Personalizing the High School Experience for Each Student

Personalizing the High School Experience for Each Student

Personalizing the High School Experience for Each Student

Personalizing the High School Experience for Each Student


Why is it that so many students see high school as a prison sentence to be endured rather than a time to learn and grow? According to DiMartino and Clark, many high school students feel invisible and isolated. They don't see the relevance of what they are being taught, and they don't see how their classes are preparing them for success as adults. This book offers a new vision for high schools--a vision that puts students at the center of their learning. Personalized high schools engage students by allowing them to plan and develop their own pathways through school based on their talents, interests, and aspirations.

The book describes six promising practices that are emerging in high schools:

• Guided Personalized Learning. Teachers act as advisors to small groups of students over two to six years to review personal learning plans, assist in course selection, and discover opportunities in the community.

• Personal Learning Plans. Students meet regularly with parents, advisors, mentors, and peers to review progress and plan next steps.

• Personalized Teaching. Teachers differentiate instruction to allow students to explore different aspects of the subject and produce authentic work that shows their understanding.

• Community-Based Learning. Active involvement in the community helps clarify a student's purpose and defines the steps necessary to achieve successful adult roles.

• Personalized Assessment. Rather than grades and tests scores, the work itself--portfolios, exhibitions, and student-led conferences--shows what the students have learned.

• Personalizing school systems. Some schools are moving past the Carnegie unit and focusing instead on helping each student achieve specified competencies, often through learning experiences that the students themselves have helped design.

These six practices can improve learning for all students by engaging them in shaping their own high school experience and discovering how the academic skills they learn in school can have meaning in the world they will negotiate as adults.



“I’m not stupid!”

That comment represents one of the most heart wrenching and memorable conversations of my life.

It’s a quote from my son Erick. Erick was adopted, along with his half brother, Mauricio, from Guatemala when he was 8 years old. The boys’ arrival expanded the number of children in our family to six. While two of our other children were also adopted, the addition of Mauricio and Erick exposed the woefully inadequate education experience that immigrant students are subjected to in this country.

When Mauricio, then 12, enrolled in the 5th grade English as a second language (ESL) program and Erick enrolled in the 1st grade ESL program, we became aware of an equity gap that was systemic and abusive. We had been assured that the ESL program was academically rigorous and appropriately personalized for the students, who represented nearly a dozen different cultures and languages.

To our dismay, we discovered the contrary to be true. The program was neither personalized nor rigorous. In our first visit to the school, we discovered that Erick was in a classroom in the basement that had been the locker room when I had attended junior high in the same building. More appalling was Mauricio’s room, which had been the lumber storage closet for the woodshop when the building was a junior high. The textbooks on display were decades old and had covers and pages missing.

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