Monday, April 1, 2013

Grow your own Learning Garden

Lisa Welch and Wanda Richardson shared their journey with us last year. This year their journey takes a new path as a multi-age approach with a new member added to their team, Susan Blaesing. They formed a K-2 multi-age co-teaching pod at Wales Elementary in Wisconsin called “The Garden.”  


Their philosophy is that just like flowers, we all grow differently, in different situations and at different times.  And, just like flowers, we bloom! Their B.U.D.S. acronym helps us to remember this:

Believe that we can learn ANYTHING
Understand what we really need to know
Discover these things
Share our learning with others so that they can grow through collaboration

They found that by combining personal learning plans in a multi-age environment, they not only have a garden of collaborators, but also a group of individuals who are not hampered by grade levels, ages or abilities. Rather, the diverse abilities and interests are honored and acknowledged.  


"For example, one of our learners was interested in chess.  He learned how to play, what each piece signified, how it moved and then proceeded to teach a “seminar” (the kids hold ½ hour teaching sessions to share what they have learned) on chess. This prompted the kids to also learn it and then play with each other. The exciting part is that kids who “traditionally” would only play with their own age level are now playing together!  We have five year old learners playing chess with eight year old learners. It is truly remarkable to see!"
Each and every learner in the Garden has a learning plan with goals that are set for that particular plan. They firmly believe that this has helped the children grow in exemplary ways, not only in reading, writing and math, but as a whole person.



They incorporate technology as well and have used Google apps to send plans to each learner. It is not odd in their room to see a five year old logging into their email. While technology is not the only mode of learning in their Garden, it does play an important role for the transfer and attainment of information. The team shared with us seminars that their learners lead once a week. Each learner signs up to teach a skill or share something they learned for 15 minutes in the morning. The learner shares their expertise using the interactive whiteboard. Everyone is an expert on something and learning from each other.


From their newest member of the team, Susan Blaesing:

"The Personalized Learning Journey with a K-2 group of students this year has been a challenging but motivating experience. Switching from a “traditional” classroom was a choice that I wanted to make to help meet the ever changing needs of my learners.  After many discussions with Lisa and Wanda,  I decided to take the leap into new educational waters.   
The biggest difference that I am seeing using personalized learning is the motivation and high engagement from the students. When we help design our instruction based on their interests and individual needs, we are seeing the students motivated to learn. Each student is working on meeting targets in the areas of reading, writing and math based on their interests~whether it is lions, Legos or princesses, we are working with the students to discover what they know and want to learn about these topics.   
From what they want to learn, we design activities for each student that will meet their learning growth. In the traditional classroom, I was using common topics that were often picked by me or the curriculum to meet their learning growth. I designed lessons that were taught in bigger groups and differentiating activities when needed.   
With the personalized approach, the students are deciding on their topics of interest and then we work in the learning targets to meet their individual needs. Both approaches can meet the targets and the learning needs of students, however, I am finding that the personalized approach keeps the students more motivated to dig deeper with their learning. I am also finding that the students are helping guide the learning of their peers with their discoveries. In our multi-age Garden (that is what we call our community), the students are modeling learning behaviors that help their peers become stronger learners. Modeling with technology, ideas, creativity, topics, the list seems to be endless.   
Now, have there been bumps in the road~absolutely?  My 26 years of teaching has been evolving for 26 years!  I have made many changes in my teaching and learning along with the students. This shift seems to make sense because the students are coming from such different backgrounds and experiences now that the old “sit and get” doesn’t work for these learners. The students have pushed me to dig deeper with my thoughts and ideas on how to best meet their needs. The learning discovery has been eye opening. We have incredible young minds that have ideas and opinions about their learning ~ how and what they want to learn.   
The shift to the personalized approach makes sense if we want to keep our students engaged and motivated. Many thoughts have come into my head this year~how do I change from curriculum driven to student driven, how do I assess, how do I know they are learning, what about support from home, common core, what happens if they go back into a traditional classroom, am I meeting all the standards, will all the students be on grade level come June, etc... These are all questions that I have but I will have these if I’m in a traditional classroom or personalized classroom.   
The difference this year is that I have not been asking the question~are my students engaged and motivated? I know the answer to this when I hear groans at the end of the day that they don’t want to go home!"

The K-2 Multi-Age Co-Teaching Team (The Garden) at Wales Elementary, WI
Lisa Welch
Wanda Richardson
Susan Blaesing

Go here to learn more about personalized learning in Kettle Moraine School District.