By Steven Penn
Danville Community School Corporation (DCSC) has instituted a new learning program in an attempt to keep students more engaged and receive instruction at their own pace.
Danville South Elementary School is one of several schools in the corporation trying out the new teaching style called Mass Customized Learning (MCL) in pilot classes for its third- and fourth-grade math classes.
DCSC Superintendent Dr. Denis Ward said the corporation started looking for ideas to improve the teaching and learning processes five years ago. After a few years of searching, they came across the MCL model.
Ward said DCSC did the necessary research which included visiting other schools across the country that have implemented this type of program. After gaining knowledge on the model, he said DCSC set up teacher-led committees to tailor it to Danville’s needs.
The program was instituted throughout the school system at the beginning of this year in various subjects, and at South, there are five pilot classrooms focusing on math.
Ward is working with Principal Tina Noe, Director of Academic Services Morgan Walker, and teachers to make the pilot program a success.
Noe said the students’ goal is to master each lesson so they can move on to the next topic, and ultimately be able to show they have completed the necessary steps to advance past a grade level in that subject.
She said the MCL teaching method allows students with similar learning levels to be grouped together and for each student to go at their own pace, which allows them to get a more personalized learning experience. Students are also afforded the chance to take ownership over their learning, something Noe said she has found really motivates them.
Walker said the change in style of teaching has also motivated the teachers. Many of them volunteered for the pilot classes.
“The teachers that are doing these pilots are extremely passionate,” she said. “Not only because they volunteered, but now that they’ve taken ownership, they’re very vested in the process. They want everything to succeed.”
Ward emphasized that the new program still follows state standards.
“We teach the standards,” Ward said. “Our state standards have to be the core of our instruction, and then we’re holding students accountable to master the content.”
Noe said each lesson consists of a pre-test, work stations, direct instruction, post-test, remediation if necessary, and then a performance assessment, which must be completed before the student can move on.
The performance assessment allows teachers to gauge if a student is truly ready to move on to the next topic, by making the student explain and apply the newly learned skill, not just answer multiple choice questions.
On a daily basis, Noe explained, students go to three stations during the 95-minute pilot class period.
Because students are broken up into so many groups of differing learning levels, she said teachers rely on the help of teachers’ assistants and parent volunteers.
“The teachers are always the ultimate ones who are assessing and making sure the child knows, understands, and can apply (the skill),” Noe said. “It’s a beautiful thing for me to walk down there and see that many parent volunteers in there helping these kids at the
level they need, and getting them the resources they need so that they can move on, so they don’t have to sit idle and wait for the teacher.”
After getting the word out about the new program and that volunteers were needed, she said there was overwhelming support from parents — so much so that some volunteers had to be turned away.
Noe — who has children taking the pilot classes — said she can see the difference the new style of teaching is making at home.
When she asks her children what they did in school that day, she said she no longer gets the standard answer of “nothing.”
“(The other) night we were having dinner and my kids brought it up ... (my son said) I took my topic four test today,” Noe said. “He’s bringing it up, telling me ‘this is what I mastered’ and ‘this is what I’m going to do next.’ It’s neat to see them going after their own learning.”
She said the program is also making a difference in student discipline at her school.
“I’ve had zero discipline issues down there (in the pilot classrooms),” Noe said. “Because the kids are engaged, none of them are horsing around. They’re on task, doing things with math, and they’re having math conversations, which is exciting.”
Keeping parents involved at home is another important key to the program, she said.
“We do make sure we can communicate with parents so that they know if their child is falling behind teacher pace, or if they are really struggling with the concept,” Noe said. “We send home a ‘red flag’ form and explain to the parent what concept their child is having difficulty in and some ways they can help at home.”
She said parents can access the websites the students use in the classroom to help if their child is struggling, or to move ahead if they are grasping the concepts quickly.
“They can all log in at home,” Noe said. “We tell the parents if you want to go ahead and work ahead, and have your child practice some of the skills ahead of time (they can). They have access to the text, videos, and everything else online.”
She added that this type of teaching utilizes technology, such as the computer labs and iPads that are available in every classroom in the corporation.
Ward said DCSC has no concrete plans for incorporating the program into more schools and classrooms, but a long-term goal would be for it to be instituted throughout the district in K-12.
“We’re going to wait and see how the data fleshes out with our pilots before we decide our next steps,” he said.
In addition to the pilot classes at South, there are literacy pilots at North Elementary, fifth- and sixth-grade math pilots, seventh- and eighth-grade science pilots, and pilots at the high school level that focus on advanced chemistry, Spanish, and early childhood class.
For more information, visit the website at www.danville.k12.in.us and click on the “Customized Learning” link near the top of the page.