How one district improved its personalized learning by failing forward

By Michele Eaton
September 27th, 2016

After failing to create usable Individualized Learning Plans, teachers refined it until it worked. Isn't that what we want from our students?

failing forward ILP

In the MSD of Wayne Township, there are several blended and online opportunities available for students. Perhaps the same is true in your district, but how many of those same opportunities are available to teachers as well?

Recently, the teachers in one particular program in the district inspired a personalized approach to professional development. The Ben Davis Extended Day (BDED) blended learning program is an extension of one of the district’s high schools, Ben Davis High School. The program operates in the evenings and serves students who, for one reason or another, are not able to attend during the day.  The students move through their courses online and at their own pace, while physically attending school in the evenings in a lab setting. There are four teachers that work in the evening that teach the courses for English, math, science, and social studies.

As part of the professional development for BDED, the teachers went through a design thinking process to develop strategies to overcome one of the teachers’ main perceived issues and provide more personalized learning for students. While moving through the process to find a way to improve student engagement and consistency in effort, the group explored various strategies that could be implemented to solve the identified problem.

Each strategy was evaluated and ranked based on several characteristics (ease, training necessary, cost, predicted success, etc.). Ultimately, the teachers decided as a group to research and implement Individualized Learning Plans (ILPs) with their students. The teachers wanted to create learner profiles for each student that would be used to personalize and individualize instruction for the students.

At the time, there was no tool in the district necessarily built for this work, so the teachers at BDED did some online research to find other schools and programs implementing something similar with their students. The group studied ideas from Providence Public High School in Rhode Island, the work of Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey, Maureen Devlin at Wayland Public Schools, the Open College at Kaplan University, and various other templates. Borrowing from these templates and ideas, the teachers developed their own template using the only collaborative tool they had — Google Docs.

Next page: Why it didn’t work. And what we did next

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