Every month, parents, community members and district staff come together for TSD’s “Seeing is Believing” program, which offers an inside glimpse at how schools are fostering personalized learning. In our third summary of the series, we re-visit Mountain View High School.
Teaching and learning doesn’t get more personalized than in Peter Toew’s music room at Mountain View High School.
Conducting a band or orchestra, says Toews, requires “100 percent personalized learning.” For the whole group to function, the individual performers must rise to the same level. Playing in a band or an orchestra requires collective performance. And each individual’s contribution counts.
The evidence of mastery—or evidence of where the individual student currently stands on that road to mastery—is immediate.
Toews, who has been teaching at Mountain View High School since the school opened in 2000, collects eight pieces of data in each student’s performance—tone, rhythm, notes, intonation, etc. When giving a test, Toews opens an iPad and checks off his rubric. All students at MVHS are given an iPad and log-in to see their scores. There is no need to wait or wonder.
“In a minute, kids can go in and look and they go, ‘man, I got a four on notes, but I got two on rhythm, so I really need to this time focus on rhythm to get better,’” says Toews. The specificity helps students key on areas of improvement and then they take the test again.
Toews’ spacious music classroom and the entire Mountain View High School were on display when Thompson School District’s “Seeing is Believing” tour stopped for a visit on Wednesday, Feb. 21. The tour is giving district staff and district partners an opportunity to see how schools are making progress under Thompson School District’s ongoing journey to bring personalized learning to every classroom setting. Mountain View High School was the eighth such visit.
Like Toews, says Mountain View High School principal Jane Harmon, some teachers are implementing personalized learning in a “very comprehensive way.” Other teachers “remain skeptical,” she acknowledges. But most teachers are implementing some elements of personalization.
Teachers are being asked to become learners in this journey, says Harmon. And they are being asked to take risks, all with the goal of creating learning environments that give students more of a voice and more of a choice in their education and to encourage students to take ownership of their learning.
For instance, math teachers Em Ayyildiz and Heather Anderton each designed a “flipped classroom” unit for their shared Algebra I class. In flipped classrooms, the instruction shifts to a learner-centered model in which students use class time to explore topics in greater depth while content is left to online resources.
“It was uncomfortable for those teachers,” says Harmon. But the flipped classroom approach changed the teachers’ interactions with students, she adds, “because they became a one-on-one tutor for some students, and a small-group tutor for others. At times, they had to stop and do large group instruction, but it gave them the ability to know students personally, because they had the time to do that. They weren’t standing in front of the classroom modeling a problem. So through that risk-taking they were able to do the very thing we need teachers to do, and that is to relate with students.”
In any algebra class or music room, adds Harmon, some students are “ready to fly.” At the same time, other students need one-on-one time with the teacher. The personalized approach allows teachers to distinguish the needs and gives them time for those various interactions.
Up in the second-floor classroom of social studies teacher Kelly Evans, students are exploring the seven jobs that make up the work of the President of the United States. The class is pre-Advanced Placement civics integrated with economics. The class is part of the magnet program inside MVHS known as ‘LISA’ or Loveland Integrated School of the Arts. Groups of students are working together to write a paragraph explaining what the one job they have selected to study and why it’s important. Each group will also create a hat that represents that particular responsibility.
Recently, students were asked to summarize everything they had learned about the executive branch of government. They were given a rubric of how their submissions would be evaluated. Each student decided the form in which they would deliver their work. Evans says she received “amazing” submissions that included storybooks, pamphlets, and infographics—all based on the individual student’s choice of how to represent their work.
Evans said her early cautions about personalized learning are dissipating. “I think before it was almost sort of sold as ‘have at it.’ And that was very scary, but now that I’ve done it this way, the students are tapping into their learning styles. They’re really expressing themselves, and I’m seeing the breadth of what they understand more than if I were to just say, ‘here’s an essay question, write me something.’”
Students, says Evans, are more engaged. “They’re more into it … they do the work so that they can produce that higher-quality project at the end. They actually navigate their agency, their self-agency, a lot better. They’re more invested.”
There are 170 students in LISA (out of 1,240 in MVHS overall). LISA is a school-within-a-school. Students apply for enrollment with a portfolio demonstrating their pathways and interests. Once enrolled, they pursue a rigorous pre-Advanced Placement and Advanced Placement curriculum.
Art is incorporated in all LISA core classes except for mathematics. Collaborations with local artists and other community connections are routine. There is team bonding at a fall retreat. And seniors complete a capstone project including interviews with people in their field of study, says LISA coordinator and language arts teacher Gwynne Johnson.
The capstone project “is a reflection about their learning and how they have come to understand themselves. How did they learn? What do they know about themselves? How has arts integration helped them get where they need to be? What are their future goals?” says Johnson.
The LISA students “are known for tending to be a lot more risk-takers in their learning,” says Johnson. “My LISA classrooms look different. They tend to be a bit noisier … They’re not just here as sponges, taking a test and going through school. They’re active participants.”
The same is true in the “regular” art classrooms, too. Students were given free rein to design their own art show. During one recent project, students selected a personal favorite quote and decided how to develop art that incorporated it. Advanced students worked on their own, pursuing the techniques and materials that inspire them.
“The key to personalized learning is to learn to be okay with the chaos,” says art teacher Anne McManus. “It’s just the way it is.”
Revisit other Seeing is Believing tours here: