teachers need to understand better? What are the best ways they see to build that capacity which will lead to greater opportunities for our learners?
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