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N.Y.C. Summer Pilot Program Customizes Learning

For the 80 or so New York City students who volunteered to participate in a pilot math program at Dr. Sun Yat Sen Middle School in Chinatown, the last five weeks have been anything but a typical summer school experience. The program, for both struggling and high-achieving students, provided lessons that were customized every day to meet the individual needs, and progress, of each student. The School of One, as it is called, included a combination of face-to-face instruction, software-based activities, and online lessons designed to move each entering 7th grader through a defined set of math benchmarks at his or her own pace.

Such personalized attention is often impractical in a typical day during the school year. But educators in the School of One program have designed a multifaceted approach to building students' math knowledge and skills outside of the traditional school time.

"I remember how challenging it was to provide personalized learning for every student in my class," said Joel Rose, a former teacher who works for the city's department of education. He was the driving force behind the School of One, and was able to persuade N.Y.C. school officials to test it out this summer. "I would do what I could before school and after school, but at the end of the day, I didn’t have enough time to plan out lessons for each of my students and deliver them to them the next day."

Much of that planning for the School of One's students is aided by technology. As students entered school each morning during the summer program, which ended last Thursday, they could view their schedule for the day on a computer monitor—similar to the arrival and departure monitors at the airport—and proceed to the assigned location. That schedule could include traditional lessons from a certified teacher, small-group work, online lessons, or specific computer-based activities, most of them offered in converted space in the school library. After each half-day of instruction, teachers gauged each student's progress and instructional needs before plotting out the next day's tasks.

The School of One is set to expand to an after-school program at three middle schools in the city in January. It's worth noting that all the students in the summer program chose to attend, so they are likely highly motivated or being encouraged by their parents to take their studies seriously. And most of the students are of Asian descent. While the Asian community is not monolithic, it has been noted that Asian and Asian-American students, in general, tend to perform better than most other groups on standardized math assessments, and that educational achievement is highly valued among many Asian families. The demographics among students in the program may change significantly once the program is expanded to other New York City schools, and the city will be tracking achievement among all participants to gauge the effectiveness of the approach.

Here's an interesting New York Times piece on the program, and Gotham Schools' take. The city will be reporting on results from the summer program, and will be following the expansion closely to see what kind of application such a design might have for other schools and subject areas.

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