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Aurora Institute

Personalizing Learning at West Belden

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

This is the fourth post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

After the visit to Lovett Elementary School, our tour (sponsored by LEAP) headed over to CICS West Belden (K-8), a Distinctive Schools campus, for a quick visit. Ninety-five percent of students are low-income and more than 90 percent are Hispanic.

West Belden was an early adopter of personalized learning in Chicago, and the school is quickly becoming a national exemplar in the space with about seventy-five tours per year. Using a personalized approach supported by blended learning, they’re seeing substantial growth results.

To jumpstart their journey to personalized learning, West Belden competed and was selected for LEAP Innovations’ Breakthrough Schools program, which provides design support, access to national experts and innovative school models, and grant funding to school teams as they implement personalized learning school-wide. West Belden turned to personalization for three reasons: stagnation of student growth, desire for increased student engagement, and teacher readiness. West Belden is organizing their school around co-teaching, multi-age learning environments. They have two teams for first through third graders and two teams for fourth and fifth graders. Kindergarten and middle school all operate with single grade levels (with multi-age electives for middle school). Their definition of personalized learning includes:

Flexible learning environments: West Belden is learning how to build flexibility into the physical classroom, staffing, scheduling, and time allocation. In the traditional system, schedules are rigid regardless of whether students needed more time. At West Belden, there are two 2.5-hour periods: ELA and STEM. Students can spend different amounts of time on different learning targets, as needed. Students can go to the teacher who will be the most helpful to them. Thus, a third grade student needing help with phonics may go to the first grade teacher.  

Learner profiles: The profiles drive the conversation between students and teachers. Teachers will talk about where students are in their learning using NWEA assessments as well as students interests, likes and dislikes, and goals.  The profiles are designed to help teachers and students build relationships at deeper levels. The school also invests in community building through a daily homeroom model.

Personalized Learning Paths: West Belden has been working to effectively implement blended learning to provide a structure for students to pursue personalized pathways. Based on information that the teacher gathers through the Learner Profile, students can progress through a unit of study with a Personalized Learning Plan that is tailored to their individual learning styles. They have participated in LEAP’s Pilot Network for support in selecting and implementing edtech tools to support personalization. In middle school, they are using Summit’s model, using Base Camp as their platform and two interdisciplinary projects each semester.

Competency-based progression: West Belden described competency education as students getting what they need, when they need it, and at a pace that is right for them. They are finding it is helpful to coach students to identify when they are ready to show mastery as students take more ownership and are more focused on what mastery means.

Shared Accountability

West Belden emphasizes shared accountability by having teams of teachers support larger groups of students. West Belden is committed to collaborative planning time. With the help of Furman Brown, West Belden has created a schedule in which teacher teams have 90-105 minutes each day to plan together. Teachers are continually looking at data throughout the year to make the best instructional decisions.

As West Belden looks to the future, they are developing more opportunities to include project-enhanced learning with deeper levels of student ownership and stronger student voices driving the work.

Entire Series:

Part 1 – CBE in Chicago

Part 2 – Leap Innovations – Learning Exponentially for Advancing Potential

Part 3 – Loving Learning at Lovett Elementary