From Personal to Systematic: Strategies of Culturally Responsive Practices

By Jori Ruff, Herb Kohl Fellow and Elementary ELL Specialist

Geneva Gay (2000) defines cul­tur­ally respon­sive teach­ing as using the cul­tural knowl­edge, prior expe­ri­ences, and per­for­mance styles of diverse stu­dents to make learn­ing more appro­pri­ate and effec­tive for them; it teaches to and through the strengths of these stu­dents. Our pre­sen­ta­tion “From Per­sonal to Sys­tem­atic: Strate­gies of Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Prac­tices” will high­light how the Bara­boo School Dis­trict has imple­mented cul­tur­ally respon­sive prac­tices (CRP) at all lev­els in order to meet the needs of ALL stu­dents to close the achieve­ment gap and increase engagement.

In our pre­sen­ta­tion, we will dis­cuss how know­ing one’s self can help to influ­ence teach­ing prac­tices that are cul­tur­ally respon­sive and that can begin to close the achieve­ment gap for stu­dents. Par­tic­i­pants will dis­cover how to lever­age essen­tial ele­ments in The Daniel­son Frame­work for Teach­ing to advance cul­tur­ally respon­sive ped­a­gogy. They will also learn how to apply local resources to strengthen the per­sonal, instruc­tional and sys­tem­atic strate­gies of cul­tur­ally respon­sive prac­tices. Our goal is that par­tic­i­pants will leave the pre­sen­ta­tion with a deeper under­stand­ing of how and why cul­tur­ally respon­sive prac­tices pos­i­tively influ­ences teach­ing and learning.

When the Bara­boo School dis­trict first began work on imple­ment­ing Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Teach­ing prac­tices, many edu­ca­tors asked the ques­tion Why? Why is this impor­tant? Why do we need to change? We will spend a por­tion of our pre­sen­ta­tion talk­ing about why our dis­trict chose to focus on Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Prac­tices. From Response to Inter­ven­tion to the Daniel­son Frame­work for Teach­ing, CRP is a crit­i­cal attribute to sup­port stu­dent growth and engage­ment. Dur­ing the begin­ning stages of imple­ment­ing RtI, it became clear that build­ing edu­ca­tor and admin­is­tra­tor under­stand­ing of CRP was essen­tial in the suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion of RtI. As our diverse pop­u­la­tions con­tin­ued to grow, the dis­trict saw the need to pro­vide pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment in meet­ing the needs of diverse learners.

Dur­ing the 201213 school year, our dis­trict uti­lized Pro­fes­sional Learn­ing Com­mu­ni­ties to pro­vide pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment to staff empha­siz­ing cur­rent dis­trict ini­tia­tives: engaged time, ques­tion and dis­cus­sion tech­niques, learn­ing tar­gets, and for­ma­tive assess­ment. A coworker and I were tasked with devel­op­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion about Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Prac­tices. Our group met three times over the course of a year for 90 min­utes. A new cohort of teach­ers par­tic­i­pated dur­ing the 201314 and 201415 school years.

Another rea­son why our dis­trict felt it was impor­tant to pro­vide pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment around the topic of Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Prac­tices was State Super­in­ten­dent Tony Evers’ Pro­mot­ing Excel­lence For All 2017 ini­tia­tive. Wis­con­sin has the widest race-​based achieve­ment gaps in the nation (Mul­vany, 2013). The results from the 2013 National Assess­ment of Edu­ca­tional Progress (NAEP), often called the “Nation’s Report Card,” showed no other state had wider gaps in both of the assess­ments aligned with Agenda 2017 (fourth-​grade read­ing and eighth-​grade math­e­mat­ics). Fur­ther, no other state had wider gaps in fourth-​grade math­e­mat­ics and eighth-​grade read­ing. State Super­in­ten­dent, Tony Evers, cre­ated a spe­cial task force as part of his Agenda 2017, to address the achieve­ment gaps of our stu­dents of color, eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents, stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties, and Eng­lish Lan­guage Learn­ers. The Wis­con­sin Depart­ment of Pub­lic Instruc­tion cre­ated a report, Pro­mot­ing Excel­lence for All, high­light­ing strate­gies to sup­port diverse learn­ers. Dur­ing our pre­sen­ta­tion, we will high­light strate­gies from this report that we have incor­po­rated within the Bara­boo School District.

After devel­op­ing a strong under­stand­ing of why incor­po­rat­ing Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Teach­ing Prac­tices is so crit­i­cal to stu­dents’ achieve­ment and engage­ment, par­tic­i­pants will have the oppor­tu­nity to iden­tify spe­cific attrib­utes about them­selves as edu­ca­tors and how these may pos­i­tively or neg­a­tively impact their inter­ac­tions with stu­dents. Mahatma Ghandi said “You can­not under­stand oth­ers until you begin to under­stand your­self.” Know­ing our­selves is an impor­tant part of under­stand­ing our biases and being able to work with stu­dents who have back­grounds dif­fer­ent from our own.

Mov­ing for­ward, par­tic­i­pants will be intro­duced to ways in which they can be more cul­tur­ally respon­sive in their instruc­tion. Instruc­tional strate­gies will be shared from how to set up a class­room to ques­tions to think about while plan­ning instruc­tion such as: Do I con­sis­tently begin my lessons with what stu­dents already know from home, com­mu­nity, and school? Par­tic­i­pants will also engage in activ­i­ties to under­stand how cur­rent class­room prac­tices can alien­ate stu­dents thus dis­cour­ag­ing them from feel­ing accepted at school. Par­tic­i­pants will leave the ses­sion with strate­gies and resources they can imple­ment imme­di­ately in order to make their instruc­tion, class­rooms, and schools more cul­tur­ally responsive.

Finally, we will dis­cuss how the Bara­boo School Dis­trict cre­ated a Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Prac­tices Pol­icy and future steps we are tak­ing to con­tinue this impor­tant work. In the Spring of 2015, after a few years of pro­vid­ing pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment about CRP dur­ing Pro­fes­sional Learn­ing Com­mu­ni­ties, the Bara­boo School Dis­trict began cre­at­ing a Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Prac­tice pol­icy. The hope is was that this pol­icy would guide dis­trict, school and cur­ric­u­lar deci­sions. Dur­ing the 201516 school year, a cul­tur­ally respon­sive teach­ing prac­tices work­group com­prised of teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors was cre­ated to revise the pol­icy and to become invested stake­hold­ers in the impor­tance of this work. After revi­sions, the pol­icy was shared with staff mem­bers and feed­back was encour­aged. In May of 2016, the pol­icy was pre­sented to the board and received unan­i­mous approval. The Bara­boo School Dis­trict cul­tur­ally respon­sive teach­ing prac­tices work­group and RtI lead­er­ship work­group have been com­bined for the 201617 school year to cre­ate a Social Equity Workgroup.

In the Bara­boo School Dis­trict we believe that every­one has a basic human need to belong and feel accepted; that teach­ers need to take the time to get to know their stu­dents in order for them to be suc­cess­ful in the class­room. Cul­tur­ally respon­sive prac­tices address the needs of all our stu­dents and pre­pares them to be not only cit­i­zens of Wis­con­sin, but of the world. At the end of this pre­sen­ta­tion we hope that par­tic­i­pants will leave with the under­stand­ing of how to begin and/​or sus­tain sim­i­lar work in their own districts.


Gay, G. (2000). Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Teach­ing: The­ory, Prac­tice, & Research. New York: Teach­ers Col­lege Press.

Hol­lie, S. (2012). Cul­tur­ally and Lin­guis­ti­cally Respon­sive Teach­ing and Learn­ing. Hunt­ing­ton Beach, CA: Shell Education.

Mul­vany, Lydia. 2013. “Black Stu­dents Near Bot­tom in Nation on Bench­mark Math, Read­ing Test.” Mil­wau­kee Wis­con­sin Jour­nal Sen­tinel, Novem­ber 8. Retrieved from

Evers, T., PhD. (2014). Pro­mot­ing excel­lence for all : A report from the State Superintendent’s Task Force on Wisconsin’s Achieve­ment Gap (Bul­letin No. 15016). Retrieved from The Wis­con­sin Depart­ment of Pub­lic Instruc­tion web­site:

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Challenging Excellence Gaps Through Personalized Learning: Meeting Needs, Assessing Growth

Pamela Clinken­beard, Pro­fes­sor of Edu­ca­tional Foun­da­tions, Uni­ver­sity of Wisconsin-​Whitewater
Ann Franke, WASCD Mem­ber Ser­vices Co-​chair and Direc­tor of Instruc­tion in the Verona Area School Dis­trict
Amy Miller, Advanced Learn­ers Coor­di­na­tor in the Ore­gon School District

We are all famil­iar with achieve­ment gaps. There is wide­spread agree­ment that the gap between the achieve­ment of advan­taged and less advan­taged stu­dents should be nar­rowed and that the goal should be to help all stu­dents reach pro­fi­ciency (at least). But what is an excel­lence gap? This is the dis­tance (even greater than the achieve­ment gap) between the pro­por­tions of lower and higher income stu­dents who are achiev­ing at advanced lev­els (above and beyond pro­fi­ciency). Plucker and his col­leagues (Plucker, Hard­esty, & Bur­roughs, 2013) found that low-​income and minor­ity stu­dents were much less likely to reach advanced lev­els of pro­fi­ciency on state or national assess­ments than were their White and more advan­taged peers. In Wis­con­sin, there are sub­stan­tial excel­lence gaps for Black, His­panic, and stu­dents eli­gi­ble for free/​reduced lunch. Wis­con­sin received a grade of “D” for inputs (state poli­cies that sup­port advanced achieve­ment and gifted edu­ca­tion) and “C+” for out­puts (achieve­ment scores and excel­lence gaps com­pared to other states) in a recent report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. (See also Plucker et al., 2015.)

Excellence Gaps and Gifted Education 

Stu­dents of color and low-​income stu­dents are often under­rep­re­sented in ser­vices and pro­gram­ming for advanced stu­dents, includ­ing gifted pro­grams. In Wis­con­sin, pro­gram­ming for all advanced stu­dents is incon­sis­tent at best, although man­dated by stan­dard t. Statute 121.02(1)(t) states “Each school board shall pro­vide access to an appro­pri­ate pro­gram for stu­dents iden­ti­fied as gifted and tal­ented.” Statute 118.35 and Rule 8.01(2)(t)2 describe the five areas of gift­ed­ness (gen­eral intel­lec­tual, spe­cific aca­d­e­mic, lead­er­ship, cre­ativ­ity, and visual/​performing arts) and the need to use mul­ti­ple mea­sures and culturally-​responsive prac­tices in iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and pro­gram­ming for gifted stu­dents. (See the DPI site for “gifted and talented pupils.”) Nation­ally, efforts to meet the needs of gifted and tal­ented stu­dents have been shift­ing from pull-​out or self-​contained “pro­grams” for iden­ti­fied stu­dents to broader attempts to iden­tify the needs of stu­dents and pro­vide for them in the reg­u­lar class­room when pos­si­ble. The empha­sis is on iden­ti­fy­ing needs (what does this stu­dent need in order to meet their poten­tial?) rather than iden­ti­fy­ing stu­dents (is this stu­dent gifted or not?). Dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of instruc­tion is an impor­tant com­po­nent of this effort, and gifted edu­ca­tion fits into the RtI frame­work. The Wis­con­sin RtI Cen­ter has devel­oped a research-supported database of “addi­tional chal­lenges,” prac­tices and mate­ri­als in math and lan­guage arts for advanced learn­ers . How­ever, even with com­pre­hen­sive pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment for instruc­tional staff, in-​class dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion can­not meet all the needs of all advanced students.

Some school dis­tricts are look­ing at “per­son­al­ized learn­ing” (PL) frame­works as a way to meet the needs of gifted/​talented/​advanced stu­dents, and to nur­ture and develop the gifts of all stu­dents. There are numer­ous mod­els and exam­ples of per­son­al­ized learn­ing approaches, but most include the goal of tai­lor­ing the edu­ca­tional envi­ron­ment to each student’s needs, skills, and inter­ests. (For a work­ing def­i­n­i­tion of per­son­al­ized learn­ing includ­ing four main com­po­nents, click here.) For those who have embraced PL, the emphases on indi­vid­u­al­ized pac­ing and con­tent, stu­dent col­lege and career goals, and learner moti­va­tion and engage­ment seem highly appro­pri­ate for meet­ing the needs of gifted stu­dents. But how does it work, and what does it look like? At the end of this arti­cle are the sto­ries of two dis­tricts: one has been meet­ing the needs of “advanced learn­ers” within per­son­al­ized learn­ing for sev­eral years, and one is just start­ing to explore the process of shift­ing from a more tra­di­tional GT pro­gram.

Assessment Issues 

There are unique issues in assess­ing learn­ing and growth for stu­dents who are already achiev­ing at high lev­els. In addi­tion to the excel­lence gap issue, there is the dif­fi­culty of demon­strat­ing stu­dent growth. Lack of demon­strated growth in high abil­ity stu­dents can be due to sev­eral fac­tors. One prob­lem area can be the assess­ments them­selves. If dis­tricts mon­i­tor progress and assess achieve­ment with instru­ments that have inad­e­quate “ceil­ing,” then growth will not show up for already-​high achiev­ers. (If you’re already scor­ing at the top of an assess­ment that was not chal­leng­ing for you, then there is nowhere to go to improve.) Another assessment-​related issue is “regres­sion toward the mean.” All assess­ment scores for an indi­vid­ual fluc­tu­ate, and a score that is high in the fall may (purely through sta­tis­ti­cal arti­fact) regress to a slightly lower score in the spring.

The sec­ond main rea­son for dif­fi­culty in demon­strat­ing growth is in the cur­ricu­lum itself. If stu­dents are not chal­lenged with appro­pri­ately dif­fi­cult mate­r­ial and tasks, they can­not grow. We prob­a­bly all agree that every stu­dent should demon­strate at least a year’s growth in a year of school­ing, but this often does not hap­pen with gifted stu­dents. This is a par­tic­u­lar trou­ble spot with stu­dents of color and those from poverty. They are likely to be over­looked when teach­ers are nom­i­nat­ing stu­dents for advanced oppor­tu­ni­ties, even in the many cases where they could suc­ceed with only a lit­tle assis­tance. Vygotsky’s “zone of prox­i­mal devel­op­ment” (ZPD) is rel­e­vant here: in order to be engaged and to grow, all stu­dents need to be work­ing at lev­els that they have not yet mas­tered, but that they are capa­ble of mas­ter­ing with some peer or adult scaf­fold­ing. Stu­dents who are never chal­lenged can become com­pla­cent and unmo­ti­vated, and are unlikely to learn to develop good work habits.

Using Personalized Learning to Meet Advanced Student Needs: District Stories

Two school dis­tricts’ sto­ries illus­trate some of the specifics of imple­ment­ing per­son­al­ized learn­ing and meet­ing the needs of advanced and gifted stu­dents within a PL frame­work. The Ore­gon School Dis­trict has been devel­op­ing the process for a few years now; the Verona Area School Dis­trict recently began incor­po­rat­ing plan­ning for gifted stu­dents in their PL process.

The Oregon School District Advanced Learning and Personalized Learning Journey
Amy Miller, Advanced Learners Coordinator

The Ore­gon School Dis­trict gifted and tal­ented pro­gram of sup­ports has been in place since 1990. In 2008, after a pro­gram eval­u­a­tion, we moved to a new pro­gram of sup­ports focused on rig­or­ous cur­ricu­lum (in many cases devel­oped for advanced learn­ers) and social and emo­tional learn­ing. In 2012, with full sup­port of our Board of Edu­ca­tion, we changed the title of staff and the sup­ports we offer to Advanced Learn­ing to reflect cur­rent best prac­tices in the field. Since 2008, we have mea­sured suc­cess for our learn­ers using growth mea­sures with our goal of a min­i­mum of a year’s growth for our learners.

After a series of “vision­ing into the future” papers writ­ten by our school board of edu­ca­tion, in the 2011-​12 school year, a per­son­al­ized learn­ing task force was con­vened as a best prac­tice to pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties to max­i­mize the poten­tial of all stu­dents based on their needs, abil­i­ties and pref­er­ences. The Per­son­al­ized Learn­ing ini­tia­tive has had pro­found effects on stu­dent learn­ing and teacher under­stand­ing of the new role of an edu­ca­tor in a per­son­al­ized learn­ing model. Today, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of advanced learn­ing needs is ongo­ing with col­lab­o­ra­tion between admin­is­tra­tors, grade level teacher/​facilitators and Advanced Learn­ing staff with a focus on max­i­miz­ing growth. Per­son­al­iza­tion has also helped to iden­tify advanced learn­ing needs in our less advan­taged learn­ers or learn­ers with twice excep­tional needs that a one size fits all model would not have iden­ti­fied or been able to sup­port. As our per­son­al­iza­tion ini­tia­tive con­tin­ues to expand we see our learn­ers becom­ing empow­ered and dri­ving their own edu­ca­tion as teach­ers become col­lab­o­ra­tive facil­i­ta­tors of learning.

Next steps in the Ore­gon School Dis­trict are con­tin­u­ing our pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment series for staff dis­trict wide, at the build­ing level and in col­lab­o­ra­tive teams. We are also work­ing to develop for all cur­ric­u­lar areas a con­tin­uum of learn­ing skills/​standards which will sup­port all learn­ers (includ­ing our advanced learn­ers) to move at the depth and pace that max­i­mizes their learn­ing. Finally, our Per­son­al­ized Learn­ing task force (which includes, staff, par­ents and stu­dents) will con­tinue to meet to cel­e­brate suc­cesses, dis­cuss next steps and to eval­u­ate our long term strate­gic plan for full imple­men­ta­tion with a goal of max­i­miz­ing learn­ing and suc­cess of all students.

The Verona Area School District Personalized Learning Journey
Ann Franke, Director of Instruction 

The Verona Area School Dis­trict began the process of mov­ing to a per­son­al­ized learn­ing model in 2013 with the school board estab­lish­ing the goal of every stu­dent hav­ing a per­son­al­ized learn­ing plan by the begin­ning of the 201819 school year. Per­son­al­ized learn­ing is meant to be a vehi­cle to achieve the district’s ulti­mate mis­sion: Every Stu­dent Must be Suc­cess­ful! While the ideals of per­son­al­ized learn­ing have been widely embraced by the com­mu­nity, some par­ents and stu­dents have ques­tioned what the imple­men­ta­tion means for advanced learn­ers. Some of the ques­tions par­ents have posed include: Does per­son­al­ized learn­ing mean my child will have to “teach” him or her­self instead of receiv­ing direct instruc­tion? Will my child be expected to “teach” other chil­dren who are not able to grasp con­cepts as eas­ily? Will my child be held back in any way as the needs of other learn­ers are being met?

These ques­tions all point to the need for clearly defin­ing what per­son­al­ized learn­ing looks like in our dis­trict, a process we began over the last school year by devel­op­ing the Verona Area School Dis­trict Per­son­al­ized Learn­ing Plan which delin­eates the key ele­ments: The Pro­file (who the learner is); The Path (what the learner does); The Evi­dence (how the learner is pro­gress­ing); and The Reflec­tion (where the learner goes next). We also rec­og­nize the need for increased pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment for our staff so we have cre­ated two foun­da­tional courses: The Who, What, WOW, Where, and Why (5 W’s) of Per­son­al­ized Learn­ing, and Intro­duc­tion to the Verona Area School Dis­trict Per­son­al­ized Learn­ing Plan. In addi­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion to our fam­i­lies about the ben­e­fits of per­son­al­ized learn­ing for all stu­dents, includ­ing our advanced learn­ers, will be a high pri­or­ity over the upcom­ing school year. This will include a Fre­quently Asked Ques­tions doc­u­ment, infor­ma­tion on our web­site and newslet­ters, a VASD per­son­al­ized learn­ing video, and a “par­ent ver­sion” of the Intro­duc­tion to the VASD Per­son­al­ized Learn­ing Plan.


Per­son­al­ized Learn­ing holds promise for meet­ing the needs of all stu­dents, includ­ing those who need more chal­lenge than is typ­i­cal at grade level. Its empha­sis on treat­ing each stu­dent as a unique indi­vid­ual means that stu­dents who have both gifts and chal­lenges may find that, rather than being labeled only as a mem­ber of a par­tic­u­lar group that needs assis­tance, they also will have their tal­ents appre­ci­ated and nurtured.


Plucker, J., Gian­cola, J., Healey, G., Arndt, D., & Wang, C. (2015). Equal tal­ents, unequal oppor­tu­ni­ties: A report card on state sup­port for aca­d­e­m­i­cally tal­ented low-​income stu­dents. Lans­downe, VA: Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

Plucker, J. A., Hard­esty, J., & Bur­roughs, N. (2013). Tal­ent on the side­lines: Excel­lence gaps and America’s per­sis­tent tal­ent under­class. Storrs, CT: Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion Pol­icy Analy­sis, Neag School of Edu­ca­tion, Uni­ver­sity of Connecticut.

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The Promise of Personal

6a J RicabaughJim Rick­abaugh, Ph.D.
Direc­tor, The Insti­tute @ CESA 1

Before read­ing this arti­cle, ask your­self five questions:

  1. Do you believe that our schools are pro­duc­ing the results our soci­ety expects and our econ­omy needs for the next ten to twenty years?
  2. Do you think that if edu­ca­tors would focus more and work harder the chal­lenges fac­ing our edu­ca­tion sys­tem would be met?
  3. Even if you believe that more money would resolve the prob­lems fac­ing our edu­ca­tion sys­tem, do you think that enough money to meet the chal­lenge is forthcoming?
  4. Do you believe that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and other pol­icy mak­ers are on the right track to resolve the prob­lems faced by our edu­ca­tion sys­tem and if we just wait patiently, help will arrive?
  5. Do you believe that out­side foun­da­tions and pri­vate busi­nesses have the answers?
  6. A deep, com­pre­hen­sive, cur­rent under­stand­ing of the learner shared by stu­dent and educator,
  7. Co-​construction by edu­ca­tor and learner of a learn­ing path lead­ing from where the learner is cur­rently to the pro­fi­cien­cies to be mas­tered, and
  8. Clear, com­pelling, chal­leng­ing and wor­thy pro­fi­cien­cies that rep­re­sent the next learn­ing for the student.

How did you respond to these ques­tions? Over the past three years, we have pre­sented them in one form or another to edu­ca­tors across Wis­con­sin and the Mid­west. Invari­ably, the answer we hear to each ques­tion is “no.” It seems from these responses that at least two impli­ca­tions may be inescapable.

First, what we have is a sys­tem design and capac­ity prob­lem, not a peo­ple prob­lem. We need a new approach and dif­fer­ent strate­gies to improve the per­for­mance of our schools. Sec­ond, if the chal­lenges fac­ing our schools are to be solved, we must sum­mon the courage to lead the work. Help is not on the way and look­ing to oth­ers for the answers will not deliver the results our stu­dents des­per­ately need.

In short, we need to redesign key ele­ments of our sys­tem and it is urgent that we get about the work. The good news is that a large and grow­ing group of Wis­con­sin edu­ca­tors has been work­ing to build, test and scale a new design model for more than three years. Thank­fully, emerg­ing results are very pos­i­tive even though the poten­tial of the new approach has barely been tapped.

With the lead­er­ship and coor­di­na­tion of the Insti­tute @ CESA #1 more than two-​dozen school dis­tricts in South­east­ern Wis­con­sin and beyond have been col­lab­o­rat­ing to exam­ine and change a num­ber of the oper­at­ing assump­tions on which our cur­rent sys­tem resides. We have found that many of the prac­tices dri­ven by old assump­tions almost guar­an­tee that a large por­tion of our learn­ers will not be suc­cess­ful — prac­tices such as mov­ing stu­dents through the sys­tem in age-​based cohorts as though they all are ready to learn at the same time and in the same man­ner, and main­tain­ing a stan­dard instruc­tional pace cal­i­brated for one group of stu­dents while oth­ers are either being held back or unable to catch up. These are just two exam­ples of many.

The focus of the redesign is to adjust our approach to learn­ing and teach­ing in a man­ner that places the learner at the cen­ter. This approach pro­vides the flex­i­bil­ity and student-​focused oppor­tu­ni­ties nec­es­sary for vir­tu­ally all learn­ers to achieve at high lev­els. For obvi­ous rea­sons, this approach has come to be known as per­son­al­ized learning.

Per­son­al­ized learn­ing is grounded in the premise that all learn­ing is and always has been per­sonal and autonomous. Unless learn­ers see a pur­pose or sig­nif­i­cance, make a con­nec­tion, or oth­er­wise have a rea­son to pay atten­tion to what they have the poten­tial to learn, learn­ing does not occur. This is the rea­son why the legacy model of one-​size-​fits-​all instruc­tion makes it almost impos­si­ble for each stu­dent to learn at high lev­els. The good news is that research on learn­ing con­ducted over the past sev­eral decades indi­cates that a more per­son­al­ized approach holds spe­cial promise. How­ever, the research has not been pulled together in a coher­ent, prac­ti­cal, imple­mentable model until recently.


We believe there are three com­po­nents at the core of suc­cess­ful redesign:

  1. A deep, com­pre­hen­sive, cur­rent under­stand­ing of the learner shared by stu­dent and educator,
  2. Co-​construction by edu­ca­tor and learner of a learn­ing path lead­ing from where the learner is cur­rently to the pro­fi­cien­cies to be mas­tered, and
  3. Clear, com­pelling, chal­leng­ing and wor­thy pro­fi­cien­cies that rep­re­sent the next learn­ing for the student.

Sur­round­ing and sup­port­ing these three core com­po­nents are robust, flex­i­ble learn­ing and teach­ing strate­gies such as rapid cycle feed­back, flex­i­ble group­ing and respon­sive instruc­tion, all of which draw from pow­er­ful, well-​respected research. (See Hon­ey­comb graphic insert)

New roles for edu­ca­tors and learn­ers are infused through­out the redesign work. Edu­ca­tors move from being “sole source providers” of infor­ma­tion to being coaches, guides, learn­ing design­ers, data ana­lysts, reflec­tion stim­u­la­tors, moti­va­tion and engage­ment spe­cial­ists and other roles.

Mean­while, the roles of learn­ers change dra­mat­i­cally from:

  • Being seen as recep­ta­cles to be filled to resources to be tapped and built
  • Being com­pli­ant actors in a scene cre­ated by adults to actively com­mit­ting to learn­ing, cre­at­ing and expand­ing their under­stand­ing and potential
  • Act­ing as pas­sive recip­i­ents of infor­ma­tion to active inves­ti­ga­tors, assim­i­la­tors and syn­the­siz­ers of new infor­ma­tion and knowledge
  • Fol­low­ing a com­mon pre­scribed learn­ing path to co-​designing learn­ing paths with edu­ca­tors, set­ting goals and co-​identifying resources and activ­i­ties to sup­port their own learning.

A key shift in this new approach is for learn­ing to go beyond mem­o­riz­ing and accu­mu­lat­ing infor­ma­tion to build­ing per­sonal learn­ing capac­ity for suc­cess in school, career and life. Key aca­d­e­mic skills and knowl­edge remain crit­i­cal to progress, but the focus of learn­ing is expanded to address skills that sup­port learn­ing in any con­text and any stage of life, includ­ing skills such as per­sis­tence, self-​regulation, dis­ci­pline, prob­lem def­i­n­i­tion and solu­tion strate­gies, resilience, col­lab­o­ra­tion or learn­ing independence.

Of course, this shift demands that we change what and how we assess learn­ing. The stan­dard­ized tests with which we live prob­a­bly are not going to go away in the near term. In fact, our ini­tial premise and sub­se­quent expe­ri­ence has been that per­for­mance on tra­di­tional assess­ment instru­ments has to at least be main­tained and in most cases must improve as a result of the shift in approach and focus of learn­ing and teach­ing or pres­sure will mount to return to legacy prac­tices. For­tu­nately, this bench­mark is being met across the net­work of per­son­al­ized learn­ing ini­tia­tives. How­ever, many of the schools engaged in this work are expand­ing their assess­ment focus to include demon­stra­tions, pre­sen­ta­tions, projects and prod­ucts to show what is learned. The knowl­edge and skills being assessed, too, are expand­ing to include more than facts, fig­ures and for­mu­las. Learn­ers are being asked to demon­strate exper­tise in prob­lem for­mu­la­tion, not just prob­lem solv­ing; appli­ca­tion of new learn­ing, not just restate­ment and recall; and under­stand­ing of rela­tion­ships, impli­ca­tions and inter­ac­tions, not just descrip­tion, dimen­sions and characteristics.

Finally, this new design addresses struc­tural and pol­icy issues such as sched­ules, grad­ing, pro­gres­sion paths, or strate­gic use of tech­nol­ogy, but only when they begin to get in the way or form bar­ri­ers to the core work. Too often the focus is on struc­ture and pol­icy ele­ments too early in the change process, and the oppor­tu­nity for real, trans­form­ing change is missed.

Many peo­ple think of per­son­al­ized learn­ing as being tech­nol­ogy dri­ven. This is not the case. Tech­nol­ogy is a key sup­port and cru­cial to mov­ing this approach to scale in classes, schools and even­tu­ally the entire edu­ca­tion sys­tem. How­ever, the key to the inno­va­tion resides at the inter­sec­tion of learn­ing and teach­ing. Tech­nol­ogy allows more tasks and data to be man­aged with effi­ciency, but tech­nol­ogy alone is not the answer.

The pic­ture emerg­ing in classes and schools is very excit­ing. Results cap­tured on tra­di­tional assess­ments show stu­dents achiev­ing at sig­nif­i­cantly higher lev­els across the per­for­mance con­tin­uum. Edu­ca­tors are report­ing amaz­ing increases in stu­dent engage­ment, learn­ing per­sis­tence and inde­pen­dence, own­er­ship for learn­ing and con­fi­dence. Mean­while the fre­quency of mis­be­hav­ior is drop­ping dra­mat­i­cally and gen­eral stu­dent atti­tudes about school are improv­ing remarkably.

We are engaged in and prepar­ing for a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant ini­tia­tives across our state. Each effort holds poten­tial to assist over­all sys­tem improve­ment. How­ever, bet­ter test­ing and high stan­dards alone have not been shown to improve learn­ing. More effec­tive teach­ing and bet­ter strate­gies can help, but with­out sig­nif­i­cant redesign of the sys­tem even the best efforts push against a process never designed to have all stu­dents suc­ceed. The time has come to deal with the capac­ity of our edu­ca­tional sys­tem and make it real­is­tic for edu­ca­tors to reach, coach, teach and sup­port every stu­dent, not just those for whom the cur­rent sys­tem was designed to favor.

Inter­est in and imple­men­ta­tion of per­son­al­ized learn­ing strate­gies are spread­ing across Wis­con­sin and other states in the Mid­west. If you want to learn more or join the move­ment, visit the Insti­tute web­site, or con­tact us directly at This email address is being pro­tected from spam­bots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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The 1 to 1 Learning Revolution: Are you ready?


David J. Gund­lach, Ed.D., WASCD Board of Direc­tors
Deputy Super­in­ten­dent, Oshkosh Area School District

In the past few years a new learn­ing tool has been mak­ing its way into schools and class­rooms through­out the state. An increas­ing num­ber of dis­tricts are explor­ing or imple­ment­ing 1 to 1 pro­grams designed to pro­vide stu­dents with per­sonal access to tech­nol­ogy on a daily basis. This is all the more sig­nif­i­cant given the resources required for such an imple­men­ta­tion at the same time that pub­lic edu­ca­tion is expe­ri­enc­ing dras­tic fund­ing reductions.

Read more: The 1 to 1 Learning Revolution: Are you ready?

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Q&A: The Next Generation Science Standards

Ann Franke

By: Ann Franke, WASCD Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Chair
Direc­tor of Sec­ondary Edu­ca­tion, Eau Claire Area School District

 Why were the Next Generation Science Standards Developed?

States have pre­vi­ously used the National Sci­ence Edu­ca­tion Stan­dards from the National Research Coun­cil (NRC) and Bench­marks for Sci­ence Lit­er­acy from the Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion for the Advance­ment of Sci­ence (AAAS) to guide the devel­op­ment of their cur­rent state sci­ence stan­dards. These two doc­u­ments are around 15 years old. Need­less to say, major advances have since taken place in the world of sci­ence and in our under­stand­ing of how stu­dents learn sci­ence effec­tively. In addi­tion, the focus on STEM (Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy, Engi­neer­ing and Math) has increased the need for updated sci­ence standards.

Read more: Q&A: The Next Generation Science Standards

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The Five Pillars of Success in the Student Learning Objective Process

This Arti­cle was writ­ten by WASCD Board Mem­bers:
Susie Prather, Prin­ci­pal, Hud­son Prairie Ele­men­tary
David Gram­bow, Asso­ciate Direc­tor of Learn­ing Ser­vices, Hud­son School Dis­trict

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared in the Spring/​Summer 2013 issue of WASCD’s Members-​only
print Pub­li­ca­tion, the High­lighter. To learn more about WASCD mem­ber­ship, click here.

Edu­ca­tors across the state of Wis­con­sin will be faced with the chal­lenge and oppor­tu­nity of devel­op­ing qual­ity Stu­dent Learn­ing Out­comes (SLOs) to improve stu­dent learn­ing. Research demon­strates that achieve­ment is enhanced to the degree that teach­ers set chal­leng­ing, rather than “do your best” goals, rel­a­tive to the stu­dents’ present com­pe­ten­cies. There is a direct lin­ear rela­tion­ship between the degree of goal dif­fi­culty and per­for­mance (Locke & Latham, 1990). The SLO process has the great­est impact on stu­dent learn­ing when teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors set rig­or­ous yet attain­able goals, use data to exam­ine the effec­tive­ness of class­room prac­tices, and col­lab­o­rate on teach­ing and learning.

We are all faced with the same chal­lenge: How can we pro­vide high lev­els of sup­port in the SLO process to fos­ter increased expec­ta­tions and account­abil­ity? In grap­pling with this ques­tion we need to exam­ine sup­port sys­tems cur­rently in place. The Hud­son School Dis­trict has devel­oped sup­ports with a dis­trict level Learn­ing Ser­vices Depart­ment, prin­ci­pals as instruc­tional lead­ers, teacher lead­ers, and instruc­tional coaches; all sup­ported through high qual­ity Pro­fes­sional Learn­ing Communities.

Read more: The Five Pillars of Success in the Student Learning Objective Process

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Being Smart(er) about the SMARTER Balanced Assessment System

By Nicholas F. Dus­sault, WASCD Board of Direc­tors, ASCD Leg­isla­tive Pol­icy Committee

By nDussaultow every­one should know that the cur­rent Wis­con­sin Knowl­edge and Con­cept Exam­i­na­tion (WKCE), pur­chased from CTB McGraw-​Hill, will be replaced by an assess­ment cur­rently being devel­oped by the SMARTER Bal­anced Assess­ment Con­sor­tium (SBAC). The assess­ments will stand in for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) fed­eral account­abil­ity sys­tem, test­ing in Math­e­mat­ics and Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts (ELA), begin­ning in 201415. Stu­dents in grades 38 and grade 11 will be tested.

SBAC is a con­sor­tium of 28 states awarded a fed­eral grant to develop the next gen­er­a­tion of NCLB tests. Wis­con­sin elected to join this one of two win­ning con­sor­tia and is a gov­ern­ing state in SBAC. You may have heard of the other con­sor­tium, The Part­ner­ship for Assess­ment of Readi­ness for Col­lege and Careers (PARCC) which includes our neigh­bor­ing state, Illinois.

Read more: Being Smart(er) about the SMARTER Balanced Assessment System

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The Statewide Student Information System Update

GundlachBy David J. Gund­lach, Ed.D., WASCD Board of Directors

Recently, the State Superintendent’s Dig­i­tal Learn­ing Advi­sory Coun­cil worked to develop a com­pre­hen­sive plan for K-​12 dig­i­tal learn­ing in Wis­con­sin. The coun­cil iden­ti­fied six issue areas includ­ing the following:

  • Ped­a­gogy and Instruction
  • Cur­ricu­lum and Assessment
  • Pro­fes­sional Learn­ing and Leadership
  • Data and Infor­ma­tion Systems
  • Poli­cies and Procedures
  • Hard­ware and Infrastructure

Read more: The Statewide Student Information System Update

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