BROOKINGS – It’s nearly been a year since mass customized learning (MCL), a teaching method that emphasizes an individualized approach, was introduced to Medary Elementary, and early indicators point to its inaugural year being a success.
Medary Elementary Principal Jessica Enderson and the four MCL teachers spoke about their experiences with the pilot program thus far to the Brookings School Board this week.
This year, there is one team of four teachers at the school, and that will expand to a second team with another four teachers next year. There are 78 students participating in MCL now, and there will be an estimated 160 students enrolled in the MCL classroom setting.
“It’s non-graded, so you progress through your state standards or your learner outcomes based on mastery or proficiency of those standards,” Enderson explained. “So, we don’t have A, B, C grades.”
Or divisions between grades, such as kindergarten, first grade, second grade, making MCL classrooms a multi-age setting.
The initial academic data they’ve collected point to MCL as being at least as effective as traditional classrooms.
According to assessment tools, 88 percent of their MCL students are at or above the national norm for math, and for reading, 81.5 percent of Medary’s MCL students are at or above national norms.
And this is in line with how other students at Medary are performing.
“I would say, in general, our MCL learners from the data we’ve collected are either at where traditional classrooms are at or exceeding,” Enderson said.
Beyond the academic results, they’ve also sought feedback from parents with children participating in MCL.
When parents were surveyed in late 2017, 100 percent said that if their children could choose for themselves to stay in MCL, they would. Parents’ attitudes were in line with their children’s, too, with 98 percent of parents saying that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with MCL.
“And for next year, 100 percent of our families have elected to stay in MCL,” Enderson said.
One of the most frequent questions curious people ask the MCL teachers about is the use of technology in the classroom.
A lot of the time, it’s framed around the words “screen time” and asked with concern. Although understandable, MCL teacher Seth Sayler sees it from a different angle.
“I think the reason (screen time) has a bad rap is because at home, kids on devices usually aren’t being as productive as parents would like,” Sayler said. “However, in our setting, we are making it much more productive.”
Use of technology is an increasingly important aspect of modern classrooms, MCL or otherwise, but when compared to the total amount of time spent at school, there isn’t that much screen time, the Medary representatives said.
They’ve found that 5- to 6-year-olds typically spend about 60 minutes of their total 442 minutes using technology, and that rises to 90 minutes for 7- to 9-year-olds.
And the way technology is used in the classroom isn’t always so foreign. It could be as simple as typing a book report instead of writing it on paper. Of course, technology does allow for projects that are more complex or more creative, too, such as making a film trailer – incorporating writing, text and voice – for a book instead of a report.
One of the unique things the MCL teachers are able to do with their students is have a large group meeting with the other teachers’ students in what’s called a Collab Lab. They try to do this two or three times a week.
“It’s kind of a chance for them to see everybody that once in the morning, whether it’s my learners with all the other learners, siblings who get to see each other and sit by each other, the older kids get to sit with their younger friends. It’s a fun time for the kids to come in and really stress on these 16 habits of mind,” MCL teacher Alec Johnson said.
The 16 habits of mind are a list of different life skills and values such as persisting, flexible thinking and applying past knowledge to new situations.
“We try and focus on one habit every two weeks. We’ll go over some videos about these habits of mind. We’ll talk about them and kids will share examples of how they’ve been implementing them. We just want them to know the importance of these habits of mind, whether it’s in the classroom or outside of school at home or out in the community,” Johnson said.
He added that with the addition of a second team of four MCL teachers, he expects more collaboration among the teachers to happen.
With questions about MCL a common occurrence, Brookings School District Superintendent Dr. Klint Willert said that the Brookings School District is working to include a tab dedicated to the topic on the district website, just as they had done with the opt out.
Contact Eric Sandbulte at [email protected]
Brookings School District photo