Taking student learning to a whole new level

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Personalized Learning is a term you're going to be hearing a lot.

It's the wave of the future in education, including in Cowichan School District 79 where steps were taken Wednesday into determining how it might fit into the curriculum.

Dr. John Abbott, a foremost authority on the subject, was in the valley to offer his perspective on how it will take shape.

Personalized Learning, as the name implies, means tailoring education to meet the specific needs of students as they move toward making career choices in fields that interest them. It provides greater choice, increased student engagement, moving beyond teachers simply providing facts but a greater understanding of how things relate and more.

Some of these models already exist but it's a matter of putting principles into widespread practice.

"We're looking at the best possibilities for them to learn effectively,'' said Ron Nunweiler, School District 79's Acting Director of Middle/Secondary Education.

Most parents and older students can relate to the traditional way of teaching. "Generally, it was a lot of stand and deliver,'' said Nunweiler.

The focal point is changing so students can offer their thoughts and ideas and learning can be conducted in a multitude of ways.

"There's a lot of ways students can demonstrate their learning,'' said Nunweiler.

That's one small piece of Personalized Learning, he added. Another piece is presentation.

"There's a lot of students who don't want to present that speech in front of the public and their peers,'' said Nunweiler.

That doesn't mean the student is any less knowledgeable than someone else. The traditional test is also where some smart students simply fall apart under pressure, not a true indication of their abilities.

"It's respecting students to demonstrate their learning in many different ways,'' said Nunweiler.

Learning doesn't have to be confined to the classroom, he added. Elementary students can get outside to bring nature into perspective while middle school students can demonstrate and develop their skills in many different ways.

Nunweiler cited an example where Quamichan and Mount Prevost Middle School students can prosper from an exchange by sharing facilities. Quamichan has sound studios and production facilities for the audio and visual arts where an exchange can give other students exposure to those areas that might not normally be available to them.

Nunweiler conceded these types of changes aren't going to occur overnight, but can be developed as time goes on.

"It's changing the way we look at things, but it's personalizing or customizing learning for a student,'' he emphasized.

Independent Directive Studies, through the Ministry of Education, is a way students at the senior level in Grades 10 through 12 can identify an area they want to focus on within a credit course.

In the final analysis, none of this is rocket science, Nunweiler said.

"It's how to keep our young people interested in school and how do we continue that passion for learning?

"Everybody's got their strengths and weaknesses. How do we work with these things and not punish our kids?''

Abbott and school district members met with Abbott and student representatives of middle and secondary schools for five hours Wednesday. "They gave us a tremendous amount of feedback,'' said Nunweiler.

Abbott, he said, "provided an opportunity to stimulate their thinking. These kids are just vibrating with excitement.''

A community forum involving parents in the evening with Abbott revolved around five discussion themes — Personalized Learning for Every Student, Quality Teaching and Learning, Flexibility and Choice, High Standards and Learning Empowered by Technology — attracted about 130 people, Nunweiler said.

He said it was a very positive session and some good suggestions were made during round table discussions about how education can move forward in the valley.

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