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Personalized learning in the district taking hold

By Samantha Lewis

Batavia teachers are adopting a new style of teaching called personalized learning, a way kids can learn at their own pace in their own way.

“We have sent about 70 staff members to various experiences, including an onsite visit to Westside School District in Omaha, Neb. The purpose of the visits was to learn from others and to define personalized learning for Batavia,” said Chief Academic Officer, Brad Newkirk.

Jerad Beckler is an English teacher at Batavia High School. He is one of the teachers that has been using personalized learning in his classroom. He teaches Honors English to freshman during second block. When he’s not working with these students, he’s helping other teachers in the school as an instructional coach.

“It allows students to learn what’s best for them,” Beckler said of personalized learning. “If you learn best visually, it allows for that. If you learn best from auditory means, it gives you opportunities to do that. It gives you space where you feel comfortable learning and also finding the way you feel comfortable learning … every teacher is trying to find a way to make it more personalized for the students, like giving the content over to them and having them learn their own way.”

In a document by the district about the definition of personalized learning, the state that personalized learning requires the flexibility of mindset, groups, space, pace, and path. They also believe that student agency, knowing the learner, and personal learning paths are the most important parts to personalized learning. This is what the district follows when doing this learning style in a classroom.

Teachers following this learning style in the district co-create learning profilers. These profiles can show the way the student learns best. They then use this data to help the students learn to their fullest ability.

“I think the learning style in Mr. Beckler’s class is very beneficial because it gives you the freedom to work on your own time, but you also have to stay focused or you will not get your work done,” said Alyssa Brasch, one of the students in his second block Honors English class. “There is not necessarily someone there every step of the way telling you what you have to do.”

One thing about personalized learning is that it’s flexible. Students get to choose what they work on that day and what they will need to work on the next. In Beckler’s class, students have the choices of either working on grammar, researching their dystopian project, reading Fahrenheit 451, or discussing with their small group.

According to Mark Anderson, the district’s director of operations, the total cost of this room was around 25,000 dollars. So far, this room is the only one that has been remodeled in the high school. The room is being used to see if the more flexible environment benefits the students

“However, the above-mentioned team met together multiple times with the company that designs personalized spaces.  We talked about what the needs were for our students, as well as what we felt would allow for collaboration, innovation, and creation in our classes,” Beckler said. “There was a lot of back and forth with the company as we asked them to make changes to make it exactly what we wanted.  When we came back this August to get ready for the school year, we spent many days deciding where the different pieces would be as everything is very mobile.”

“It’s only been about a year or a year and half that we have been throwing around the term personalized learning,” Beckler said. “It’s always existed where students are getting chances to try things out and give them that opportunity.”

The environment plays an important role in personalized learning, as well. In Beckler’s class, the room was completely redone over the summer. Now, there are multiple couches where students can sit and read, and there are round whiteboard tables where group discussions can be held.  

According to Beckler, a team of multiple teachers in his English department was formed to create personalized learning spaces. This team is the one that worked together to create this classroom.

“It’s a constantly ongoing process where you can be thinking about why you’re learning, how you’re learning,” Beckler said. “It’s more about the students, and the teacher can give them the opportunity to figure out who they are.”

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