The power of individualised learning - Education Matters Magazine

The power of individualised learning

Traditional Mathematics education doesn’t always take into account each student’s individual ability, but a new learning model is proving there is another way.

American psychologist Carol Dweck’s theory of the growth mindset inspired a generation of educators – including the team at Maths Pathway, a learning and teaching model that unlocks the ability of teachers to deliver tailored and personalised learning to their students. The critically acclaimed author theorised that our intelligence is not a fixed trait, but can be developed through effort, quality teaching and persistence. The results are documented in her 2007 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Dweck contrasts a growth mindset with a fixed mindset – individuals with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence is predetermined. Dweck argues these students believe that their talents alone lead to success – as opposed to hard work and effort. Of course, teachers know that each student learns at a different pace, which is why encouraging a growth mindset has extraordinary benefits.
The tailored and personalised approach of the Maths Pathway teaching model means that students can work at their own pace, whether they are advanced, behind, or on par for their year level, unleashing their full potential.

Maths Pathway caters to each student’s individual level by completing a diagnostic test which pinpoints their level across the F-10 curriculum. The diagnostic makes no assumptions of student knowledge based on their age, meaning a Year 5 student could be learning Year 10 algebra. The data from the diagnostic feeds into an online platform, which provides students with work in their zone of proximal development.

When you consider the classic learning model, and the way many of us were educated, teachers have typically been required to teach all students the same curriculum level content. For years, standardised testing and whole-class lectures have been the norm for most Australian students. The outcomes of this approach can in some cases create major obstacles to progress.

Maths Pathway is driven by the belief that all students should be able to learn Maths in a way that allows them to thrive. Through its program, student learning is supported with content tailored to the Australian and state curriculums and a model which encourages independent learning alongside peer collaboration.

Students complete fortnightly tests to check in with their progress and as they demonstrate mastery of concepts in those tests, the online platform automatically unlocks the content that they are ready for next. Maths Pathway has documented incredible results in its 2016 Impact Report, which found that Year 7 students grew an average of 218 per cent faster than they were before they started using the program.

St Mary’s Primary School in Whittlesea has readily embraced the platform. Located about 40 kilometres north-east of Melbourne’s CBD, the school is utilising the program in Grades 5 and 6, after trialling it in 2016 for three months with Grade 5 students. Stephanie Callaway, Maths Leader, says she’s been amazed by the initiative students are showing with the program.
“One Grade 6 student was operating at a Year 10 level, so naturally the one-size-fits all curriculum didn’t apply to him. Maths Pathway has helped him become an independent learner. He is questioning concepts for himself and is now able to work on Mathematical understandings that he is ready to learn,” Stephanie says.

She explains that Maths Pathway’s focus on personalised tests has been key to each student’s personal development. The regular assessment enables teachers to obtain instant data on each student and plan more effectively for individual learning needs. This would otherwise have been extremely difficult and, not to mention time consuming in a traditional classroom setting.

“After our students complete fortnightly tests, we give them an individual feedback session and we talk about anything they’re uncertain about and how we can help them. Together we set their learning goals for the next fortnight and depending on if they’ve mastered their previous goals, they can progress towards achieving new goals that will support and extend their learning,” Stephanie says.

Because teachers are aware of the levels and growth rates of each of their students, they are able to provide informed, targeted feedback.

Stephanie says these meetings typically take place in a lesson or two following the test and are focused on learning dispositions, which help each student improve their personal growth and understanding. The main aim for the teacher is to help students set a specific goal for the upcoming learning cycle.

“These meetings take just a couple of minutes, but have a powerful impact on the extent to which students engage with the curriculum, and their long-term success.”

Most importantly, it demonstrates to students that they can determine their own path and breaks down the fallacy that they are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at Maths.

It’s not all computer based, Stephanie adds, as the model offers a healthy balance of bookwork, rich tasks and longer projects. Students are encouraged to develop their independent learning skills, while Stephanie is there to assist them should they encounter any difficulties. To further strengthen their independence, Stephanie adds that this contemporary teaching and learning model encourages students to constantly justify their thinking, allowing them to reflect on the reasons for their decisions.

Teachers also plan for students to be involved in small focus learning groups as well as rich learning tasks that promote investigative and collaborative learning.

The Foundation for Young Australians found 35 per cent of Australian students show low proficiency in problem solving, which is a skill influencing Australia’s increasingly fluid workforce. Independence is therefore key to building job-ready students. By working with students individually, they are able to build meaningful problem-solving skills vital to adult life.

It all returns to Dweck’s theory of the growth mindset, which has struck a chord with Stephanie.

“Developing a growth mindset is the catalyst that enables students to reach their full potential. Learning new Maths is often challenging and will inevitably require students to make mistakes in order to identify misconceptions in their methodology and develop a solid understanding of the problem,” she says.

Stephanie says students with a fixed mindset see mistakes as a threat to their self-esteem and will often default to completing work that is in their comfort zone.

She explains that teachers who warmly embrace mistakes, praise effort and strategies, and avoid labelling their students as either good or bad at Maths have the best chance of fostering a growth mindset.

“A task shouldn’t be easy, it’s okay to be overwhelmed – that means you’re learning something new. By challenging yourself and pushing the boundaries of comfort, you can achieve greatness.”

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