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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Lessons in Personalized Learning from Vermont’s Middle Grades Collaborative Conference

Organized by the Middle Grades Collaborative and hosted by the Tarrant Institute at University of Vermont, the decennial gathering at the Middle Grades Conference on January 7 brought together approximately 150 Vermont educators and students to share and learn about exciting personalized learning practices happening in middle schools across Vermont. While I myself could not attend every session, the ones I did attend were filled with insights, instructional strategies, and processes that can be replicated anywhere if schools and teachers are willing to take the leap!

Winooski High School is part of the smallest geographic school district in Vermont and faces some huge challenges. Forty percent of its students are English Learners and the socioeconomic levels are so low, the entire student body receives free lunch. But despite these challenges, teachers like Lucas Dunn are doing some pretty amazing things. In his presentation, Dunn, a French teacher, talked about his experience as a first year teacher at Winooski. Despite his coursework in education, he recounted that once he entered the classroom, he reverted back to the way he remembers being taught French in high school- textbooks, teacher pace, and worksheets with verb conjugation boxes to fill in. After a year in which “everyone was miserable”, not really learning French and faced with dwindling course sign ups, he did some self-reflection about his own experience learning French and made some drastic changes to how he approached teaching and learning the language he loves.

The biggest shift was thinking about how he became a successful French speaker himself—fourteen years of persistence. Persistence just also happens to be one of Winooski’s graduation requirements, a connection Dunn made right away. Instead of emphasizing French skills, Dunn focused his students on methods of perseverance: goal setting, action steps, follow through, and reflection. Coupled with online software like Duolingo and Anki that emphasize spaced repetition, vocabulary acquisition, as well as good old immersion techniques such as watching videos in the target language, Dunn’s students’ attitudes about learning a new language have changed. If they persevere, they can be successful and according to Dunn the ever growing French skills at Winooksi are proof of that. Students set individual goals, learn at their own pace, and get guided support from Dunn. It truly is a personalized experience.

I did ask how French coursework was reflected on the transcript. If a student takes Dunn’s French class for four years, do they receive four elective credits even if their French skills are only at a level two? While Dunn has not encountered this situation yet, he does see how that might be concerning. James Nagle, a professor and advisor at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, pointed out that many students enter college with three or four credits of a foreign language under their belts in high school, but who don’t have the skills necessary to test out of introductory language classes at the college level. Dunn’s proficiency based assessment appears more honest and authentic; he is acknowledging what students actually know and can do. In Dunn’s class, students are taking with them not only French language skills, but an even more important skill we should be pushing all students to master—perseverance.

The Center for Collaborative Education is partnering with the Vermont Agency of Education to offer professional learning opportunities to educators throughout the state through the Vermont Professional Learning Network.

For more information about the Vermont Professional Learning Network, please visit our page on the Vermont Agency of Education's website.


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