Making it personal: New approaches for inclusive learning at Wilburton Elementary

Wilburton Elementary is a state-of-the-art school being built from the ground up, following the guidance of the Microsoft Education Transformation Framework, and is a collaborative effort between the Bellevue School District (BSD) and Microsoft. Follow Wilburton’s progress as it happens, from breaking groundto hiringto professional developmentto becoming a true 21st century learning community when it opens its doors in September 2018.

Every school leader I meet, in every country, strives to provide students with the skills and opportunities they need to succeed in learning and succeed in life. But when nearly all classrooms include diverse experiences, abilities, learning styles, and social/emotional needs, how do you design learning that meets the needs of all students? For Wilburton principal Beth Hamilton, it’s a challenge her school will be ready to face.

“The wide variety of students is always a challenge for teachers,” Hamilton says. “We need to make sure we’re working with students to really understand where they are, and the skills and strategies they need to move forward – and that looks different for every child.”

As a neighborhood school offering a continuum of services, Wilburton’s general education classrooms will have students of all abilities, and Hamilton believes that it’s best for kids to be learning alongside their peers.


Strategies for personalized learning


Individualizing lessons for students of mixed abilities requires a strategic approach. For Hamilton, that means ensuring teachers are meeting regularly with students, with formal assessments or informal assessments such as 1:1 reading conferences. “Working with children one on one,” Hamilton says, “we can compile data about kids at certain points in the school year that says, ‘Here’s what they need right now to get to the next level.’”

For instance, sometimes kids need both real books in their hands and access to online versions, so they have more choices.

“It’s another way to engage kids in reading texts that are right for their instructional level, and then it allows them to pick what interests them,” Hamilton says. “We all know that to personalize learning means kids have to have interest in it, because if students are not interested in a subject, they are less likely to put in the hard work to learn.”


Enter technology


According to Hamilton, “The technology tools we have at our fingertips can expose children to all types of content and reading levels. For example, technology gives students who struggle with reading more tools that help them participate in what’s going on in the classroom. It can expose students to high levels of literacy, no matter their reading level. Even if a child can’t read the words, they can have the material read to them, find material in a different language, or go to a different reading level. This supports students with their comprehension and content knowledge – which are a big part of reading.”

Free Learning Tools built into Microsoft Office – like Narrator, Magnifier, Picture Dictionary, Color Filters, Read Aloud, and Dictation – address the full range of reading challenges. Bellevue School District also uses software, like Raz-Kids, that adapts to each child’s ability and allows the teacher to select the level of text that suits the student best.

Technology tools like the Picture Dictionary are critical for English Language Learners (ELL) who are seeing content they’re not accustomed to.

“The pictures help them understand what the words mean, then they’re able to comprehend it and work with it,” Hamilton says. “It’s great for them to be able to say, ‘Oh, that’s what a wheelbarrow is,’ or ‘oh, that’s what an ox is…’”

While technology can’t replace the need for adult support, it can help kids become more independent.

“A lot of times, what you see in classrooms is our students with special needs having an adult with them on a consistent basis, to guide their learning, especially in academic areas,” Hamilton says. “Technology lets us shift that adult support to where it’s needed, and allows students to learn on their own, be confident in who they are and what they are doing, and engage with other students.”


The power of 1:1


Hamilton notes that, in the Bellevue School District’s upper grades, 1:1 technology now supports students who might have previously had that adult sitting right next to them in the classroom.

“Now the adult can be in the back of the room, sharing a OneNote Notebook and helping those students take notes,” she says. “They’re working collaboratively, but the adult support doesn’t have to sit right by them.”

When it comes to personalizing learning, 1:1 devices don’t just help students with special challenges. Every 2nd – 5th grade student at Wilburton will have their own device during school hours, led by the goal of encouraging collaboration and other 21st century skills, fostering creativity for a lifetime, and driving better learning outcomes.

The devices, with Windows 10 in S mode, are designed for faster deployments and streamlined for security and speed. With tools like Paint 3D and Windows Ink, which Hamilton sees as game-changers, these devices drive creativity and enable personalized learning. But Wilburton’s 1:1 strategy has an even more important goal: to help students and educators do amazing things.

“By having devices available for all students, our teachers can integrate and personalize learning for individuals, small groups, and the whole class,” Hamilton says. “Students will also have these tools available in all class areas. That means if they go to art class and are doing a coding project, they have the tools necessary. In music, you might find students collaborating to incorporate videos or sound clips of their work. Having devices for students gives our teachers flexibility to drive innovative, integrated, powerful instruction that attends to each and every child on a personal level.”


More time for teaching


Personalizing learning for every student may be a necessity in today’s classrooms, but – as Hamilton points out – finding the time to do that with 25 or more kids in each class is a major challenge.

“By using technology, there are a lot of things we can do to cut down on the administrative piece, and make personalized learning more manageable for teachers,” Hamilton says. “For example, when they do reading inventories, conferencing, and assessments with kids, the data automatically gets fed into our systems that then can be looked at as a whole, or broken down for each student. These data analytics provide automatic, immediate feedback for teachers so that they can adjust their instruction to meet student needs.”

Professional development is another area that, with the help of technology, offers an opportunity to save teachers time. To provide the time and space for planning, Hamilton promotes collaboration between teachers. Using Teams, Wilburton’s teachers can share resources, strategies, systems, and structures, without having a sit-down meeting. They can also access free courses on the Microsoft Educator Community to get trained on OneNote and learn more about 21st century learning design.

“In Bellevue, our common articulated curriculum resources are housed in Master OneNote Notebooks,” says Hamilton. “This way, teachers have materials at their fingertips without having to have a pile of teacher manuals. Teachers can also share their lesson designs and learning with others across the district, so we don’t have to recreate the wheel.”


Planning for personalized learning


As Hamilton is closing out the current school year and planning for Wilburton’s opening next September, she’s focused on setting up the structures to make sure that collaboration and the use of data in assessing student progress are a focus and an everyday occurrence – all in support of achieving better learning outcomes for Wilburton students.

“I think one of the biggest questions about personalized learning is ‘How the heck is a teacher going to do that?’” Hamilton says. “By using technology, there’s a lot we can do to make personalized learning more manageable for teachers and more rewarding for students.”

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