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Individualizing and Differentiating Learning in New York’s School of One

Individualizing and Differentiating Learning in New York’s School of One

During summer 2009, the New York City school system conducted a two-month pilot test of a radically new education concept, the School of One. Conducted at Middle School 131 in New York’s Chinatown, the pilot program focused on a single subject, mathematics, and a single grade level (sixth grade). The New York City Department of Education views it as demonstration of a concept that is equally applicable in other subjects and grades.

Instead of organizing the 80 participating students into classes with one of the school’s four teachers assigned to each class, the School of One used flexible arrangements of students and teachers and a large collection of alternative ways for students to learn the 77 mathematics skills that were the objectives for the program. The School of One lesson bank included more than 1,000 lessons covering those 77 mathematics skills. Rather than giving every student the same content, the School of One used data from prior assessments to identify which skills each student should work on during the summer. Inputs from teachers and from students provided information about how each student learned best (for example, “likes to learn through games” or “likes to learn alone”). A computer algorithm used information about each student’s demonstrated mathematics skills and his or her learning preferences to generate individual “playlists” of appropriate learning activities.

The summer pilot included four teachers whose efforts were focused on large-group instruction, four teacher-residents (college students studying to be teachers) who focused on small-group instruction and online instructional support, and two high school students who focused on tutoring and the grading of assessments. The staff met at the end of each day to collectively monitor student growth and prepare for the next day’s instruction.

In this model, technology was used to develop a unique learning path for each student based on a database of possible lessons, with supporting instruction on common content that was both individualized and differentiated for each student. The New York City Department of Education expects the School of One program to operate in three middle schools by the spring of 2010 and in 20 schools by 2012.

Source: Submitted to the NETP web-site,

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