Learning gets personal at Fairmont Area

THEIR TIME — Students study in a Flexible Learning space called The DECK during first hour at Fairmont Jr./Sr. High School. Ten Flexible Learning spaces were created this year at the school as part of the new Personalized Learning approach.

FAIRMONT — Several changes have been made at Fairmont Jr./Sr. High School this year, and this is the first year that Personalized Learning has been implemented.

Personalized Learning is defined as an approach to learning and instruction designed around individual learner readiness, strengths, needs and interests.

The biggest reason why Personalized Learning is being implemented is because the current society requires citizens who are able to adapt to changing environments, think creatively and critically analyze problems.

“New jobs will be created in the future and the No. 1 skill our students will need is to critically think on a complex level,” said Andy Traetow, 7-8/vocational principal.

Principal Kim Niss said that while the goal of the school has always been about preparing students for what comes after graduation, the district has become more intentional about focusing on implementing practices that build toward a more personalized learning environment.

In addition to regular class time, there are three big areas where Personalized Learning is being used — in Cardinal Academy, Fairmont Academic Support Time (F.A.S.T.) and in the study hall structure.

Cardinal Academy is a 20-minute extension of seventh period that students in grades 7-12 have every day except Thursday. During this time, students meet with a teacher who will work with them and help them identify what their learning needs are.

“The goal is for students to take ownership of their learning,” Niss explained.

On Thursday, there is an altered schedule and, at the end of the day, students have F.A.S.T. This is the third year F.A.S.T. has been part of the school structure. Students meet every Thursday at the end of the school day.

F.A.S.T. is for students grades 7-12. It lasts for an hour but is broken up into two 30-minute sections. During this time, each staff member will offer two 30-minute sections that can be the same or different. For example, one teacher may offer a seminar on completing the square. If students need help, they will sign up for his session. Another teacher may offer a coaching workshop on the functions of the heart for anatomy students, and students can choose to go to it.

Every student can view online, using E-Pass, what teachers will offer during F.A.S.T. Students will then decide what they need help with and sign up online.

“It’s all about giving students choice and voice,” Niss explained.

In addition to the options that staff are offering during F.A.S.T., students may use this time to work in the new Flexible Learning Areas. This year at the Jr./Sr. High School, 10 flexible learning spaces are available to students. Seven of the 10 are for either Personal Flex or Group Flex. All of the areas have been named by the students. They include: The Deck, The Sink, The English Nook, etc.

“The different areas allow students to choose what type of environment will work best for them,” Traetow explained.

If a student needs time to get caught up on reading, they can sign into a Flexible Learning Area using E-Pass, and quietly read during F.A.S.T. time. Or several students can work together on a project in one of the areas.

Niss explained that all teachers have access to E-Pass so they can see what sessions students sign up for and what Flexible Learning Area they sign into.

“We do know where the students are at all times,” Niss said. “This also allows us to find a student if we need them for something.”

Another way that Personalized Learning is being implemented in the school is through the study hall structure. Seventh and eighth-graders will use study hall time to work with their teacher and figure out what they need to work on. They can then use E-Pass and report to whatever teacher they need help from.

For juniors and seniors, what was once study hall time is now being called Flexible Learning Time.

“These students are on the bridge that connects them from high school to college or career life,” Niss explained.

Niss and Traetow say this is connecting the bridge between being tightly scheduled, to going to college or the workforce, where a person needs to know how to manage their time.

Juniors and seniors will be able to use E-Pass to sign into a Flexible Learning Area during their Flex Time and use the time to work on whatever they feel needs to be done.

As for ninth- and 10th-graders, they sign into the media center to begin their study hall time, though this may change down the road.

The ultimate goal is for students to leave the school with the skills needed to no longer depend on teachers and staff for their learning, which is why the structures supporting Personalized Learning have been implemented.

“This is meant to enhance student learning,” Niss said.

Traetow explained that skills required of students are different now than they have been before.

“It’s not just about what students know, but what they do with what they know,” he said.

Both Niss and Traetow say they have received positive feedback from students and parents in the first few weeks.

“We’re excited to see how this impacts student learning,” Traetow said.