Personalizing Vermont’s education system

Move to implement PLPs reflected at two local conferences for educators

Personalizing Vermont's education systemFall in Vermont features two amazing local conferences for educators: VT Fest and the Rowland Foundation Conference. And at both these events, one of the hottest topics was personalized learning.

As Vermont moves to implement Act 77, Flexible pathways to secondary education completion (pdf) there ‘s a lot of discussion on the best way to implement personalized learning plans, or PLPs.

Luckily, some schools are already diving right in.

At the Rowland Foundation conference, the organizers presented a round-table session similar to the speedgeeking we saw at last winter’s Digital Learning Days: attendees had 12 minutes to spend with an educator from one of eight Vermont schools currently implementing PLPs. Schools in attendance included Tarrant Institute partner school Harwood Union High, Northfield High School, Randolph High School, Crossett Brook Middle School and Montpelier High School.

The educators at this session — both the facilitators and attendees — were all clearly passionate about providing Vermont students with the ability to stay engaged with education by following their passion. There was also a clear and welcome movement toward centering students as the agents of their own change. In Randolph, for instance, 8th graders assemble portfolios which they explain to a panel of faculty at the beginning and end of the school year. The Randolph facilitator stressed how these conversations are really a chance for students to explain who they are as learners; the portfolio is a container filled with examples of learning, but it’s also a metaphor for their personalized education journey.

Additionally, at a session on student-led conferences by Edmunds Middle School educators Beth Brodie and Laura Botte, portfolios appeared again, this time in the guise of e-books. Botte’s class of 6th graders collect and curate artifacts of their learning with Evernote, then use Book Creator to make e-books. Students then discuss the books with their families at parent-teacher conferences.

Botte (shown in the video above, leading the group through one student’s e-book) gives students free rein over what to include in their books as well as how to structure their narrative. The important part is simply that each student controls his or her process. They’re writing their own stories of who they are as learners.

At the 2014 Vermont Fest this past week, PLPs were again very present in the conversation around education in Vermont.

Dan French, superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union (BRSU), explained his district’s journey with exploring which technology to use in implementing PLPs and digital portfolios. BRSU opted for the Haiku LMS, and French was able to explain how the district came to that decision, and how they managed the expectations of their stakeholders and community. You can see French’s slides here, and listen to the session via Soundcloud, below.



A longer, two-part session on PLPs and specifically Act 77 followed, featuring a panel of PLP-implementing educators, including Maggie Eaton, Elizabeth McCarthy, Matt Allen, Lauren Parren and from the VT Agency of Education, Tom Alderman.



The session covered the history of Act 77, from its earlier incarnation as Act 44, through to some of the current implementations of PLP work by panelists. Lauren Parren, from Mt Abraham Union Middle/High School in Bristol, worked with some 7th graders on assembling a sample digital portfolio to share with the group.

laurenparrenDigital portfolios at Mt. Abe, as its called, take the form of Google sites, and Parren noted that one of the many benefits of using that platform is that it teaches students file management, a skill that’s quickly becoming a key to successful 21st century digital performance.

What this session shared with that at the Rowland Foundation Conference and Dan French’s talk, was that Vermont is filled with educators who are passionate about letting students take the lead in their learning; the debates around which technology to use to get the job done are numerous and often heated because there’s a recognizing that giving students the tools and support to curate their own artifacts of learning, and embrace the role of narrator in describing their journeys as learners is imperative for a successful educational ecosystem.

And we’re lucky enough to be able to attend, witness and participate in these fascinating conversations. Kudos to everyone who came out for both conferences — organizers, presenters and attendees alike. Let’s keep up the momentum.

Audrey Homan

Audrey Homan is a Vermont-based digital media producer, and producer of The 21st Century Classroom podcast. She's worked in non-profit communications for more than a decade, and in her spare time writes tiny video games and mucks about with augmented reality and arduinos, ably assisted by five dogs. Interviewing students and yelling in PHP are the best parts of her job.

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