Making Learning Personal at Calhoun

Individuality is central to how we teach at Calhoun. Teachers treat students as individuals, taking into account their unique learning styles and interests. While goals and educational benchmarks are set, our educators know that the path to those checkpoints will look different for each student. Calhoun teachers are creative and flexible, adapting their methods to ensure that all students reach their potential and have numerous opportunities to demonstrate their growth and understanding. This student-centered approach results in classrooms filled with invested, motivated learners who take ownership over their educational journeys. Furthermore, the strong partnership between students and teachers gives students the confidence to take on new challenges and risks.

So what does individualized learning look like in practice? We asked administrators and teachers across subjects and divisions to discuss how this approach plays out in our classrooms.

Carl Bellamy, Lower School Teacher:

“I have an expected goal for everyone, and want everyone to meet a certain criteria. Learning should be individualized because we’re all individuals. We're not all going to react to things in the same way. The best way to keep everyone on board is to meet them at their own pace.

As an example, in math if we’re studying addition, children might be ready for more. If they move through the work quickly, I’ll scale it up. I want to keep them engaged, challenged and stimulated. Other students might be on the other end of the spectrum, and so we’ll spend more one-on-one time together to reinforce the concept. I have the time to sit down with a student who may need that extra time, and I certainly take advantage of that.”

The best way to keep everyone on board is to meet them at their own pace. - Carl Bellamy

Nina Harmande, Third-to-Fifth Grade Theater Teacher

“Allowing kids to come to [the work] at their own pace is really important. Being on stage is not for everyone all the time. Sometimes students need a few experiences before they feel comfortable with it. For some kids, the writing of the play is really where their voices shine, while for others it might be doing tech or building props.  

At Calhoun, there is freedom to go where the kids are ready to go and to explore what they’re passionate about. I strive to make sure that everyone's perspective and experience is recognized.”

Teacher with student working on math

Gingi Wingard, Lower School Curriculum Coordinator & Learning Specialist, 3-5

“Very early on, teachers develop a relationship with the student on a personal and academic level. Faculty are very attuned to a student’s prior experience, which informs how they present new information.

Teachers provide individualized instruction for students based on a number of tools, including assessment data, a student’s learning profile and prior knowledge, and more. They use that information to plan for the next step and provide various opportunities for students to show and demonstrate knowledge through projects, essays or debates. [The work] can take on many different forms, and those forms are based upon how students learn as individuals.”

Alba Polsley, Middle School Science Teacher:

“Everybody should have certain scientific skills by the end of Middle School, but it's ultimately about progress. The seventh grade curriculum is very hands-on, and the lab work that we do allows for each individual to find what they're good at. Not everyone is good at drawing the perfect straight line for a graph or handling delicate equipment, but everyone in my class gets practice doing all of these things, allowing them to stretch themselves within and beyond their comfort zone and discover new ways to collaborate.

At Calhoun, students learn how to advocate for themselves because of the relationships that they build with their teachers. They know that they can raise their hand and ask for clarification.”

Ben Schwartz, Middle School Math Teacher:

“I individualize my approach to teaching math in a variety of ways. A small class size is one important aspect. Another key element is having a good task. A good task has an entry point for everyone. Like a hop-on, hop-off tourist bus, everyone can come into it somewhere and exit it somewhere else. They may be moving at different paces or achieving different things, but everyone is moving forward.

You’ll see that each of the tables [in my area] is designed with one open seat, so that I can pull up a chair. I’m constantly moving around interacting with students, keeping my head on a swivel to look for that kid who needs to be asked a certain question. It’s so easy for kids to use the phrase, ‘I don’t get it.’ The way I respond to that question is, ‘Tell me the last thing you got,’ which is a way to teach them self-advocacy. The combination of flexible groups, good tasks and a student-centered approach provides both extensions for high-fliers and mediations for those who are struggling.”

It's about being in conversation with them throughout so that they're having an individualized experience around the work. - Auguste Elder

Auguste Elder, Upper School Art Teacher:

“I try to have a very wide view of the horizon when I’m teaching. I get a bird’s-eye view of where the class is, and then swoop down to the individuals to give them the scaffolding and support that they need.

I sit down with kids individually to talk about where they are in relationship to that particular challenge. If the parameters  or resources aren't syncing with them, we will work together to create a bridge between the project expectations and their ideas. It's about being in conversation with them throughout so that they're having an individualized experience around the work.”

Hadda Ait Oukdim-Conte, Upper School Science Teacher

“Individualized learning means that every student can reach his or her own potential. I think the reason why a teacher becomes a teacher is to support a student’s own learning path. This means that students who are struggling can find joy and learn to their full potential, but it also means that students who are excelling can continue to challenge themselves.  As a teacher, you have a wonderful opportunity to help all students take away something from the class."

Lisa Merritt, Director of College Counseling

“I like to say that no two transcripts are alike, and that is a great compliment to our students. At the end of their Upper School career students have created a unique academic path. All of our students have opportunities to bring their passions to interdisciplinary projects, like Junior Workshop, and some connect it to the real world with their Senior Work experience. Calhoun is a place where there are so many resources that can be customized no matter who students are.

It’s important to have a strong relationship between students and teachers because students have trust in those who are guiding them. Students know that it’s okay to be curious and that their teacher is going to support them in figuring out how best to interrogate an emerging passion. I see students who feel incredibly empowered to self advocate. They're really comfortable talking to adults as peers, and those are skills that are going serve them incredibly well, both here at Calhoun and in the world beyond Calhoun.”