Teaching and Learning: Personalized Learning Plans and Community-based Learning

By Dr. Dorinne Dorfman, Principal

All year secondary schools across Vermont have developed ways to provide Personalized Learning Plans for students in grades 7 and 9 for implementation in fall 2015. When Vermont Legislators passed Act 77 Flexible Pathways in 2013, they hoped this educational intervention would engage more students in their learning and increase their achievement. Starting with just one or two grades allows each school to start small and customize their programs over time, so that when the first Vermonters graduate and fulfill their Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs) in June 2019, each will enter higher education and the workplace best prepared for real-world challenges.

Personalized Learning Plans encompass students’ interests, learning strengths and needs, graduation requirements, and long-term goals. Written and saved electronically or on paper, students and their parents/guardians revisit and revise the plan throughout their years of secondary education. Next fall, Leland and Gray students will work with their Advisors over the first two weeks of school. Completing interest inventories, reviewing career options, and reflecting on their learning goals comprise some of the individual and group activities in which students will participate for completing their PLPs. According to Act 77, by November 30th parents will review and sign their students’ plans. At L&G, we plan to incorporate this step into parent-teacher-student conferences in October.

Community-based Learning (CBL) fulfills another component of Act 77: Workplace Learning. This State requirement compels every public school to allow for ways in which students can earn credit by volunteering or working in the community. Currently L&G offers the course, Cooperative and Career Education, which is a direct pathway to the workplace, as an elective, not a requirement. As L&G teachers established our school’s guaranteed and viable curriculum over this school year, I recognized that the “Transferable Skills,” required in Vermont’s Educational Quality Standards (passed by the Legislature in 2014) were conspicuously absent. As a result, L&G has developed a system to involve all students in workplace learning and document their accomplishments. “Transferable skills” refers to a broad set of knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits that are believed to be critically important to success in today’s world, particularly in collegiate programs and modern careers. In addition, beginning with the Class of 2019, students must complete at least forty hours of community service. In this way, L&G can guarantee that every student graduates ready for adulthood.

Vermont’s Framework of Standards includes dozens of “Vital Results” standards to best prepare students for the future. A small committee of Leland and Gray educators identified seven “Power Standards,” particular areas with the greatest leverage for workplace learning. These include:

 

Power Standards

Title and Number

Brief Description

3.1 Goal Setting

 

Students assess their own learning by developing rigorous criteria for themselves, and use these to set goals and produce consistently high-quality work.

3.8 Personal Economics

Students demonstrate an understanding of personal economic decisions, and account for their decisions.

3.13 Roles and Responsibilities

Students analyze their roles and responsibilities in their family, their school, and their community.

3.14 Dependability and Productivity

Students demonstrate dependability, productivity, and initiative.

3.15 Career Choices

Students know about various careers.

3.16 Transition Planning

Students develop a plan for current and continued education and training to meet personal and career goals.

4.1 Service

Students take an active role in their community.

 

In keeping with the philosophy of Personalized Learning Plans, students can enjoy multiple pathways to demonstrate community-based learning, both at Leland and Gray and beyond. Some possibilities for achieving some or all of the standards include:

  • L&G courses (Co-op, Career Finance, and Consumer Math)
  • Journey East programs
  • DUO (teacher/staff assistant) or peer tutoring
  • Independent, online, or college courses
  • HEY workshops in career and community training or skills
  • High-quality community service or service-learning project
  • Paid employment
  • Program requiring high levels of student participation in the real world, such as Habitat for Humanity or School for International Training

Three L&G faculty/staff members will support students to engage in their PLP and CBL over four to six years. By senior year, students will complete an electronic portfolio in their Google website that features their accomplishments and examples of their best academic and workplace learning.

 

Student Demonstration of Achievement

Power Standard

Assessment Tool(s)

Adult Support of Student Learning

3.1 Goal Setting

Personalized Learning Plan

Advisor

3.8 Personal Economics

Written reflection or presentation

Co-op teacher and/or case manager

3.13 Roles and Responsibilities

Creative reflection: poem, artwork, vignette, presentation, etc.

Co-op teacher and/or case manager

3.14 Dependability and Productivity

Mentor evaluation or letter of recommendation

Co-op teacher and/or case manager

3.15 Career Choices

Personalized Learning Plan

Advisor

3.16 Transition Planning

Personalized Learning Plan

Advisor

4.1 Service

40 hours of community-based learning completion form, signed and verified* (part of 21st century program)

After-school program coordinator

All components, plus best work in gr. 7-12

Electronic portfolio as part of the Personalized Learning Plan

Advisor and/or case manager

 

*10 hours per year highly recommended, unless a student’s Personalized Learning Plan includes Co-op or other lengthy community-based learning.

From March through May 2015, co-op teacher Nika Oakes presented to the Faculty and Student Councils, the Superintendent of Schools, and the L&G School Board. All provided suggestions for expanding opportunities and accolades for bringing Community-based Learning to our school. Our gratitude also extends to after-school program coordinator Phoebe Connolly, who researched community service and developed a workable model for L&G. Their work follows in the footsteps of students who trail-blazed leadership to the highest level by researching and reporting on Act 77 and Collaborative Peer Review (school evaluation). They include Haley Buffum, Caitlin Gerry, Rachel Spence, Emily Thibault, Benton Winrich, Jake Wilkins (participating in both initiatives), Madison Cannella, Emily Cutts, and Alexa Litchfield.