Updated: May 6, 2019
It’s easy to get lost in a crowd. Anybody who’s attended a college class in a giant lecture hall can attest to that. When you’re one of several hundred students listening to a professor, it’s exceptionally easy to drift off and lose focus, especially if it’s not a subject you’re all that interested in the first place. Perhaps the major factor contributing to overall apathy is the fact the professor doesn’t even know you’re there — making it virtually impossible to make the kind of connection empowering true learning.
Unfortunately, the experience is often the same for the elementary school student stuck in a large class. Oftentimes, the personal connection between student and teacher, critical at this young age, doesn’t have the space or time to build correctly. The unhappy result? A child tunes out of education at a critical age, a mindset that could easily continue as they advance through the higher grades.
As one veteran teacher put it, “Building relationships with students is by far the most important thing a teacher can do. Without a solid foundation and relationships built on trust and respect, no quality learning will happen.” Adding to this affirmation is Tyrone Howard, a professor of education at UCLA, who is writing a book on the research about students’ relationships with their teachers and how well they learn: “I think schools in many ways have put the cart before the horse. What they’ve done is they want to jump right into academics and really dismiss or minimize the importance of relationships.”
We agree — which is why, at Learning Ovations, we’re committed to the concept of personalized learning. Personalized learning seeks to customize education to each student’s strengths, needs, skills and interests as much as possible, taking into account, of course, the considerable demands on teachers these days.
Recent research has yielded some innovative insights into how to optimize personalized learning in today’s classrooms. According to the Christensen Institute, research points to three specific strategies which have been deemed effective: (1) alternative team teaching structures, (2) integrated support models such as PowerMyLearning, and (3) incorporating technology within the classroom in such a way that it bolsters student-teacher connections rather than dilutes them.
Our A2i Professional Support System, designed to increase literacy achievement in K-3, employs aspects of all three of the above strategies and adds another important one to the mix: small group learning. By collecting together students with corresponding reading levels, each group can be taught and be given the appropriate resources to address its specific needs. Challenged readers are given the extra assistance they need to succeed — while those already demonstrating aptitude are empowered to develop further. Throughout the process, everyone gets more “face time” with their teacher, building a strong bond that will increase overall motivation. I’m proud to say our results prove the wisdom of this approach — 94% of the students in our A2i program have come to read at or above grade level by the end of third grade.
According to the National Center on Safe Supporting Learning Environments, “Students who feel connected to school are more likely to succeed — they have better school attendance, grades, and test scores and stay in school longer.” That’s because a strong teacher-student connection makes a child more open to education — and that, in turn, provides a firm foundation for ongoing lifetime achievement.