Scaling Student-Centered Learning: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

by Donna Held, PL Coach, Richmond School District 

Richmond Charger Logo

Richmond’s personalized learning journey can be best described as slow but steady. You know the old saying, “slow and steady, wins the race.” Of course, we are not trying to win a race, but we have been moving consistently toward a learner-centered approach to education in our K-8 District School in the Lake Country Area of SE Wisconsin. Our transformation is based on a three-stage (year) cycle which targets specific subjects and grades each subsequent year. (Richmond Timeline

How It Began
It all began when our 2nd and 3rd grade teachers pioneered personalizing math for their learners five years ago. Why did we decide to try personalized learning? This is what we heard from teachers: “We struggled to meet the needs of our sharpest math students and those who struggled.” “The one-size-fits-all approach wasn’t working.” “We thought there must be a better way.” “How can we put our students in the driver’s seat of their own learning?”

Guided by the Institute for Personalized Learning (I4PL) Constellation framework, the teachers gathered to consider just how this could look in their classrooms. The Richmond constellation, the Great Eight, eventually became the framework for our math implementation plan. This creates consistency from grade to grade, yet allows teaching teams to put their own spin on personalized learning. Our Richmond K-6 Math Progression allows students to progress at a pace that is just right for them.

It is also imperative to equip today’s learners with the essential skills that will prepare them for life, work and citizenship. As part of our school’s vision of developing the whole student to become life-long learners and engaged citizens, our goal is to help students grow in these skills and competencies. The skills that our school selected were based on the following: 

  1. We asked our teachers: What skills will learners need to be successful in life beyond high school?
  2. We consulted current research to answer the question: What life-long skills will students need in the future to be successful in life (work, home, community)?

From this the Richmond Essential Skills, or 5 C’s, were determined: Communicator,  Collaborator, Critical Thinker, Creative Thinker, and Conscientious Citizen. Our students learn about and practice these skills in their classrooms, and use the I can statements to set both short-term class goals and long-term individual goals. 

A Glimpse Inside the Action
Learning starts where the learners are, not where we want them to be or where the curriculum imagines (I4PL). For example, the 5th grade teachers team teach and a lesson is offered each day. At the start of each class, the students create their own math plan by asking: What goal for my learning will I set today? and How will I reach that goal? Some students need the lesson and others have their individual goal work time. There is a quiet area set aside for test takers. Two students leave the room to work with another teacher on 6th grade math. Another student works on a proof, to show he understands a goal. 

Elise, a fifth grader, is learning to divide decimals today. She is working with a partner, and they are ahead of the other learners in the class. With their specific learning goal in mind, they select a learning activity from the choice board. Choice boards offer a variety of learning experiences using multiple methods and modes. They decide to watch a video lesson and then play a partner game to learn and practice dividing decimals, having considered these questions: How do I learn best? and What essential skill am I working on? 

The room is busy but joyful, and the students are all engaged in meaningful work. 

In another area of the building, two third-grade teachers meet at the end of the day to discuss how the math class went and to talk about the needs for the next day. They look over the Daily Math Plans that the students completed at the end of class, exit slips from the lesson, and other math work that the students completed, including assessments. After they have all the data, they determine the plan for the next day:

  • How many students will attend the lesson? 
  • Students working on individual goal work may need a mini-lesson.
  • Any assessments needed?
  • How many teachers will be available?
  • What rooms will work best?  

Looking Ahead

Next year, all the K-5 classrooms will be at stage 3 (expansion) or beyond in personalizing math for our students. Grades first through fourth will be transforming their reading and/or writing into a more student-centered approach. Our implementation planning template is used in all our curricular areas to allow teachers “freedom within fences” to articulate student-centered learning in their classrooms. 

Critical to our successful implementation has been our on-going relationship with the Institute for Personalized Learning and our administrative and school board support. Our administrators understood the importance of providing teachers with summer hours to develop curriculum and providing additional teaching staff in our math classrooms.

We believe personalized learning provides opportunities to maximize the potential of all students based on their needs, abilities, and preferences (I4PL). Richmond School is on a journey with personalized learning and our implementation is making a difference for all our learners.  Remember, slow and steady wins the race, or at least it will allow you to move in a purposeful and deliberate manner toward your district’s goal of student-centered learning.

What Do the Kids Say? We Asked 3rd Graders:
What did you like best about PL Math?

  • We had lots of choices of how to learn; Choice boards  
  • We could learn and work at our own pace
  • We could choose our own homework
  • Working with others or a partner

How did you grow as a math learner?

  • 95% Improved, met or went past their math MAP goal (40)

Richmond PL Overview and Stages of Implementation Timeline                    

Choice Board Samples:  CB Gr 5 Divide by 2-Digit Divisors    CB Gr 2  Add 2-digt Numbers

Donna Held headshotDonna Held is in her fifth year as an istructional coach at Richmond School.  Supporting the implementation of personalized and student-centered learning,  she believes in working alongside teachers in their classrooms. Donna also works as a gifted education specialist, a role she has been passionate about for over thirty years.