STS Blog

Extending Personalized Learning Beyond the Classroom
Extending Personalized Learning Beyond the Classroom
Nick Anton, Director of Personalized Learning


For many families, weeknight schedules are jam-packed with soccer practice, homework, digital time and dinner. When you ask your child how her day was as you drive to soccer practice, you may not have time to delve into why her day was just alright. But asking follow-up questions about the feedback she received on an assignment or whether she is enjoying the book she is reading in English class present great opportunities to learn more about your child's experiences in school. More importantly, adopting simple approaches like these can help you become a partner in your child's education and may even help you personalize her learning path.

Personalizing a child's educational journey attunes the school experience to her strengths, interests, and needs, helping her discover her respective passions and interests so that eventually she can forge her own educational path. Research has shown that students in personalized learning programs make significantly greater gains in math and reading, proving it to be an effective approach to learning. But for personalized learning to be truly successful, parents and teachers must work together as a team.

Parents are the greatest experts on their children, and when they form partnerships with their children's teachers, they are able to give teachers a better understanding of their children's strengths, interests and edges so teachers are more equipped to provide the right type of support and guidance in the classroom.

Identifying and discussing a child's strengths is pretty easy – it's fun to talk about where your child excels. Working on their edges, however, can be more challenging. Edges are areas of learning that we feel less comfortable entering – they push our skills and test our boundaries. As Carol Dweck notes in her book Mindset, when a child reaches an edge, they might view that challenge as something to steer away from because it could reveal that they do not excel at something. And for parents, it can be difficult to openly discuss areas where your child is having trouble.

Edges, however, provide opportunities for children to experience profound growth. It's worth pushing through discomfort to identify and address them. Getting children to open up about their edges can be as simple as rephrasing how you ask them about their day. Asking, "How was your day?" often elicits a one-word answer. Instead, try asking, "What feedback did you receive from your teacher that impacted you today?" This makes a child start to consider the feedback they have received more carefully, and their response helps you discern whether they are aware of the feedback they are receiving. Tammy Fisher, St. Thomas School's counselor and a huge partner for me in personalization efforts at St. Thomas School, brought this approach to my attention. There is vast territory to explore when considering teacher-student feedback loops. Within this vast territory, however, lies a simple truth: when you talk specifically about feedback itself, hidden edges can be revealed.

Reading with your child also provides a great opportunity to get to know her edges and understand her independent reading level. Understanding your child's reading level is really important to ensure she is being challenged while still comprehending what she's reading. To more accurately define a child's reading level, ask to have your child assessed using a specific scale, such as the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System. Tools like these give teachers and parents Text Level Gradient scores to help you and your child select appropriate books. Once you know your child's Text Level Gradient score, you can work with a librarian to identify a wide selection of titles to choose from that are appropriate for your child's reading level. Equally important, you can then confidently select titles that you know outstrip your child's reading level, arming you for read-aloud time that connects to your child's interests while also actively extending her receptive vocabulary.

At St. Thomas School, we believe that together parents and teachers can help identify children's edges to push children within and beyond their zones of comfort to experience meaningful growth. I encourage you to dip your toes bravely into the water of communicating what challenges your children – it could even help you reach some edges of your own.