Wilson Elementary implements individualized learning for students

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Nick Crow
Tuesday, July 1, 2014

JANESVILLE--Nine-year-old Denise Corona is learning in a new way this summer.

The Wilson Elementary School fourth-grader gets to work at her own pace.

She has her own online profile that she uses to track her progress on assignments, communicate with teachers and upload her scores.

She gets feedback from teachers pre- and post-test and can discuss with them why  answers she gave were wrong and how to correct them.

"You get to learn in a new way," Denise said. "I think it's fun. I've learned about computers more."

Denise is one of 22 fourth-graders and 15 fifth-graders taking part in the pilot program, said Ashley Norton, lead teacher at Wilson.

"The kids love it because it's less 'I tell you' and more 'you show me what you can do,'" Norton said. "It gives them the freedom for some kids to work ahead, while others can get the personalized help they need."

Norton said the revamp is part of a personalized learning plan that one day could be implemented throughout the school.

"It really allows them to go deeper and explore things on their own," Norton said. "That's the great thing. We have a range of students, and it's personalized for those kids who are advanced or those working where they're at that may need more attention."

Principal Kimberli Peerenboom said she thinks the technology will help students in the future with career readiness.

"The kids are on their own looking at real-life problems using technology," Peerenboom said. "Research shows if kids are tracking their own goals, they are more successful."

Norton said the kids have their own devices, including netbooks, iPads and desktop computers. They meet in a "learning space" equipped with bean bags and rocking chairs. There are no desks or tables except in the computer lab.

"They keep the electronics locked in their own cubbies in the library," Norton said. "They don't take them home, but they are able to use them each day at school."

Shelley Gard, innovation specialist for the school district, said the students are pre-tested to see where they need the most help. This allows them to be placed correctly during personalized learning, she said.

"We have access to their results, so we know who needs what," Gard said. "They then work through what they need help with most with us as coaches."

Because learning is self-paced, Gard said, students retain more information.

Peerenboom said students with access to books and computers in summer can more easily get back to their learning levels after the break. Kids without literacy sources can take almost half a school year to get back to where they were before summer interrupted their learning, she said.

"It's a jump-start to next year's curriculum," Peerenboom said. "This is a great way to keep learning into the next school year."

According to statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 88.9 percent of the student population at Wilson is economically disadvantaged. That is the highest of all elementary schools in the district.

"We're treating this as our lab school to see what works and what doesn't work to put into the regular school year," Gard said. "So far, they have been very receptive. They pick up things very quickly."

Gard said some students still use paper and pencil to figure out math problems or other work. That's OK, she said. The goal is for them to use whatever tools help them the best, Gard said.

"We are interested in how they learn and how they best work," Gard said. "Then we can go in and offer feedback at a later time."

"This really is our hit-the-ground-running experiment," she said. "We're learning as we go, too, but it's good to be able to experiment."

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