November 2018 Administrative Update
by: Mark Mambretti Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Personnel
An Appetite for Personalized Learning
“If you need to know where our priorities are, understand that there are currently 221,184 ways to order a Burger King Whopper but only one way to graduate from 8th grade in New York State. In which of these two activities is a greater degree of personalization more critical?”
This question, posed to participants at a conference I recently attended, has stuck with me. There has been a strong shift in education in response to what we have learned about the human brain over the last few decades. Increasingly, schools are no longer viewed as “factories”, where raw materials enter at Kindergarten and polished products exit in 12th grade. Rather, as author Daniel Pink teaches, we now understand that the human brain learns more when doing tasks that provide autonomy, a chance of mastery, and a sense of purpose. As such, East Aurora schools are increasingly seen as places for students and teachers to work together in personalized, collaborating settings that respond to individual needs to achieve communal goals.
While there continues to be an overall scope and sequence to help students and teachers attain the minimum standards of each course’s curriculum, it is in the methods of instruction that we are beginning to see the biggest shift. Our classrooms are transforming from places where students sit in rows listening to lectures into collaborative, project-based environments where students choose and work from among many flexible seating options. Teachers increasingly overlay the traditional approach of Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning
(Bloom 1956, 2001) with Howard Gardner’s more recent theory on Multiple Intelligences (Gardner 1983) which identifies eight to ten distinct ways to be “smart”. As a result, we have begun a robust and courageous conversation about the role and nature of grades and what information they capture and convey.
A strong investment in technology has put computers in the hands of more students than ever before - giving students instant access to information and the ability to collaborate across the classroom and across the world. We are working hard to integrate STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) across the curriculum and most specifically in our new STEAM Labs, funded in part through generous community partners such as the East Aurora Educational Foundation, East Aurora Rotary and AW Miller, among others.
And, as ‘real life’ seldom allows you to focus on a singular task for 40 minutes, we are striving to provide more cross-curricular connections as we focus on where projects combine different subjects into single assignments.
New York State has also embraced this broader approach by providing an enhanced “Multiple Pathways to
Graduation” model for all students. This rigorous and relevant option allows students with strengths in the Arts, Biliteracy, Career/Technical Education, Humanities and STEM to meet State high school graduation requirements, which have historically been based solely on more traditional academic subjects.
As a District, we have extended this philosophical shift from a one-sized-fits-all approach to a more
personalized learning experience to our faculty and staff as well. Promoting our understanding of how powerful learning can be when it is purposeful and significant, over the past year we have experimented with “Chose your Own Adventure” Professional Development. We call this “W.I.N.” time and it stands for being allowed to choose “What I Need” to improve my performance. Teachers and staff members submit personalized learning agendas and, in so doing, ensure their learning is focused, relevant and meaningful to them, as individual learners.
It would be a poor chef who prepares the same menu for all diners, regardless of taste, preference, appetite or even allergy. It would be an even poorer teacher who would do the same. I am proud of the work that our team of educators has done in rising to the challenge of making sure all students, as individuals, are leaving each day satisfied and “well-fed”.