Brown Elementary School Provides a Peek into Personalizing Learning at the Elementary Level
By Meg Smallidge
The MAPLE Learning Tour of Brown Elementary School provided an exciting peek into what’s possible for personalizing learning at the
elementary level. Our group was welcomed by Principal Kirk Downing and Third Grade master teacher and early adopter Jed Stefanowicz. The two leaders gave an enthusiastic overview of the school’s goal to personalize learning for their students and highlighted their focus on empathy based approaches and personal connections. “Understanding the child first is critical to personalized learning,” said Downing. “We have to figure out how we can communicate students’ thinking in a way that matches their skill set, agreed Stefanowicz. “But kids are going to tell us how they want to learn.”
Brown is certainly not at a loss for different learning tools and options for students. As we toured several classrooms, evidence of this was apparent and the level of flexibility and choice, mixed with structure and clear purpose was impressive.
Our first stop was the music room, where we saw a 4th grade class practicing for their upcoming performance. All 83 students in the fourth grade perform a piece that they have composed together with their teacher. Illustrating personalized learning pathways, the teacher challenged students to identify what worked and what didn’t work during rehearsal. Students could adjust how they wanted to participate (for example playing instruments or composing their own parts) but the class had to work together to be harmonious.
CHOREOGRAPHING MULTIPLE ACTIVITIES SIMULTANEOUSLY
A station rotation model was implemented in nearly every classroom we visited aided by the flexible learning environment at Brown Elementary School. Tables on wheels, and whiteboard desks provided multiple functional learning “stations,” but teachers exercised their creative and innovative muscles as well. In a third grade classroom, for example, dividers were used around student desks to create a makeshift “recording studio,” giving students privacy as they used digital software to practice reading aloud. [photo] In each classroom, group work and individual work happened simultaneously, while the teacher rotated throughout the classroom checking in and providing individual attention and instruction as needed.
Technology was a prominent feature of each classroom as well, though as Stefanowicz reminded us, “It’s not about the technology, it’s about the integration of the technology.” And indeed, technology seemed to be integrated seamlessly into the curriculum. Natick is fortunate to be a 1:1 school district, with ample resources available and in each classroom, students were using iPads and apps to deepen their learning. For example, students use whiteboards in addition to the math app TenMarks to solve problems and review math work, Ozmo to work on coding, programming and teamwork, white boards to highlight and annotate reading passages, and more. Teachers aligned each station and activity with a clearly with a purpose and students were engaged, self-directed, helping each other and collaborating on creative problem solving.
From supportive leadership with a clear vision of what it means to personalize learning to teachers who are able to choreograph their classrooms, instruction and resources to address the skills, needs and interests of students, the Brown elementary learning tour was an excellent view into what personalizing learning looks like at the elementary school level.