Home > Uncategorized > Done Well, Vermont’s Personalized Learning Plans Engage Students at Emotional Level

Done Well, Vermont’s Personalized Learning Plans Engage Students at Emotional Level

Over the past week I read two articles that dovetail: “To Help Students Learn, Engage the Emotions“, Jessica Lahey’s NYTimes Well blog post; and “Student Planners in Vermont“, an editorial praising Vermont’s requirement that all rising 7th grade students develop Personalized Learning Plans to help them navigate their way through middle and high school.

Ms. Lahey’s article cites research by neuroscientist Dr. Immordino-Yang whose findings led her to this  conclusion: “It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that you don’t care about“… and this applies to ALL subjects:…”Even…in subjects that are traditionally considered unemotional, such as physics, engineering or math, deep understanding depends on making emotional connections between concepts.” Ms. Lahey explains how is is possible to make students care:

Creating this emotional connection might sound like a daunting task, but research has shown that the investment reaps huge dividends in the form of increased learning and better grades. When teachers take the time to learn about their students’ likes, dislikes and personal interests, whether it’s racial issues brewing at their school, their after-school job, or their dreams and goals, learning improves.

The emotional connection that can result when teachers make learning personally relevant to students is what differentiates superficial, rote, topical assimilation of material from a superlative education marked by deep mastery and durable learning. While there are no silver bullets in education, emotional engagement and personal relevance is the tool that has the potential to improve the educational experience of every child, in every school in America.

This is no surprise to me. As a high school administrator for six years I found that students who knew what they wanted after high school were far more engaged in the life of the school and far more successful in each and every class… and this applied to vocational education students as well as college bound students. Given this bias, I was pleased to see that Vermont passed legislation that requires students entering 7th grade to work with their parents and school staff to develop Personalized Learning Plans as described concisely in the Valley News editorial:

With the help of families and teachers, students will be encouraged to identify what careers or areas they are interested in, and to seek “pathways’’ that would help them prepare. In addition to traditional high school courses, they might look at online courses, cooperative work experiences, part-time college courses, or even attending college full-time in their senior year of high school.

The editorial doesn’t mention a key reform measure that Vermont instituted simultaneously: the abandonment of graduation standards based on “seat time” and “course completion”. Instead, students in Vermont must demonstrate competencies in broadly defined areas that will equip them for life as well as careers and/or college. The closing paragraph of the Valley News editorial echoes the findings Ms. Lahey identified in her blog post:

To the extent that schools can encourage students to be more fully engaged in their education by setting goals and joining in planning, rather than being passive participants, young people will be developing a life skill that will serve them well. That is a tall order for teenagers — given that many adults never master it — but it’s encouraging that educators are seeing the big picture and the challenges ahead. Here’s one reform that seems to have students in mind.

The taller order will be getting parents, the public, and— yes— teachers to adopt the shift away from the factory model of schooling implicit in seat time and collecting “credits” and moving in a more wholistic direction, one that will require that “teachers take the time to learn about their students’ likes, dislikes and personal interests, whether it’s racial issues brewing at their school, their after-school job, or their dreams and goals”…. and when that happens, as Ms. Lahey notes, learning will improve.

 

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