Seeing a Combination of Personalized Learning Components at Wilson Middle School
By Beth Niegelsky and Meg Smallidge
Creating an engaging classroom environment for middle school students can be challenging. Developmentally, middle school students are at a unique age- one where they often crave the power to make decisions for themselves, yet still need scaffolding and direct instruction in order to make these choices. And, while some middle school students may be ready to dive into higher levels of curriculum, others may need additional support to practice building skills more fundamental skills.
At the MAPLE Consortium’s Learning Tour of Natick’s Wilson Middle School, we saw evidence of how personalizing learning can help provide students with resources that help them connect with curriculum in hands-on and meaningful ways, while allowing for teachers to differentiate learning, provide students with opportunities to make decisions, and assess students understanding in creative ways.
Our tour began in an 8th grade history class where students worked in small teams, using green screen technology to act out self-written scenes related to their unit on Feudalism. Not only were students moving around the classroom and collaborating with peers, they were also using technology to connect with the curriculum and create their own content, going beyond simply listening and taking notes.
In a 6th grade Literature and Language class, students were preparing for an upcoming vocabulary quiz. Rather than traditional flashcards or worksheets however, students used MemBean, an interactive web app that analyzes a student’s individual progress and creates tailored practice activities. This allowed each student to have a unique vocabulary quiz, tailored to his or her own mastery level of the words. Aside from promoting self-efficacy among a class of young learners, the teacher was also able to gain important feedback on student comprehension, and could use that data to better adjust instruction to meet the needs of all students.
Throughout the Learning Tour, a high level of student engagement was evident in every room, as was the implementation of blended learning moving towards personalized learning. Students in an 8th grade science class collaborated eagerly in a live Google Slides document to create a presentation on climate change. The 6th grade Literature and Language class got to choose between independent reading and using an online graphic creation tool, Canva, to illustrate scenes from their chosen novels. 5th graders used iPads to work on a literature project and 6th graders created a digital magazine, with each student completing his or her assigned “job” within the project.
Personalized learning is truly a combination of many elements, from using technology and competency based progressions to building personal connections and establishing flexible learning environments. Seeing these elements come to life at Wilson Middle School gave visitors a great example for how innovative educators can personalize learning to engage students in developmentally appropriate and creative ways, all while maintaining the overarching goal of boosting student achievement and building both academic and interpersonal skills.