Snow Hill Middle School seventh graders participate in the Summit Learning program with ELA teacher Christy Kozolowski as part of taking a personalized learning approach.

(June 7, 2019) Snow Hill Middle School has been taking a personalized approach in the classroom for the last three years by using the using the Summit Learning platform, teachers told Worcester County Board of Education members last month.

“Personalized learning is considering the interests of your students, giving them a choice in their learning and meeting them where they’re at – academically and personally,” Principal William Roberts said in a presentation.

Students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades have access to the Summit Learning platform. Christy Kozolowski, a seventh grade ELA teacher at Snow Hill Middle School, said the program, instituted in 2016  is employed in math, reading, science and social studies classes.

“Basically, the way it works is that each student has the same expectations as far as what they need to complete, but what changes is the timeline and the resources that they have available to them,” Kozolowski said.

Students have the opportunity to cater their education to their personal preferences. For example, Kozolowski said if students are more visual learners, they can have access to multimedia materials, or if they prefer text, written options are available. 

Students can also work with peer mentors or teachers if they are struggling with a certain topic in class.

The classroom is not longer tied to the calendar year schedule with the Summit Learning platform, according to Kozolowski, who said it’s crucial each student fully understands the subject matter before moving on. 

“This type of approach gives them [the students] the opportunity to advance at their own pace,” she said.

Kozolowski said the Summit Learning platform aims to “close some gaps” for students who “were not on grade level, as well as extensions for those that were above grade level.”

Kozolowski said teachers focusing on children who need help can sometimes overlook the students working above grade level.

 “They’re the kids that you know are gonna be fine,” she said. “They’re the kids that already have it, but are they getting anything out of the school year? Or are they just sitting there.”

Kozolowski said the program allows those students to drive ahead with more difficult work. The program can also work to put the student in the best possible position for success.

“They can choose to decide whether or not they’re ready for a test,” Kozolowski said.

In such cases, teachers serve as guides for students, but if they’re clearly not ready for the test, teachers can meet with the student to discuss their status. 

“We’re going to ask them questions and say why do you think you’re ready? Are you sure you’re ready? You know I’m not 100 percent with you on this, and so through conversations like that they self-assess themselves as well. But ultimately, it’s them whose using data and feedback from the program, resources of their choice to create their own success,” she said.

However, adjusting to this new style of learning has been difficult for some students, Kozolowski said.

“I think one of the challenges is having kids understand what a productive struggle is,” she said.

She used an example of a student failing a test to demonstrate her point. In a traditional setting, if a student received a failing grade, he or she would accept it and continue with the learning process, she said. The personalized learning approach allows students to work until they fully understand the content.

“In this, you go back you restudy you have to learn it so no one gets left behind,” she said.

While it may take some getting used to, Kozolowski said this type of approach could prepare the students for more than just what they’re learning in the classroom.

“They [the students] think it’s harder, but really, the habits of success that they need to be successful in life are finally starting to be at the center of their … education,” Kozolowski said. “So instead of just teaching them content, now we’re teaching them how to be thinkers.”

Although, when students do fully comprehend a subject area, it’s a big victory for themselves and Kozolowski. 

“They’ve owned their learning, so when they do have something to celebrate, again more student focused than teacher focused because it’s on them, and so just seeing them light up is probably one of the successes or greatest accomplishments,” she said.

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