If you were to walk through the halls of the Middle School this year, you would notice a few changes from previous years: students sitting in rows, collaborating with elbow partners rather than gathered in large work groups in the hallways; teachers and students protected by face masks while following the arrows below their feet, meant to direct the flow of traffic; windows fully open even in the chilliest of Belgian temperatures; grade 9 classes waving hello to their peers ‘Zooming’ in for the class while at home. These are changes that both students and teachers have adapted to as a means of ensuring in-person learning. Despite the aforementioned adaptations and the challenges that ensue, from 14:00-14:30 everyday you are certain to hear a more energetic buzz emanating from all four floors of the MS.
This is the sound of Personal Learning.
The term Personal Learning is unique to ISB’s Middle School. The Personal Learning Program, launched during the 2016-2017 school year, is an updated version of the previously successful Advisory Program. The Advisory Program, like the Personal Learning Program, was structured so a group of students in the same grade level connected with a MS Faculty Advisor each day. Advisory groups met to engage in team building tasks, discuss a wide range of current issues, and pursue service initiatives. Personal Learning builds on these preexisting structures while also inviting new voices into the MS Community through guest speakers and allowing students to pursue a passion or interest of theirs through the program’s use of choice modules.
Joining the Advisory Team in 2014, I have had the privilege of watching the program grow into what it currently is today, thanks to the ideas, commitment, and passion of MS faculty and our Leadership Team. In the fall of 2015, the Advisory Team began a series of surveys and discussions with faculty to gauge interest about the types of changes Advisors would like to see to the program, surveying the individual passions, talents, and interests of faculty. It was clear we were all excited to redefine the Advisory Program and shift the focus even more so to student choice and enhancing student voice. We decided to take a holistic approach, leaving no Advisor or student behind in the search for what fuels us as individuals and as a community.
What is the Personal Learning Programme?
The MS Personal Learning Program (PL) strives to provide each student with a space to grow both as a valued member of our MS community and as an individual with diverse abilities, passions and ambitions. The programme is designed to build community and a positive school culture, while also providing students with a voice and choice in designing aspects of their learning based upon the following ISB Learning Principles:
What does it look like?
- Groups of approximately 12-14 students meet with a teacher-advisor every day for 30 mins to discuss current global and community topics, engage in team-building activities, document learning in their digital portfolio, reflect on their individual growth, and listen to the stories of guest speakers and various voices from within the ISB community.
- Students and teachers participate in MS Choice Modules twice a year (Tuesdays and Thursdays during regular PL time), during which students select a module that inspires or interests them and get to dive into that topic or skill for six weeks.
Role of the Advisor
- Supports students through all MS years as a trusted adult in whom they can confide
- Gains an overview of their students’ learning as collected and celebrated in their digital portfolios
- Guides students through essential daily discussions and activities
- An opportunity for teachers and students to pursue their passions or develop new interests and skills
- Student-led modules have been well-received in recent years and continue to offer students an opportunity to develop their leadership skills.
The Core Components of Personal Learning Include:
- Community-building events
- Authentic service opportunities
- Academic growth and growing independence
- Opportunities to develop leadership skills
- Support in transitioning to the next grade level or challenge
- An opportunity to use student voice for advocacy
- A chance to exercise choice and learn more about what excites and drives them
- A social and emotional base in which to interact on a daily basis
- Dedicated time to reflect on personal well-being and the tools and support to ensure ownership of individual needs.
To this day, Personal Learning runs on the energy and commitment of the 29 Personal Learning groups (PLs) and their supportive faculty advisors. Whether navigating challenging discussions on current events, selecting a Choice Module option that sparks curiosity and creativity, or learning how to respond to the current authentic needs of those in need of our service, all students are supported by their Advisor(s). The energy (and hidden talents) of the MS faculty is a big part of what makes the Personal Learning experience so meaningful for our students.
This year may be different. It certainly comes with a new set of challenges. Nonetheless, at ISB we do not shy away from challenges. They fuel us. They change us. They bring us together.
By Sarah Taylor, MS Personal Learning Coordinator