Our district high school implemented personalized learning in math nearly a decade ago. They experienced great success, and stakeholders decided to start an elementary pilot. Freedom piloted our personalized program in 2016-7 with a cohort of 94 students at age levels corresponding to 2nd – 5th grade. We built our MT standards-based continuum in Math first. We have been steadily working to build a continuum in Reading and to build and integrate continuums in Social Studies and Science. This past school year (2018-9), a second cohort of approximately 90 students joined the program. We distributed a district-wide parent survey, and only 6% of participating parents indicated that they preferred a traditional system to our system. In 2018-9, all Freedom students in grades 2-5 will learn in this personalized, blended style. Teachers have worked extremely hard to communicate with parents and to build and organize high-quality curriculum. District administrators have supported Freedom by hiring experts in technology integration and curriculum design. There have been multiple levels of support that have enabled this program to thrive.
One of our biggest challenges has been ensuring that parents understand why we are going personalized and how students are interacting with technology. Parents often think that blended learning requires students to work on digital devices all day. In fact, our district refuses to buy a digital platform that does the work of instruction and differentiation for teachers. We are leveraging research, particularly Marzanno’s and Hattie’s work on best practices, to inform and bolster teachers’ pedagogy in this blended arrangement.
We have also found that, prior to mapping subject continuums, some of our teachers did not know the depth of state standards. For many years, we purchased curriculum that prescribed what teachers should teach and how they should assess learning. Now, our teachers start with state standards and design learning experiences and assessments to fulfill them. Our teachers have a deeper knowledge of their content-area standards because of this process. Providing robust support for teachers through this transition has been key for the success of our personalized program.
When Freedom began our initiative to personalize learning, we visited a number of schools that were personalized in one form or another. It looked very different at each school. We took components of models that resonated with us, and we designed our own model tailored to the needs of our district and school. Above all, we would suggest observing what is out there in the field and talking to people who represent a variety of perspectives on this work.
We have become skilled at assessing learners precisely due to our mastery-based, standard-aligned continuums. We are additionally skilled at addressing habits of mind and relationships with learners. Without skills like perseverance and managing impulsivity, our students would not be able to progress along our learning continuums in the manner that they presently do.
Freedom Elementary School is located in Harrisburg, SD, a growing community just south of Sioux Falls. Freedom—in partnership with its children, families, teachers and community— provides quality instruction and challenging learning experiences in a safe and orderly environment. At Freedom, students are able to personalize their education in accordance with needs and preferences through mastery-based, blended learning.
Freedom Elementary School
1101 Tom Sawyer Trl
Harrisburg, South Dakota
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