As a part of NCLD’s work on personalized learning, the Policy team has been visiting classrooms to see first-hand how innovative schools are tailoring instruction to each student’s needs, skills and interests.

Today, we are featuring E.L. Haynes Public Charter High School in Washington, D.C.

E.L. Hayne’s diverse student population includes many children with learning disabilities and attention issues. Principal Caroline Hill says her goal is to educate all students together, regardless of race, class, language, national background or disability status. In working to achieve this ambitious goal, personalized learning innovations have helped set high expectations for all students while providing individualized supports to meet the unique needs of each learner.

Many schools around the country are using personalized learning strategies, but misconceptions persist. Here are four debunked myths and the facts about what personalized learning really looks like in the classroom:


Myth #1: It replaces the teacher with technology.

Fact: Principal Hill explained, “Technology doesn’t replace the teacher, it actually gives the teacher superpowers to help all students learn.”

In a ninth grade algebra class, students worked on their laptops while two teachers – a math teacher and a special educator – worked one-on-one with students who needed intervention or acceleration. The math teacher, Ms. Hueber, had pre-recorded her lecture, which gave her more in-class time to interact with students. While her class completed math problems on their laptops, the software provided the teachers with immediate data on how each student was progressing. Ms. Hueber emphasized that it takes a lot of work to make sure she is using this data strategically to ensure all of her 140 students excel. The data can be overwhelming so she looks for trends, like how long her students are spending on mastering a particular competency. If a student is stuck, then Ms. Heuber can look at his practice work and determine why he is having trouble. Because the teacher can intervene and help struggling learners immediately, students don’t have to wait to fail before getting the help they need.

Myth #2: It just doesn’t work for students with disabilities.

Fact: In schools with personalized learning systems everyone has a learning path, similar to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), so the stigma of receiving specialized services is reduced.

How many parents have heard this, “Your daughter tries hard on fractions, but she’s just not getting it and I can’t spend any more time on it, we have to move on.”? Under personalized learning, students don’t move on until they have mastered a particular competency meaning that students who are usually behind the rest of the class have a chance to build their confidence by mastering the content. Once the student masters the competency, she is able to move on immediately so she has the opportunity to accelerate learning and catch up. Providing personalized learning is especially helpful for students who have unidentified learning and attention issues and would otherwise not receive appropriate instruction. It also provides a unique opportunity to focus on students’ strengths. For example, some tech-savvy students have now become the unofficial “IT” staff for their peers, even replacing broken laptop screens!

Myth #3: It isn’t realistic for kids at the K-12 level.

Fact: Personalized learning is being used successfully in many K-12 schools, including E.L. Haynes.

Too often, students who struggle to learn feel like they are just not smart because they learn differently than their peers. At E.L. Haynes, students have to demonstrate mastery through practice before they take assessments. This helps students to understand how they learn and allows them to move from a mindset where knowledge and intelligence are “fixed” to a “growth” mindset where everyone is capable of learning. This empowers students to take ownership over their education. Principal Hill reminds parents, “In 10 years, your child might not need to know this specific equation but they will definitely need to know how to learn.”

Myth #4: It’s a fun approach, but kids don’t really learn much from it.

Fact: Creative educators at E.L. Haynes are using personalized learning to motivate and engage students through technology and projects while maintaining high standards for all.

Parents want their children to be happy but they also want to make sure they are acquiring the essential skills they will need as they move on to college and career. The numbers add up: E.L. Haynes outscored the statewide average in reading by 10 points and also made progress in math since implementing personalized learning two years ago. At the high school level, the expectation is “AP for All”, with everyone taking at least AP World History in ninth grade.


Scaling Up

NCLD’s Associate Director for Federal Outreach, Kim Hymes, recently provided welcome remarks at a Capitol Hill briefing on technology and students with special needs. Principal Hill spoke at this briefing alongside other experts in the field. The panelists highlighted that, while there is no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to personalized learning, there is tremendous potential. Perhaps the most salient quote on the benefits of personalized learning came from an E.L. Haynes student who admitted, “I don’t hate math anymore.”


Next in the Series: Personalized Learning – Part 4: Why Competency-Based Learning Works at Thurgood Marshall Academy

Previously in the series: Personalized Learning — Part 2: Three Ways the Brooklyn Lab Charter School is Personalizing Learning for All Students

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