Montgomery County schools to look at personalized learning -- Gazette.Net


This story was corrected at 2 p.m. Wednesday, March 12. An explanation follows.

Six county public schools soon will look to get personal.

As part of its efforts to help schools better reach underperforming students, the school system will form a group of six schools interested in developing instruction plans focused on the interests and strengths of individual students, according to Kimberly A. Statham, deputy superintendent of teaching, learning and programs.

Statham and others described the district’s “early work” regarding the personalized plans during a larger conversation on its Interventions Network for schools at the county school board’s Tuesday meeting.

Samantha B. Cohen, a coordinator in Statham’s office, told board members that the personalized teaching method aims to meet the needs of students at all performance levels in a class.

Cohen said the lesson plans should give students “the capacity to choose how they will demonstrate their learning.”

Another factor involves “real-time feedback,” she said, so teachers are consistently able to gauge how a student is performing and therefore adapt their instruction.

The school system plans to launch its first of multiple groups in the 2015-16 school year, Cohen said.

Schools have until the end of March to submit an application to be one of the first six schools, she said.

Cohen provided a few examples of personalized instruction in the school system.

Eric Vogel, a fifth-grade math teacher at Damascus Elementary School, uses videos of his lessons to provide direct instruction to his students, she said. The videos have freed him up to work closely with small groups during his class time and allow students to watch the lesson at their own speed.

“They literally would use the fast forward or rewind button as they were stuck or wanted to move forward,” Cohen said.

Three principals also discussed their experiences in personalized instruction.

Scott Curry, principal at Great Seneca Creek Elementary School in Germantown, said his teachers have used an online database of texts that allows teachers to track what and how much students read.

Edward Owusu, principal at Shady Grove Middle School in Gaithersburg, said that, while he sees technology as an important tool, he thinks teachers are a key factor when making lessons personal.

“I think it’s the relationships that really make it powerful in classes,” he said.

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said personalized instruction incorporates analytics, technology and the teacher-student relationship.

“The technology is important, but it is in no way, shape or form more important than the teaching,” he said.

Board member Christopher S. Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park said he thinks the quality of instruction is the main focus and technology has a role in being able to improve it. The personalized lessons could help engage students by changing how a subject is conveyed to them, he said.

An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated Samantha Cohen’s title.