Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

Using a Personal Learning Framework to Transform Middle Grades Teaching Practice

Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

Using a Personal Learning Framework to Transform Middle Grades Teaching Practice

Article excerpt

In July 2013 the Vermont legislature enacted Act 77, An Act Relating to Encouraging Flexible Pathways to Secondary School Completion, mandating that students in Grades 7-12 develop personalized learning plans (PLPs) that guide them toward high school graduation using proficiency based requirements. Act 77 required school districts to develop a system for personalized learning plans (PLPs) to be implemented in fall 2014 for students entering seventh grade. The purpose of PLPs is to maximize opportunities for students to pursue high-quality educational experiences that acknowledge and incorporate individual goals, interests, learning styles, and abilities (Vermont Agency of Education, n.d.). In addition, for students who enter seventh grade in the fall 2014, they are expected to demonstrate proficiency in the Vermont Education Quality Standards (EQSs) to graduate high school. For these children the Vermont high school diploma is no longer dependent on credit hours or "seat time" but rather on students demonstrating proficiency (Vermont Agency of Education, n.d.).

PURPOSE AND CONTEXT

We designed a 2-year study to pilot PLPs and document how PLPs affect teacher practice and student engagement. The purpose of the study was to document the implementation of a personal learning framework integrating PLPs into a humanities curriculum on a seventhand eighth-grade team at Main Street Middle School in Montpelier, Vermont. As a middle grades humanities teacher (Taylor) and a professor in a teacher educator program at a local college (Nagle), we brought perspectives to the study based on our own experiences. We asked two questions:

1. How does teacher practice change when incorporating PLPs into a humanities curriculum?

2. How does student engagement change over the same 2-year period when a teacher commits to the personal learning model?

It was our intentionality that the results of this study would informed the design of curriculum development at Main Street Middle School as well as that of humanities curricula in other Vermont middle and high schools attempting to implement PLPs. Also, it was our intention that the results be used to create a professional development program to assist teachers in implementing PLPs effectively.

The study began in the fall of 2013 and was completed in spring 2015. Main Street Middle School is a typical Vermont middle school. Approximately 200 students in Grades 6-8 attend the school in three teams - a sixth grade team and two seventh- and eighth-grade teams. The school has a predominately White student population (86%), and students come from more affluent families than the rest of Vermont-28% free and reduced lunch compared with 41% for Vermont overall. Approximately 15% of the students in the school received services through individualized education plans (Vermont Agency of Education, 2015). The study focused on one of the two seventh- and eighth-grade teams. Team Summit had 48 students, a humanities teacher, a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teacher, and two full-time instructional assistants. At the start of each year, 22-25 students joined the team in seventh grade, and at the end of the year a similar number of eighth graders moved onto ninth grade. It was typical for students to stay on the team for 2 years.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

Flexible Pathways and Proficiency Based Learning

The concept of flexible pathways to graduation is at the heart of Act 77, and is defined as any combination of learning opportunities demonstrating proficiency towards graduation requirements (Vermont Agency of Education, n.d.). There are three important concepts to consider in flexible pathways: (1) learning is student centered; (2) learning opportunities are derived from inside as well as outside of school; and (3) each pathway is unique. To implement these concepts of the new law, curriculum, instruction, and assessment must be proficiency based and grounded in the Vermont Education Quality Standards (EQSs). …

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