EL senior says new way of learning is better

Mass customized learning at EL
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Edward Little High School Math Department Chairwoman Valerie Ackley works with senior Holland Michaud, 16, during a recent class at the Auburn school.

AUBURN — School Committee members have been hearing a lot lately about “mass customized learning,” often in wonkish terms from administrators.

This week, they heard from Edward Little High School senior Holland Michaud, 16, who said she's learning more through MCL “and am more responsible for my learning than I ever have been.”

Holland takes advanced classes and plans to study engineering in college. She said her calculus grades are higher because of MCL.

Most Edward Little classes won't begin to use mass customized learning until after November. But 12 teachers, including Math Department Chairwoman Valerie Ackley, have begun MCL in some classes.

Ackley told the School Committee on Wednesday that mass customized learning begins with the teacher and students agreeing on the purpose and goals of the class, as well as codes of conduct.

Students are asked by teachers what it is they need for success, and students are expected to understand the goals and outcomes of the class.

An important part of MCL is student feedback. “Students need to have a voice and be valued,” Ackley said. If they have a voice, they're more likely to stay engaged. Students who pay attention will be better learners.

Students offer feedback in several ways, including dropping anonymous comments in a box in the classroom.

Michaud said she learns best by working in groups of students, which is supported by MCL. Since her first day in calculus, “I feel I am more responsible for my learning than I ever have been in any math class.” MCL offers an improved classroom atmosphere, Michaud said.

“The classroom environment doesn't require me to memorize information and spit it back out,” she said. “It makes you look at how much you understand it, and how you can expand your understanding even further.”

After tests are handed back, her teacher reviews results with each student individually, talking about progress and areas that need work.

“For me, this has helped me understand what I need to do to be proficient,” Michaud said.

She plans to attend the University of Maine next year and study engineering. This past summer she attended an engineering workshop at the university.

The whole concept of MCL applies to her future, Michaud said. “When I was at Orono this summer, I learned as an engineer you are not going to do anything alone. You are not going to rely on yourself. You are going to rely on the input, strategies of other people to solve the problem.”

School Committee member Bonnie Hayes asked Michaud what her parents think of the new way of learning. Do they understand it?

“My dad is not too keen on it yet,” Michaud said. He's used to what he had in high school, she said. But she's talking to her parents about it and they're coming around.

Mass customized learning allows students to better check their skills. “We sit in groups and talk about what we don't understand," Michaud said. "If there's major topics you don't understand, you can go over them. It makes you more responsible for your learning.”

Committee member Larry Pelletier asked how MCL has changed grading. Ackley said she's working on a dual grading system. “I have to give students a percentage grade,” but she's also moving grading toward a standards-based system of whether students are proficient.

Committee member Bonnie Hayes said Michaud is “obviously a very bright young lady” in advanced classes. Hayes wondered how MCL would work for more average students or unmotivated students.

The committee will hear from those students as MCL is implemented, Superintendent Katy Grondin said.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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JOHN PAINTER's picture

MCL is an important advance

MCL is an important advance in restructuring our educational system and is consistent with advances in pedagogy around the world Future Lab in the UK http://www.futurelab.org.uk/ has for several years now been instrumental in helping guide education into the digital age in creative, effective and efficient ways. We need to be there too to help prepare our kids to become better prepared for a very competitive world.

There are other areas which should be considered as well, such as the hours school is held and the age of entering school. Scandinavia, and Finnland in particular, have some of the highest student achievement scores in all disciplines. There is evidence that starting school later in childhood, as done routinely in Scandinavia and other parts of the world - once a child has had the opportunity to develop core social skills in the home - translates into them being more effective learners outside of the home in public school settings. We should in the spirit of MCL question how our education system is designed for students and learning.

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