Recently I’ve been thinking alot about personalized learning. Prior to COVID, this was one of the shining stars of the Flood Brook Middle School experience. Students were routinely engaged in rigorous thematic project based units of study, they were active members of student leadership committees working to make the middle school a better place to learn, they pursued personal interest projects tied to academic proficiencies and Vermont’s transferable skills, and they shared their learning with members of the community in trimesterly exhibitions of learning. In fact, a quick glance at Burr and Burton’s (our largest receiving school) 2021-2022 Academic Awards recipients shows Flood Brook students receiving effort and recognition awards across all four high school grades, with two of BBA’s Spire Awards and the Jesse Ameden Citizenship Award going to Flood Brook students. Like all schools working to recover from the learning interruptions of the COVID pandemic, we’ve got a lot of work to do, but our students are achieving and doing great things after leaving Flood Brook.
After tons of work and loads of intentional work getting “back to schooling” following remote learning and pod-classes it finally feels like we are digging back into the hard academics that makes Flood Brook School unique in public education. The middle school’s Tuesday club time is off to a great start; We’ve got middle schoolers working with younger students across the building, groups engaging in maker space learning, students who are pursuing filmmaking, and even a cooking club that is serving up tasty treats as they work to practice real world culinary skills.
But the thing that makes me most excited about all of this personalized learning? Watching students own their successes, clearly express what challenges they face, and concisely identify their goals for middle school. In short, I was super impressed with student’s thorough job explaining their learning at our recent fall student led conferences! Far and away the majority of students that I had the pleasure to hear from did an amazing job talking about their work. This is admittedly one of the most challenging things that we ask young people to do today in education. As one parent pointed out, “a lot of adults can’t even do this!” So while this is challenging work, it is important to pause and remember that it is work worth doing. Not only is Act 77’s requirement to have students co-create personalized Learning plans nearly a decade old (Act 77 was passed in 2013 and has been gradually implemented across the state since then), it is the learning that is most likely to stay in student’s mental toolbox. We know from studies of student learning, memory, and looking at neurological approaches to teaching that students who are asked to think metacognitively (thinking about their thinking) are more apt to remember their learning and strengthen their skills as they identify personal and academic goals.
Lots of the success for this current round of student led conferences can be attributed to student readiness to dig in and do the hard work of looking at examples of student led conferences, learning from the work of others, and practicing routinely. While there are always going to be kids who struggle with this task, the vast majority of kids are able to step up to this challenge. If you think about it, most of our students already have plenty of experience with this work by nature of engaging in good discussions of their learning with you and the rest of your family at home. I was recently reading a book that my first grader’s teacher recommended to parents, How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t @$$4073$: Science Based Strategies for Better Parenting-From Tots to Teens, by Melinda Moyer (I highly recommend this book, a lot of it you probably already do, but there’s some great reminders and probably new learning for most of us parents) and it dawned on me how skilled so many Flood Brook parents are in one of Moyer’s great tips. She shares that although kids pick up on the values of their parents through interactions, subtle social cues, and the general environment, the single most effective way to communicate what you value is by having a direct conversation where you share said values with your child. This is the kind of interaction that is clearly going on in the homes of so many Flood Brook families. It comes out in class discussions, in student reflections on learning, and it comes out in the general climate that middle schoolers have worked so hard to build this year. It starts at home and they’re clearly listening when their caring adults check in with them.
Students are talking about their learning. They are working to make their peers feel welcome. Students are digging in and getting to learning in ways that we have not seen for a while. In the words of one 8th grader who was recently overheard at lunch, “Cliff’s class is mad hard this week..” so of course, I asked more about that. The response, “but like… it’s good. It’s just harder than it’s been at all this year.”
All I can say is thanks. This kid’s “hard work” is everything we need to keep us going. Reach out if you need anything. The student led conferences are your child’s time to shine and show off their hard work, but your children’s teachers are here to talk about their progress whenever you need the adult-to-adult meeting. You can reach out by e-mail, call the school phone. We’re here to help your children build a successful year.
“Personalized Learning | Agency of Education.” Vermont Agency of Education, https://education.vermont.gov/student-learning/personalized-learning. Accessed 10 November 2022.
Shea, Alissa Alteri. “Teaching Young Students How to Reflect on Their Learning.” Edutopia, 13 July 2021, https://www.edutopia.org/article/teaching-young-students-how-reflect-their-learning. Accessed 10 November 2022.
“What is Act 77: The Flexible Pathways Initiative?” Vermont Agency of Education, 18 September 2017, http://education.vermont.gov/sites/aoe/files/documents/edu-plp-what-is-act-77.pdf. Accessed 10 November 2022.