Educators hear from students about benefits of personal learning plans

Annie Howell, chief academic officer for the Vermont State Colleges, and James Nagle, a faculty member at St. Michael's College, discuss the components of Personal Learning Plans. Photo by Alicia Freese/VTDigger

Annie Howell, chief academic officer for the Vermont State Colleges, and James Nagle, a faculty member at St. Michael’s College, discuss the components of personal learning plans. Photo by Alicia Freese/VTDigger

A new law, proffered by Gov. Peter Shumlin and passed by the Legislature last spring, requires every student in grades 7-12 to have a “personal learning plan.” A 26-member group of educators met for the third time Tuesday to figure out how to help schools make that happen.

The point of the plans is to help students work with teachers to tailor their education to their career goals.

The group has until January to figure out “best practices” for putting the plans in place. Tuesday, they received input from students who, without a mandate, had decided to develop de facto “personal learning plans.”

One of those students, Abigail Trombley, a 16-year-old at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, told the group that traditional school “wasn’t working for me.” With guidance from CVU and her family, she drafted a plan that’s included job shadowing an orthopedic surgeon, taking human biology at the University of Vermont, working at the stables where she competitively rides and taking normal high school classes.

“You can take AP (Advanced Placement) courses and more challenging courses, but the bottom line is what changes the experience is the teachers you get to work with and the other kids in the classroom and I found I could get a difference experience at a difference place and it’s made a huge difference for me,” she said.

Trombley said she believes it’s a good idea to implement personal learning plans across the board. “The only reason more people don’t do it is because people don’t know it’s an option.”

Trombley, technically a junior, is graduating early and taking a gap year to ride horses before going to college.

The portability of the plans is a central concern for the group.

Superintendents, principals and the other group members were especially interested in exploring what happens when students such as Trombley transfer schools, and how to capture those different activities on a transcript.

At the same time, they’re mindful of not wanting to saddle schools with too many specific guidelines.

“We know we all want local control, but if this doesn’t have some common structure, we’ve got the transportable issue,” said Ellen Berrings, a teacher at Harwood Union High School.

Without a template, examples and other resources, Jennifer Botzojorns, assistant superintendent of the Chittenden East Supervisory Union, predicted that “high spending wealthy districts with curriculum coordinators” would have no problem implementing the plans, whereas less wealthy schools would be “left scrambling.”

The group also discussed the actual elements of the plans, how often they should be re-evaluated and how schools could measure whether students are actually adhering to them.

They have all-day meetings scheduled for Nov. 12 and Dec. 17.

Debi Price, education project manager for the Agency of Education, said she’s pleased with the progress the group has made. They’ve developed a set of documents, still in draft form, which lay out “steps to implementation.” Price emphasized these materials don’t include mandates and are only meant to provide guidance to schools.

The group’s “homework” for the next month is to run those documents by their school colleagues and collect feedback.

Alicia Freese

Comments

  1. I offer two suggestions:

    1) Don’t over think this – personal learning plans (PLPs) are individualized curriculum that is developed between the student, parents or other responsible adult, and the school being attended … which leads to point #2) Do not treat PLPs as if they are individual education plans (or IEPs). Doing this will hobble districts across the state and add tremendous mandates for spending.

    (Disclaimer: nothing in the following should be taken as opposition to special education where we supply opportunities to students who need more then the normal amount of assistance.)

    An IEP is a legal instrument that defines what Vermont’s education system will provide to a student who meets a set of criteria defined mostly by the federal and to a lesser degree state governments. An IEP is by law portable: for example a student with an IEP developed in district A that requires one on one instruction MUST receive that one on one instruction even if that student moves to district B. The IEP is for the most part immutable.

    Ever wonder why your local school board gets all financially fidgety when informed by the SU staff that a handful of IEP students moved into the district mid-year? The legal requirements of IEPs can, and often do, have a dramatic impact on local spending.

    Okay – this is what it is. The system has learned to moan about it, assure the student is receiving the necessary services, and move on ……. but let’s not confuse IEPs and PLPs!

    Personal learning plans are now, and should always be thought of as, a part of the mainstream curriculum, and curriculum does vary from Supervisory Union to Supervisory Union – and course offerings do vary from school to school. This is as it should be in my opinion.

    A student who was taking Mandarin Chinese in a classroom in one district will find French and Spanish in Williamstown. It is possible some accommodation could be found to allow the student a continuing course of study that included her/his language of choice – or maybe not. REQUIRING that Williamstown provide curriculum based on that student’s PLP (formed in a different school) could force Williamstown to pay for individual tutoring or other too high cost endeavor.

    The above is just a short example of what we want to avoid. What we want to do is accommodate the PLP to the greatest extent possible, but that greatest extent should be defined by the school the student is attending.

    To do otherwise will impose yet one more set of extremely costly mandates and discourage schools from providing expansive PLP support when possible.

  2. Pete Novick :

    Here’s an element from the Common Core Standards for high school algebra, under the reasoning with equations and inequalities section:

    Mathematics – Solve systems of equations – 5

    “Prove that, given a system of two equations in two variables, replacing one equation by the sum of that equation and a multiple of the other produces a system with the same solutions.”

    Here’s the link:

    http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Content/HSA/REI/C/5

    If you know what this statement means, and you can write out an example on the chalkboard, you probably scored above 700 in the SAT math section.

    ———————————–

    Here’s a word problem involving percentages which is taught in 6th grade math.

    You buy a leather coat on sale for $195, which was marked down 40% off the list price. What was the list price?

    You should be able to solve that in your head. Failing that, you should at least be able to set up the equation on paper.

    Got the answer?

    What part of an individual learning plan would help a student master wither of these math tasks?

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