by Stella Kounelaki Gryllos – Guest Author

Personalized learning promises differentiated, “personalized” pace and instruction for every student. Moreover, the vision is to personalize learning in the classroom. How?

Now used by over 300 schools across the country, the Summit Platform claims to have the answer.

On a recent visit to Peck Middle School in Holyoke, MA, I was able to take a peek at how it works.* The school is on its second year using the Summit Platform, which has now been rolled out to the entire school after a pilot first year.

Content is organized in focus areas. Resources are linked and so are assessments. When the teacher feels that a student has sufficiently mastered the material, he or she “unlocks” the assessment — a set of multiple choice questions automatically graded by the platform.The Mexican Revolution focus area on the Summit Platform

Projects also live on the Summit Platform. They come with resources linked, final deliverables outlined, and checkpoints set in place to scaffold students’ work along the way. Teachers provide feedback on checkpoints and give the green light for students to continue. Everything appears on a single screen.

Apart from their performance on focus areas and projects, students are evaluated on a set of cognitive skills, such as inquiry, active listening, and textual analysis (all Common Core aligned). An offline, school-wide rubric is used to evaluate those and grades are then transferred to the Summit Platform.

Work is done using tools of the Google ecosystem. Writing is done on Google docs and presentations on Google slides. Resources are shared on Google Drive. Compatibility with the Google ecosystem gives students and teachers a lot of flexibility. In fact, most of the Summit curriculum lives on Google docs and thus it can be easily adapted to meet students’ needs.

Teaching is student-centered, getting away from direct instruction as much as possible. Students work in small groups completing small assignments while the teacher mostly facilitates. The images below are from an 8th grade science class on the speed = distance/ time equation. The Summit curriculum is projected on the screen keeping everyone on task.

You might say: “That’s nice, but this is more or less what schools that use digital learning material and student-centered instruction look like.”

True. But I’ve only shown you Monday-Thursday. Or, actually, part of Monday-Thursday.

Days at Peck start with 50-minute “PLT.” PLT stands for personalized learning time and it is an essential piece of the puzzle. During these 50 minutes students log in to the Summit Platform and decide which focus areas or projects they need to devote their attention to. Think of it as early-morning goal-setting and prep for the day’s meetings — sound familiar?

PLT is also all day Friday. Students work closely with their mentors who help them tailor their learning to meet their needs. The objective? Keep up with a line that keeps moving. I am referring to the blue line in the image below that cuts across the curriculum. As the school year moves along, so does the line. Students have to have everything turn green (focus areas, projects, etc.) and they work — alongside their mentors —to devise strategies for how do that.

The line can be intimidating, but the Summit model tries to instill a growth mindset. Students are given the space and the tools to catch up. Assignments come at different levels of ability (mild-medium-spicy) and students pick the level that suits them best until they master the material. They can also retake diagnostic assessments as needed. When eventually colors turn green, it can be very gratifying.

Does Summit fulfill its promise of personalizing learning? I would say it does pretty good. Of course, it takes a community of committed educators and learners that strive toward mastery and are determined to go the extra mile without cutting corners.

*Thanks go out to MAPLE for organizing the learning tour and Ellie Miller, MAPLE Associate, for the classroom pictures.

About the Author

Stella Kounelaki Gryllos
Stella Kounelaki Gryllos, works on making education meaningful through technology and innovative program design. She holds a PhD from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Check out her blog here.