Follow your dreams is something high school students are often encouraged to do at their graduation ceremony.
But what if a student can’t wait until grad to begin that journey?
A number of Eagle River Secondary students who have already identified a pursuit they are passionate about, have been given an unusual opportunity to tailor part of their education to their interest through a course called independent directed studies (IDS), part of the personalized learning initiative being supported by the province. Personalized learning allows students to come up with unique, individualized ways of meeting their learning requirements.
For example, it could be said Grade 10 student Ryan Laderoute eats, sleeps and breathes music. Through the IDS course, Laderoute is pursuing his English requirements by writing and compiling his own periodical on writing and composing music, what associated gear and software to use, etc. Naturally, he is also involved in an IDS course that gives students greater freedom to write and compose their own music.
Laderoute is grateful for having been offered the personalized learning route which, in the case of English, he finds much more rewarding simply because it “revolves around what I want to do.”
Laderoute is one of about 30 students who will be taking part in the IDS/personalized learning initiative this year at ERS.
Principal Scott Anderson says the program is being offered in response to declining enrolment and, subsequently, reduced course offerings that has resulted in students looking to educational opportunities at schools in larger communities.
“So the school district has promoted and given us their blessings to run this,” says Anderson.
School counsellor Robin Wiens and band teacher John Pickup are overseeing the program which, Wiens explains, was offered to students who were experiencing success outside of school but may not have been experiencing the same level of success in school.
“I think it’s attained that – I think they’ve been able to experience success in school in this realm, and it largely has to do with the success they created on their own initiative outside of school,” says Wiens, who has one student writing a book about BMX (bicycle motorcross), and another who is writing a biography, journaling his own experiences as a member of the Eagle Valley Rescue Society.
Pickup is ecstatic with the program as a model of education, and the way he’s seen students take to it.
“The funny thing is, I’m a teacher, but I’ve never particularly liked the school system, where people have to learn things that may not be particularly relevant, that may not be particularly valuable to them,” says Pickup. “So I like this because it enables people to pursue their own interests.
“When you’re pursuing things that you’re interested in, you put a lot more effort into it, you achieve a lot more, and I think you learn how to do other things that you want to be able to do later on in life.”
Pickup notes the enthusiasm he’s seen in his IDS students is a night and day difference from the norm.
“They’re in this classroom a lot of time during their spares, they’re actually making arrangements with other teachers that if they finish their work early, they can come in here and work on their projects,” says Pickup.
Despite the name of the program, students do not have free reign – they are required to meet the same learning outcomes as other students. Wiens says the program has been a learning process for staff and student alike.
“Because they’re choosing their own initiative… We’re finding roadblocks that we’ve never encountered before and we’re helping them overcome them,” says Wiens, noting he’d prefer to see students choose projects that challenge them and may not be easily accomplished. He adds that when students have completed their projects, they have a look at what learning outcomes haven’t been met and find ways to make certain they are.
With students involved in personalized pursuits, Pickup admits that curriculum requirements are somewhat hazy, but he says that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“I’m trying to insure, at the end of this program, that they can write and record their own songs. And they’re doing it,” says Pickup.
At the end of the school year, individual writing projects will be made into books via www.blurb.com. The student will get a copy, as will the school.
“Then other students can come in and be inspired for next year, and be able to take the idea to the next level, or replicate it at least,” says Wiens.