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Officials rethink education at summit
By Samuel Speciale
In front of hundreds of education officials Monday, state Board of Education President Gayle Manchin admitted current teaching methods are not engaging students like they should.
Tom Vander Ark, a digital learning advocate and author, said the same Monday during a keynote address at an education summit in Charleston that brought together school and business leaders from across the state.
“We waste a ton of time in schools,” he said. “Half the kids are bored while the other half is struggling.”
It’s a dilemma teachers across West Virginia and the United States face on a daily basis: How to teach students when they learn and advance at different rates. It also complicates lesson plans and end-of-year testing and has the education world rethinking its entire approach.
The result is a more personalized learning model that lets students work at their own pace through traditional and digital means regardless of whether they do so in a brick-and-mortar school or at home.
Widespread results are yet to be seen, but Vander Ark said districts that have implemented blended learning achieve at higher rates. Some districts, like the one in Mooresville, N.C., improved student proficiency by 20 percent, Vander Ark said.
Manchin considers West Virginia to be one of the lead states in implementing blended, personalized learning. This has required change in policy, which Manchin detailed in a panel discussion with a representative from the National Association of School Boards of Education.
The new policies place an emphasis on deeper learning that requires students to do more than memorize facts they will be tested on.
“We are now teaching students how to think, not what to think,” Manchin said.
Taking inspiration from Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy of education objectives, blended, personalized learning creates a foundation for students to take their education further by analyzing data and recreating what they learned.
Ace Parsi, a project director for NASBE, said schools that implement deeper learning strategies have higher on-time graduation rates and test scores and that students demonstrate skills in collaboration, engagement and self-efficacy.
These goals are an integral part of state Superintendent Michael Martirano’s vision plan, “One Voice, One Focus: All Students Achieving” in which he says “all students can and will learn.”
Part of implementing blended and personalized learning is embracing the role technology can play in education.
Vander Ark said a “learning revolution” began nearly 20 years ago when broadband Internet was introduced and revealed a need for “anytime, anywhere” learning. He added that the iPad dramatically advanced that revolution. Since the tablet’s launch in 2010, some 200,000 learning applications have been created.
Because of this, many districts around the country have started one-to-one tablet programs while others have permitted students to bring their own devices to use.
Several counties in West Virginia have one-to-one programs, and the state Department of Education is researching ways to increase the use of technology in others.
Also at the summit, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced a new initiative to encourage students to continue their education after high school, whether it be at a trade school or traditional four-year university.
Called “My State, My Life,” the program will seek to give students more control over their college and career pathway.
The summit was attended by business owners from around the state who vowed to make education “everyone’s business” by creating public-private partnerships.
The summit is the second to be organized by the Education Alliance, a nonprofit statewide organization that advocates for equal access to quality education.