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The days of a teacher lecturing to glassy-eyed students in a monologue that ignores their personal interests and strengths is fading like a decrepit paper calendar.

Personalized learning in private schools is in. One-way pedantic lessons are out.

While perspectives vary among educators and schools, personalized learning is generally an approach that customizes a child’s learning based on the student’s abilities, interests and needs. The curriculum is based on what they need to know and how they learn.

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“Learning is something that can’t be done to students anymore. Students have to be engaged in it and believe,” says Helen Pereira-Raso, head of school at Holy Trinity School in Richmond Hill, Ont. “Personalization is creating a system where you honour the uniqueness of the student, foster agency and choice, and invite their curiosity.”

Holy Trinity School designs for personalization in a variety of ways: using the concepts of co-construction, where students and teachers work together to build a learning community; assessment as learning, where feedback is central to learning; self-awareness, where students need to know their passions and strengths; agency, where students are empowered to share their ideas; and learning within the community, Pereira-Raso says.

Sustainability has been just one of the themes to emerge among Holy Trinity School students when working within the community. One project involved creating sustainable development of dwellings, allowing students to focus on particular strengths, such as computer skills or environment modelling, while working in teams, Pereira-Raso says. Community members were invited to listen to pitches and consider what would work best.

As the world and workplace skills rapidly change, education must evolve to ensure students can thrive.

“We are seeing fragmentation of traditional pathways and systems. Our job is to prepare students for the path that is most meaningful to them,” she says.

Brad Read, head of senior school at St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School in Oakville, says forging relationships and making connections are key to a personalized approach to learning.

“If we can connect with students’ passions and interests, the learning really starts there,” he says. “We want to allow them to drive their own stories. Personalization is an approach to education that facilitates this process and allows them to be authentic.”

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Given that the all-girls St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School in Toronto encompasses pre-school through to Grade 12, the approach of personalization in education is a bit different depending on the division. For middle school, personalization is project-based while allowing each student to provide an individual approach.

Parents are also key to the process. “We see that parents are increasingly aware of contemporary education and the various roles of learning,” Read says. “When I meet new families, I find they are often widely read and they have done their research, so we can have great conversations. When parents have pointed questions about instructional practices, I find it refreshing.”

Digital and media literacy are among the top priorities for this generation of students, Read says, and sustainability and social justice are two of the modern, emerging themes among students at the school.

“Empowerment is part of our school’s mission,” he says. “It gives students the agency to create and co-construct their own story, and it’s something we talk to both parents and students about.”

If you walk around The Mabin School in Toronto, you may see students sprawled on the floor, tucked into a beanbag, or working with each other on the landing of a set of stairs – all solving problems and creating together, says the school’s principal, Nancy Steinhauer.

“The curriculum is co-created with students; they lead the way,” she says. “The kids learn that everyone has their strengths, and everyone has something to learn.”

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The school uses the principle of universal design to plan the learning. All students are provided with an enriched program and all have access to whatever tools they need to be successful, which could be noise cancelling headphones, access to technology, extra time or a quiet space.

The learning includes inquiry, integration and reflection. The school and teachers ensure there is integration and work across age groups and across disciplines, making sure there is full inclusion for students.

“Each class has kids with all kinds of strengths and needs,” Steinhauer says. “Whether they are gifted, typically developing, have learning disabilities, autism, ADHD or are socially adept, the diversity of learners makes the learning rich.”

The concept of Habits of Mind is observed at the school. “Using empathy, taking a responsible risk, managing impulsivity and persisting through challenge – each student creates goals through the lens of these habits of mind and reflects on their progress through this lens,” Steinhauer says.

Given that the school is relatively small, relationships are key, she says.

“We all know each other, we all take care of each other, we all teach and support each other,” she says. “Everyone here is a learner.”

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Our Kids tip: Get specifics about the program

“Find out exactly what personalized learning means and looks like in the classroom: individualized learning plans, independent studies, one-on-one guidance, hours of support, etc. Be specific about your situation. You want to hear concrete answers and an interest in learning about your child.”

OurKids.net, Canada’s Private School Guide


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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