Individualized learning at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge means meeting the students where they are in the lesson, in the lab or in life. This personal approach to learning is designed to take advantage of a student’s strengths and help them improve upon their weaknesses. A perfect example of the power of individualized learning is the magic that is happening in the Math Department.
“We want to challenge students as much as we can as long as it’s appropriate.” Stephen Anderson, an Episcopal alumnus and Math Department Chair, says this department philosophy equates to great things for students.
As early as fifth grade, math teachers begin to identify which students have a proclivity for advanced studies. These are the students with a conceptual understanding and procedural fluency for math, combined with a desire and hunger for learning. Once a student’s math aptitude is summed up, teachers put their heads together to develop a mathematics pathway that fits.
“We want every kid to have the best opportunity possible,” says Anderson. This may mean a student takes Honors Geometry in eighth grade, Algebra I as a freshman or even Calculus BC in tenth grade. If there are enough sixth graders ready for seventh grade math – teachers create a special section just for them. If there is a freshman ready for Honors Pre-Calculus – teachers provide it. If a student has exhausted what is thought of as “high school math” – teachers create an advanced class or offer an independent study. As a result of this desire to meet students where they are, the depth of courses offered has increased and the math range has skyrocketed among students.
Much planning and open communication is needed to truly be successful with this level of individualized learning. This year Middle School math teachers are teaching more than one grade level, which provides them a comprehensive understanding of where individual students are in their learning journey. In addition, one-on-one meetings are conducted between students and teachers to discuss strengths, weaknesses and where the student wishes to go next. Anderson says if a student attempts an advanced math path and finds that it is not for them they can simply rework the plan. He says teachers are always thinking big picture and long-term for students and ultimately want to make sure they provide the appropriate opportunities at the right time.
Duke TIP research shows that 20% to 40% of students perform above grade level in reading and between 11% and 30% perform above grade level in math. How to challenge these students is a struggle for schools nationwide. Episcopal’s ability to create individualized learning opportunities for students has proven to be a great solution. Students are taught to their potential and pushed further than even they might have imagined.
In the end, this take on learning amounts to tremendous benefits for students. Because the material is interesting and challenging they are more engaged and enjoy the learning experience more. Being able to learn at their own pace, also gives students an advantage later on. For example, Anderson says students may enter university with enough math credits to jump right into sophomore level work, while others may not even need math at all depending on their major. He says it’s usually once a student enters the post-secondary world that this hits home for them. It’s at this point that students may reach out to former teachers with a word of thanks for personalizing their experience.
Individualized learning is a hallmark of an Episcopal education. No matter the path our students travel, we want to provide them the right lessons for where they are and the path that they choose.