NCLD’s policy team had the opportunity to visit the Brooklyn Lab Charter School in New York City. We sat down with educators and school leaders there to learn more about the innovative work they are doing and the personalized learning environment they’ve created for their middle school students. We left Brooklyn Lab with a deeper understanding of what it means to personalize learning in a way that meets the needs of all students.
- Providing extra instruction for all students in their own areas of need
Brooklyn Lab is a school where 25-30% of students have an IEP and many students struggle with learning due to a wide range of social and emotional issues. Here, the school’s approach benefits all students: plan for the students with the biggest needs.
Many students enter the school in 6th grade performing well below grade level. The school pushes these students forward while making a deliberate effort not to overwhelm them. They strike a balance between recuperation (building skills in foundational areas) and acceleration (getting students to their current grade level or beyond).
At Brooklyn Lab, this approach adds an additional benefit to school culture. Because all students – with or without IEPs – get extra instruction in their areas of need, students don’t differentiate between special education services and regular instruction. All students receive small group or 1:1 instruction in one or more subjects at certain times. The stigma of being “pulled out” of class for special education services doesn’t exist in this type of setting.
- Using technology to guide learning
The school has created their own platform to best fit the needs of both students and educators. The school’s technology keeps track of student learning, offers assessments, allows students to submit homework, and allows teachers to keep attendance and perform scheduling and grading functions as well.
This type of technology acts as a learning plan for all students. This platform allows students to follow and complete certain “loops” or “playlists,” which include activities and tasks based on what they are learning. The activity level can range from basic to advanced, depending on a student’s level of performance. These loops include assessments along the way that determine whether a student should move ahead. The technology can also flag areas where remediation or additional work is needed, such as social/emotional learning skills, or whether small group instruction is needed for the student. Ultimately, students use this technology to create a portfolio of work and can reflect on where they’ve met the standards and what their next goal is.
- Personalizing roles for staff
At Brooklyn Lab, in addition to personalizing learning for students, there is an emphasis on personalizing roles for staff. Placing teachers and staff in roles not only where they are most effective but also where they desire to be helps make this system work. Where students are at the center of learning, the adults must also have their needs met and must be effective and happy in their role.
All schools on the journey to personalized learning are doing things in the way that works best for their students and staff. At Brooklyn Lab, personalized learning does not necessarily equal technology. Technology enhances learning. But here, personalized learning is adults meetings the needs of students through various learning tools.
Next in the series: Personalized Learning – Part 3: Four Myths and Facts
Previously in the series: Personalized Learning — Part 1: The Basics