Jul 01 2013

Learning, Reimagined: Inside the New Classrooms Model of Personalized Instruction

A former fifth-grade teacher and co-founder of the Teach to One instructional model explains how it enhances the teaching and learning experience.

Think about the ­classrooms of your youth. Most of us sat passively alongside 25 other students in an 800-square-foot room as the teacher delivered instruction, with a textbook as a guidepost.

Now, imagine a "next-generation" classroom, where the walls have been knocked down to create an open space in which students work with teachers, in groups or on their own on various skills and projects. Technology is thoughtfully integrated in places where it can best complement the talents of teachers.

At the same time, technology is helping to personalize learning to meet each student's unique academic needs. As students enter the classroom each day, they review their personalized schedules on large ­digital screens similar to those at an airport terminal; open their notebook computers to check the progress they've made on their "skills playlist"; and resume their work.

Before heading to their next class, students complete a daily "exit slip" assessment, which cues the computerized system that their work is done for the day. An analysis follows, and customized work plans for the next day are set.

This model reconfigures the learning puzzle — time, ­instructional ­approaches and tools — to help students learn material ­thoroughly and in ways that are both meaningful and ­challenging. Most ­important, it ensures that all students are working at their proper learning level, rather than sitting through ­lessons they already know or ­struggling through material before they're ready for it.

This next-generation model of ­instruction isn't some theorist's ­fantasy, however. Chris Rush and I, co-founders of New Classrooms, and our team have designed a ­personalized learning model we call "Teach to One." Already, more than 3,500 middle school students around the country receive their math instruction in this way.

The Future Is Now

Why, you may ask, is it important to teach to the individual?

When I taught fifth grade, I once had a class in which one student, Roman, was reading at the second-grade level. Ellen, the student next to him, had eighth-grade reading skills, and the remaining 25 students were somewhere in between. I entered the classroom each day with good intentions, but I soon realized that teaching a fifth-grade curriculum ­using a one-size-fits-all approach wasn't addressing the needs of all students. I often went home feeling guilty about letting Roman fall further behind while essentially holding Ellen back.

Technology was supposed to help. But the computers at the back of the room never fit into the rhythm of my classroom. Inevitably, the students working on the computers would get stuck and need help, diverting my attention from their classmates. Add in the usual technical support headaches, and it quickly became apparent that the very technology that was intended to help students was actually making life in the classroom harder for all of us.

8 The number of schools in New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C., that are currently using the Teach to One model of instruction

New Classrooms believes that technology is beneficial when it's thoughtfully integrated into ­reimagined delivery models that are personalized for students and support teachers in their work. We regularly update our Teach to One model as we learn from teachers and students about how it can be improved. It won't be long before next-gen instructional models allow every Roman, Ellen and those in between to receive the personalized instruction they need and deserve.


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