After completing our pilot year, it is evident that the Summit Learning platform has had a great impact on our students as well as on teaching and learning. In the coming weeks, I will have a chance to reflect more on the year, debrief with my colleagues and develop an improvement plan for the coming school year. As a prelude to our staff conversations, our fifth and sixth grade students met in ‘focus groups’ to discuss their thoughts, feelings and experiences with the Summit Learning platform. The children were randomly placed in heterogeneous groups and asked to reflect on their journey with the online platform. To guide the learners, we asked them to focus their conversations on 3 main categories; ‘what worked’, ‘what didn’t work’ and ‘what I learned’. The highlights (and low-lights) of their conversations can be found below.
A common theme among the student groups was the strong preference of projects over tests. The students really enjoyed working on collaborative projects, which served as the culmination (and final assessment) for many focus areas. The fifth and sixth graders both commented that the end-of-unit projects were more enjoyable and meaningful than a traditional unit test. They felt that projects allowed them to demonstrate their content knowledge, while also displaying their creative, collaborative and communicative abilities. Projects encouraged students to expand their thinking and extend their learning beyond content knowledge and fact memorization. Presenting the projects also gave students practice in speech writing, public speaking and presentation skills. The middle school students also stated that they enjoyed the ‘freedom’ they felt in choosing their own topics to work on during PLT. This freedom of choice allowed students to navigate their own learning and develop as independent learners. The power of choice resonated with our students and empowered them; we have to continue to provide our students with choices in how/what they learn. A final theme among the responses was that students appreciated the wealth of resources that are available within the Summit platform. In preparation for content assessments, students could read articles (written at different reading levels and from varied perspectives), view pictures, watch videos and use graphic organizers. The students felt that there were an adequate amount of resources available for each focus area.
What Didn’t Work
A common topic discussed in student groups was goal setting. While most students understood the value of setting weekly goals, many of them felt that it added a layer of pressure to their learning. Students commented that they did not feel motivated by their goal-setting, but rather felt demotivated when unable to meet their goal by the date they selected. As deadlines passed, red x’s appeared on students’ timelines; these red x’s seemed to really take a mental toll on the students. Some students became fixated on the red x’s and could not focus on anything else. Goal setting is an important part of learning, but we clearly need to do better in this area. The middle school students also critiqued the quality of the resources within Summit. While there is an abundance of student resources, many of them did not seem to help prepare students for assessments. The fifth and sixth graders felt that the resources needed to be improved, so that they are better aligned to the content assessments, which are at the end of each focus area. Another popular topic of conversation related to mentoring. While the students appreciated the one-on-one mentoring that took place during PLT, they felt that they needed to meet with their mentor more frequently. Occasional check-ins were efficient, but students needed (and wanted) a more structured mentoring program. (This is definitely an area we are looking to improve for next year.)
What I Learned
There was a wide range of responses for this category; from specific content knowledge to habits of learning to cognitive skills, Summit Learning had an impact on our middle school students. They learned about a variety of topics such as, the 13 colonies, weather and climate, forms of poetry, the road to independence, letter writing, world geography and matter to name a few. A large amount of students stated that in addition to content, they learned important skills such as summarizing, finding the main idea, note taking, studying, using context clues and making inferences. Summit Learning embeds these skills throughout its platform, giving students multiple opportunities to practice them repeatedly throughout the year. Students also discovered a lot about themselves as learners; they started to understand how they learn best, what steps need to be taken to maintain focus and how to persevere through difficult challenges. Several students said that Summit helped them develop ‘grit’ and that they were better prepared to deal with future challenges.
For Summit, the ultimate goal is for students to graduate school with a deep understanding of how they learn best and a clear vision for achieving purpose and well-being in life. Our first year with the platform has changed the way we teach and the way our students learn. We will continue to work with Summit, our staff and our students to ensure better student outcomes for all of our learners.