Wisconsin school puts focus on personalized learning, student choice, and open learning spaces

school-wisconsinIt’s after lunch in a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class at Walker Elementary School, and students are working on equivalent fractions.

Students cluster around teachers in one of three small-group “seminars,” then scatter to work independently in the large room, which was once the library. That was before the staff moved out all the books to combine two grade levels in one room—part of an experimental model of instruction now deeply rooted at Walker and hailed by many as the future of education.

Children here are grouped by ability rather than grade level. They set their own academic goals, constantly reflect on why they’re learning the material, and conduct much of their work on various types of computers.

In its fourth year of implementation, the new model of elementary education has put a spotlight on the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District, but also led to internal tension about how far and wide to apply the methods at the district’s other schools.

Next page: Is this instructional style for everyone?