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Making Personalized Plans Personal

Personalized Learning Plans are all the rage connected to students’ academic goals. They are an easy way for students to engage in goal setting that leads to self-directed learning. Computer controlled plans are nice start, but miss the real value of personalized learning plans for enabling self-directed learning!

Teachers at Forrest Hills Academy, a last chance alternative high school in Atlanta, are taking a different path by tying SDL to helping their students, the hardest to reach in the Atlanta, Georgia system, to become self-directed learners in more ways than academics.

When middle or high school students are adjudicated to Forrest Hills, an entry team asks each to make exit goals in three areas: pro-social behaviors, academic skills, and learning to learn skills. The student prepares a personalized learning plan (PLP). The PLP will be the center of the student’s exit portfolio which determines readiness to return to the home school.

In each class, the student will complete a PLP which aligns with the exit goals.

But there is more. It’s in the classrooms that PLPs get detailed attention. Not only does the teacher help the student identify a classroom goal, the teacher facilitates the student’s identification of the strategies and steps in a plan that will show outcomes that start with the pro-social behaviors and end with academics. Each week, student’s review rubrics with a self-assessment supported by teacher feedback and work samples.

Included in the student’s FHA entry is the help of a mentor. The mentor meets weekly

with the student to review the PLP from each class. They discuss overall progress and plan any modifications the student chooses to make, first with pro-social interactions with other students and faculty, second with learning to learn skills such as collaboration and critical thinking, and lastly with academic goals based on the individual’s needs to earn a diploma.

How mentors and teachers facilitate PLPs is crucial to advancing student’s self-direction. The start is tough…and crucial. Entry students are often sullen, resentful, and passive. They prefer to do their time seen as an undeserved punishment.

Adults do not tell or command these students to make choices. They provide constructive options without threats of punishment. Teachers are prepared to call on their PACT skill set: Paraphrasing student’s feelings and ideas with empathy, Affirming student’s point of view, Clarifying with constructive feedback, and Testing optional next steps for the student to choose.

Says Principal Zacharias Robinson, “Punishment hasn’t worked with these kids. So we take a different path. We acknowledge their need for agency. We take one step at a time to restore their sense of personal power and put choices in their hands. Getting them to make the simplest choice to guide their way out of FHA is tough, but key to helping them become responsible, self-directed citizens.”

Next: Part II--The Sounds and Looks of A Self-Directed Learning Shift

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