Welcome to the Innovator Interview Series, where we ask educators to share their insights on the future of teaching and learning. In the inaugural interview, we speak to Dr. Albert Sackey, the principal of Nathan Hale Middle School in the Norwalk Public Schools district. Sackey was named Connecticut Association of Schools Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year for 2014. Nathan Hale Middle School is in its second year implementing Teach to One: Math. Read more about our partnership here.
What is the single biggest change you have seen in K-12 education over the past decade?
AS: Over the past decade, the biggest change I have seen to K-12 education mainly focuses on the shift towards personalization, and striving to meet every child where they are. In the past, our focus was on differentiating and some of our best teachers did a great job with this. Differentiating is still not personalization. With differentiation, a teacher is able to create work that meets the need of groups of students at their instructional level. With personalization, it takes this process even deeper. In this instance, teachers are trying to meet individual student needs at the student’s instructional level. The use of technology has played a major role in making personalization possible. Through the use of various algorithms and programs, teachers are able to tailor instruction in order to meet their student’s needs. In this new frontier of educational progress, the teacher’s role has changed from the keeper of knowledge to the facilitator of individual learning.
What does “personalized learning” mean to you?
AS: Personalized learning means finding ways through whatever means we have, to reach every child where they are, through focusing on their learning styles. Personalized learning takes instruction and tailors it to the way a child can best understand the content. It is like having an individualized education plan for every child, for everyday and in every class. Personalized learning allows for students to gain a better understanding of themselves and how they learn best. In Nathan Hale Middle School, personalized learning is implemented through our Teach To One: Math program. This program looks at each student’s data and uses that information to create a personalized, individualized math program for them. An algorithm is used to help teachers know exactly what to focus on with their students. The TTO Math program allows students to master math skills based on data and their personal needs.
What is the best way to measure student learning?
AS: Students can show us in multiple ways that they are able to learn and demonstrate their learning. Currently, in our education system, learning is measured by student test scores. There need to be multiple measures for assessing student learning and growth. Student learning should be focused on what students know when they get into a class and what they know when they leave the class at the end of the year. Learning should be based on data and focused on student growth. Learning is not about how to find information, but rather about how to use that information to plan, synthesize and collaborate with colleagues to solve a real-world problem. Students being able to show their understanding of information and how that information can be used helps to show what they have learned. The information is readily available and at their fingertips, so now they need to know how to use it.
What will the classroom model will look like in 2050?
AS: The one area in our recent civilization that hasn’t changed in hundreds of years is the structure of the classroom. Currently, students are sent to school by age and ability level. They then follow the industrial system and go through school in a traditional format. Education seems to be the only area not evolving with the times. I see the slow but important shift towards education being more personalized to student interest and what they would like to do. I do not see age being the determinant factor, but rather interest and ability level. If a child can get the work done, it wouldn’t matter how old the child is. I also see the traditional classroom no longer being in existence, but rather a more open collaborative space where students can learn alongside peers with similar interest, regardless of age or grade. The traditional grade system as we know it will also probably change. Education will focus on a child’s individual strengths, needs, passions and abilities as opposed to their age or grade equivalent.
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