Personalization, proficiencies, flexible pathways - the Three Pillars!

This week we will be featuring a post authored by Lindsey Halman, a PLP Pathways contributing author, participating PLP Pathways webinar moderator, teacher, and founder of The Edge Academy, Essex Middle School.

Personalization, proficiencies, flexible pathways - the Three Pillars!

As another school year launches, I am reminded of how truly fortunate we are to be educators in VT. I am also reminded that in order to create a learning environment that supports the Three Pillars, we must spend time intentionally creating community, building relationships and creating the norms that will allow all learners to thrive in this world of Act 77.

Creating Community. What is place?

This was the question that launched our year together on the Edge Academy Team at Essex Middle School. As our 7th and 8th grade learners worked to define this word, they came to realize that place is much more than the physical space. It’s mostly about our relationships - with one another, with ourself and with the space itself. Learners identified that when they think of place, they feel safe, supported and respected for their individuality. We wanted to ensure that the learners on our team understood that “school” is not a physical space, but rather, learning can occur anywhere as long as one feels supported to ask questions and take creative risks. With this in mind, we spent a large portion of our first day back at Essex Middle School outdoors and unplugged. In small groups, we explored the ideas of diversity and perspective using a hula hoop outside on a field. Careful observations were taken of everything found within the hula hoop. We also asked learners to imagine what they would see if they dug one foot down and how their observations would change. These observations were shared around a fire, as we discussed the ideas of diversity and perspective. Marshmallows were roasted as we reflected on what kind of community we wanted to create this year. Further activities on observation, perspective and diversity connected us to the book Zoom by Istvan Banyai. This is a fantastic book to use for a variety of lessons on perspective!

Building Relationships

Each morning, we meet as an advisory in our Circle of Power and Respect (CPR). This is a given, every day you will walk into your advisory and the circle will always be there to start your day. We use our (CPR) as a way to connect with one another, share, learn and strengthen our community. Each learner found an object in nature that had some qualities that represented who they are as an individual.

“There are three sides to every story: yours, theirs, and the truth.” - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This object and the qualities were shared during our circle and a mobile, or centerpiece for our circle, was created with all of our individual objects. The mobile is an important part of our CPR. It represents everyone in the circle as individuals and together, the power of our community. It also serves as a place for focus for students when conversations become tough.

Sharing Stories, Sharing Pancakes?

During the first month of school we focus intensely on exploring our identity. We began our exploration of self by watching a TEDTalk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on how she “found her authentic cultural voice. [She] warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding”. This important message was enjoyed while eating homemade pancakes and our very own Edge Team maple syrup that we produced last spring in our sugarhouse. This is one way to highlight past projects and the dynamics of our project-based learning model on our team.

There are so many layers to our identities and in stories, we see ourselves, learn about our world and learn how to make our way in it. Learners crafted the story of their names, as well as created identity maps. We also have begun to explore the art of interviewing and listening. Learners have been conducting interviews to capture the stories of September 11, 2001, from a trusted adult. Through these experiences, they are developing the critical skills that will be necessary for their project work this year.

Pushing Personalization Further

This year the students on the Edge Team, as well as other students at Essex Middle School will pilot Protean as our platform for their PLP. We are excited to explore the potential of this dynamic platform. Learners will use Protean to share who they are, what their goals are, and demonstrate proficiency with the Transferrable Skills in a truly personalized manner. Within both traditional groups (classes) and non-traditional groups, learners will track their progress toward proficiency, document their learning and reflect on it. We will share more as the year unfolds, but currently, learners have created their avatars and have started to create their bios and tag their passions.

Flexible Pathways: Start with the questions! We are always excited to try something new to push our work with our young adolescents further. But, one thing that always remains at the heart of our team is our Negotiated Curriculum process. Learners have been working on developing questions/concerns they have about themselves and the world. In small groups, they are seeking commonalities and from there, extracting a possible theme for the year. This year we will add a further dimension to our project work and challenge our learners to link their theme and their projects to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.