There's a teaching method tech billionaires love -- here's how teachers are learning it

Summit Olympus 2606 ExposureSummit Public SchoolsSummit Public Schools is banking on personalised learning as the wave of the future.

Over the past few years, Bill Gates, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings have all endorsed a teaching method known as “personalised learning.”

It involves students guiding their own lessons with the help of technology, while teachers take on more of a coaching role if problems emerge. For its apparent benefits in getting kids up to speed in reading and maths, advocates have claimed it could — and should — become the future of US education.

But personalised learning is so new, many teachers still need to learn how it works.

Starting this academic year, one of the largest school networks using personalised learning, Summit Public Schools, is hosting a residency program to address that skills gap. Across eight locations in California, 24 teachers will spend one year learning the skills to personalise students’ education in the future.

“We are modelling teaching through the student learning experience,” Adam Carter, Summit’s Chief Academic Officer, told Business Insider. This year, approximately 330 schools serving thousands of students in 40 states will use the Summit Learning Program in some capacity, whether online or in-person.

Summit public schoolsSummit Public SchoolsSummit residents will learn how to teach personalised learning in the same way kids learn from it.

Four days a week, each resident teacher will be paired with a teacher in a Summit school. They will spend the remaining school day working on their own. All the while, they will learn about the strategies that makes personalised learning so appealing, according to leaders like Gates and Zuckerberg: Socratic discussions, small group workshops, and self-guided coursework.

The teachers will also convene in similar groups to learn about the style of teaching they will be relying on. In that way, Summit hopes to generate a group of teachers that understand personalised learning inside and out because they, themselves, have learned through the method.

“Not only does this experience build expertise,” Carter said, “but is also builds empathy for students.”

Summit public schoolsSummit Public SchoolsBy putting teachers in the same position as students, Summit expects them to develop greater empathy.

Summit doesn’t expect personalised learning to become the default mode of instruction in all schools, Carter said. Rather, the network wants to continually adapt to what research says is most effective for helping kids learn, even if that means abandoning personalised learning. Those kinds of insights are determined by things like the needs of a given school and its surrounding community.

The current research seems to support Summit’s model for now. A study published last year found that kids in 62 schools using personalised education scored higher on reading and maths standardised compared to kids learning without personalised instruction. Many who were below-average scorers ended up above-average.

In other countries with successful education programs, the personalised model seems to be a deciding factor in success. Students in Finland and Peru, for example, receive personalised learning through cleverly designed classrooms and mobile devices that allow students to work at their own speed.

Residents in Summit’s new program will ultimately earn a California Preliminary Teacher Credential from Summit Public Schools. Summit may also offer teachers a full-time job if they excel in their position.

“The real barriers to personalised learning have always been structural,” Carter said. “What we’re trying to do is provide new structures that are more about students and less about how things have always been done. The desire is there. The know how is there and the systems are there. This is possible.”

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