Swift House: A History of Personalized Learning

This week we will be featuring the first in a series of blog posts from Kevin Hunt, a contributor to PLP Pathways and teacher in the Swift House, Williston Central School. PLP Pathways encourages contributions from teachers and educators across the state who are implementing personalized learning or, like Kevin, have integrated it into their programs.

Swift History

Swift House, a grade 5-8 team that is part of the upper house (middle school level) at the Williston Central School in Williston, Vermont, was formed in the school year 1990-91 as a response to planning sessions that were held beginning in 1988 to deal with projected rapid growth in school population in the town. Swift has a vision that has sustained nearly 25 years and has been utilizing personal learning plans and student portfolios since its opening year. The research on learning and the needs of the future citizens of this global world validates what we are doing.

Goal Setting

With new 5th graders beginning their years as middle schoolers, it is essential to involve them in their own goal setting process from the start. Before we begin our school year with our Hopes and Dreams conferences, we send home a summer mailing to our new families and include a profile document for both the new students and the parents to fill out. These documents outline the Vermont Agency of Education’s Transferable skills as well as have the students and parents identify strengths, challenges, and other information that help to create the student’s identity both as a learner and as a unique human being.

The four core teachers on Swift House set up conferences a few days before the start of the school year to meet the new 5th grade students and families and review the student profile pages. These “Hopes and Dreams” conferences are our first meeting as a PLP team (student, parent, teacher). We go through the student profile page and as we discuss the various transferable skill categories, we begin to brainstorm goals for the school year.

In previous years, Swift House has used the Vermont Vital Results as the overarching category for our students Personal Learning Plan goals. We made the switch to the Transferable skills when Champlain Valley Union High School, the district high school, switched their graduation requirements to proficiency based, with the five transferable skills categories at the foundation. It was an obvious choice for us to make the switch to help our students familiarize themselves with the transferable skills before heading to high school, where they would also have PLPs due to the passing of Act 77.

During the goal-setting portion of our hopes and dreams conferences, we provide samples of goals that students have used in previous years, which are categorized into the five transferable skills categories; these help us to start the brainstorming process if a student is stuck on what a goal for a specific category might sound like. By the end of these conferences, we’ve had an opportunity to meet the new families, learn more about our new 5th grade students, and establish five goals that will act as the foundation for their Swift House PLP.