BELOIT — Sometimes the key to success is knowing oneself. Fruzen Intermediate School teacher Michele Kruse is impressing this concept upon her fifth graders this year with encouraging results.
Her class is part of a pilot project on personalized learning, where each student chooses how to learn the curriculum. Because some students learn visually and others learn auditorily or are tactile learners who learn by touching and doing, each student must select his or her own path.
On Thursday, for example, Kruse went over some addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts with her students as one class. However, it was up to each individual how he or she practiced the material. Some used games or flash cards while others did writing exercises or enlisted the help of the iPads.
When students were learning about the continents and oceans, Kruse gave them a worksheet. However, the students had to decide how to find the answers. Some consulted an atlas while others pulled out the iPads. When making predictions during reading, some students wrote about it while others drew pictures.
Having students select the best method for them helps them not only learn the material, but also gets them engaged and empowered, Kruse said.
“Giving them the choice makes them feel confident,” she said. “Kids have so little control over their lives. Having someone say ‘I trust you’ makes them confident and excited to do their work.”
“I like how I can chose what I can do. It allows students to be more creative,” said fifth grader Sarah Ramsden. “I learn best by talking and writing.”
Student Maddie Kinast said she learns best by rhythm and rhyme. Maddie explained how students took an online test to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to help better oversee their learning. Maddie said her strength was music, also she was weaker as a naturalist. To improve her naturalist talents, she said she’s embarking on a naturalism project with a friend.
Kruse said the days of lecturing the same lesson in the same way to students may be over. The need for independent critical thinkers and problem solvers is desperately needing in a changing world. After only a week in school, Kruse said she’s already noticing a difference. Students no longer ask her what to do next as they are busy making choices and diving in their work.
“There’s a change in attitude and mindset, and it’s really engaged the students,” Kruse said.
Kruse said the students will be evaluated against other fifth graders throughout the year to see if the program is an advantage for students compared to traditional classrooms. If so, the program might be expanded to other classrooms. She said there is also a personalized learning pilot class at Beloit Memorial High School
Kruse learned about personalized learning during conferences this summer about success with the program in Milwaukee schools. She studied up on the subject and re-arranged her classrooms so students could have the options of sitting, standing or being more active while learning. She’s working with the district’s Directors of Teaching and Learning Angie Montpas and Jacqueline Jolly to implement the program. Special Education teacher Sam Streich is also a partner, often in Kruse’s room working with all students.