The Bader Hillel High school year concluded with a day of students submitting final products and taking content assessments while working with a precarious wifi connection. After a year in which we jumped headfirst into a new learning program, our last day was a fitting bookend to match our first day.
For BHH, a dual curriculum high school, the adoption of the Summit Learning Program (SLP) significantly changed the general studies program from an online experience to a face-to-face blended classroom model (see Treading a New Path). Two BHH instructors trained with SLP in July, and an additional instructor was hired in August. This team of three geared up to teach the core grade 9-10 courses in our pilot year with SLP.
In addition to SLP summer training– four intensive days– the team met in August to prepare for the new program. Initially our work focused on three key areas:
- scheduling and routines for project times (PT) and personalized learning times (PLT)
- learning how to navigate SLP
- understanding grading (checkpoints, projects, focus areas) on SLP
Going into the first weeks of school, we were prepared with our schedule; little changed from our original plans. Once we established procedures and expectations for PT as distinct from PLT with our students, we were set. Navigating SLP was like peeling an onion: As we opened unexplored layers, we sometimes cried, but always expanded the tools at our command. The platform continues to be updated in response to user feedback, so this process will be ongoing. Finally, we had questions about grading that went beyond the technical tools.
Can and should every student achieve an A or B?
To what extent do grades reflect effort? To what extent do they reflect competencies?
How do scores for 36 Cognitive Skills contribute to students’ grades?
What can teachers do to help all students pass content assessments?
SLP provided multiple resources that helped us work with these questions including the SLP Help Desk, weekly online checkins with a mentor, the weekly Summit Learning Scoop, face-to-face convening with SLP teachers, and an onsite professional development (PD) day for our staff. The day spent in December with an SLP mentor, school administrators, and teachers was pivotal to successfully implementing SLP courses at our school. Our PD zeroed in on accommodations and modifications of the SLP courses to meed the needs of students with IEPs and those whose elementary school experiences left gaps in their readiness for high school courses. In studying these cases, we strengthened our proficiency with SLP tools, and we gained confidence to edit the base curriculum to fit all students while maintaining high academic standards.
While each independent school is unique, it is hoped that what has been learned at BHH can inform other small, independent schools who may choose to partner with Summit Learning. Here are some pointers gathered during our pilot year:
- You can combine two grade levels in a singe course. SLP is set up for doing so if you know how to edit projects and focus areas. If you combine grade levels, be sure to ask your SLP mentor to help you adjust both the cognitive skill scoring for projects and the content area assessments. Each grade level has a distinct range of cognitive skill scores, so each level needs a section of that course in the platform (e.g. Physics A= grade 9 students, Physics B= grade 10 students). We also understood later in the year that grade level focus areas can be assigned, so students can master content in a sequence that is aligned with their grade level. Although we taught English 10 to grades 9 & 10, we could assign grade 9 English focus areas to the grade 9 students instead of expecting them to master grade 10 content.
- Be creative in scheduling Personalized Learning Time. Individual teachers responsible for several courses may be leading Project Times all day, while others have openings to lead PLT; a jigsaw puzzle approach works well. At our school, the Boys’ School and Girls’ School Principals oversee both religious and general studies, so it made sense for them to be trained for SLP, even though they were not teaching general studies courses. Each of our division principals led some PLT and served as mentors for some students.
- Teach your students about the Cognitive Skills. For high school students, an overview of the domains and how they impact college and career are a starting point. The more detailed rubric of all 36 skills with the 0-8 point scoring scale should be introduced in projects and discussed in 1:1 Mentoring. In each course, teachers must give students the rubric for those cognitive skills used in a project each time a new project is introduced. Posting the cognitive skills and target scores for the grade level gives students a constant reminder of the goals they are working toward.
By the final day of 2018-19, 93% of students had passed their SLP courses (100% as of this writing), and teachers were discussing improvements we will make for 2018-19. Next year we will use SLP to teach general studies courses for grades 9-11, and we plan to expand to all four grades beginning with the 2019-2020 school year. We are adding courses and staff members as we go, and we are building an authentically student-centered environment through our partnership with Summit Learning.