Seeing is Believing: Inside Personalized Learning at Myrtle Beach Middle School
One of the best parts of my job is getting to see how teachers transform the learning experience for students. And one of the hardest parts for people considering doing personalized learning is imagining what it will look and feel like. I recently spent time talking to and observing a classroom in Horry County’s Myrtle Beach Middle School. I hope by sharing this here I can give others a window into what teaching and learning can look like in a more personalized classroom...
As Jackie Kennedy sits with a group of 5 students reading near a Smartboard, an 8th grader jumps up from his seat on the other side of the room. “Ahh” he groans, “almost had a hundred! That’s an 88 though. Fifteen points.” He flexes in celebration - as one does in middle school.
Inside Personalized Learning at Myrtle Beach Middle School
The student has just finished a reading lesson on Achieve3000 after beginning class with an EdModo online quiz on his iPad. Several of his classmates sit at desktop computers completing individualized learning paths in Compass Learning.
“We’re adding this Compass rotation to help with our MAP scores,” Ms. Kennedy explains, referencing NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress, a benchmark assessment used by Horry County Schools. “Remember, good MAP scores are a helpful step to get us to a place where we can take the courses that we want in high school.”
During a 20-minute small group session on research skills: “Why are we researching work?” Ms. Kennedy asks. “Well, we’ve read a lot about work in Tom Sawyer, but also this summer many of you can get part-time jobs, so work has great relevance to your lives.”
Before students sit down to work through an Achieve lesson: “If you finish the Achieve article you can then read an article of your choice. Just make sure you aim for at least 80% on Achieve - that shows mastery.”
Just before assigning students to a Compass station: “Do high schoolers work on Compass?” she asks, repeating a student’s question. “Absolutely, some of them do, and Achieve as well,” she adds.
The purpose of each activity is evident, but it has taken time for Ms. Kennedy and other teachers at Myrtle Beach Middle School to develop fluency in the deployment of digital content. Shannon Lewis, an ELA teacher at MBMS, explains the reaction students had last spring as teachers each tried to find their niche with iPad usage.
Check out our Ultimate Guide for Personalized Learning
“There was a lot of experimentation on staff last spring, and the kids just eventually put their foot down,” she says. “They were feeling like they were drowning in work learning all these new tools and systems.”
The leadership team of Myrtle Beach Middle School took notice. This fall, they slowly rolled out hardware and encouraged teachers’ mastery of a few digital content providers to begin the year. They also focused teachers’ efforts on a basic 2-group rotation as a starting point for blended classrooms.
Source: Sean Junkins, Horry County Schools, @sjunkins
The strategy has returned promising early results: across grade levels 6-8, Myrtle Beach Middle School led the district in average growth in MAP scores from last winter to this winter in both ELA and Math. Each core content area teacher continues to master at least one digital content source to provide online learning options for students, with a single point of entry available through Education Elements’ Highlight platform:
- ELA: Achieve3000
- Math: ALEKS
- Science: Discovery Streaming
- Social Studies: iTunesU, a course developed in-house by Horry County’s district staff
- ELA/Math: Compass Learning, to correlate with NWEA MAP performance
With a strong grasp of the mixture of online and offline content for ELA, Ms. Kennedy has layered digital content to target specific skills in part to refocus how she spends her time in the classroom. Her students make frequent use of Achieve3000 for leveled reading opportunities, NoRedInk for grammar practice, and Compass Learning to address learning gaps exposed through MAP benchmarks (see more detail on Ms. Kennedy’s planning process here).
Usage of online content, and analysis of the data within, has allowed Ms. Kennedy to reallocate her time toward small group instruction. On this day she delivers a mini-lesson on research skills, starting with a 2-minute video before a facilitating a close reading activity; the roughly 20-minute sessions have the feel of a structured conversation with students, as questions quickly bounce back and forth between teacher and students.
During a debrief after the class, Ms. Kennedy rattles off the topics students have chosen for their research projects (“How much do athletes get paid? What is minimum wage?”) just as fluently as she discusses connections with Lexile levels and MAP scores. Both variables inform who she worked with and for how long in the class period.
So what determined student groups that day?
“Kids who didn’t do great on their research pre-test were with me for longer in the teacher-led group this time,” Ms.
Kennedy says. “And kids in Compass groups always go on the same day of the week - they’re just grouped by personality since the level of content in the program is differentiated based on their MAP scores.”Additional Resources:
- Watch Jackie discuss her classroom and usage of digital content
- Read how Jackie thinks about using a range of digital content providers and view samples from her unit planning process
- See other Tech Innovators at Horry County Schools
- Check out photos of Jackie's classroom below: