ReNEW’s Dolores T. Aaron Academy (“ReNEW DTA”) is a PK-8 non-selective public charter school in New Orleans, LA that serves approximately 770 students. The school’s mission is to provide a positive learning environment that inspires excellence, fosters integrity, and stimulates critical thinking to support students as they fulfill their academic and personal potential.

Formerly known as Reed Elementary, DTA is a turnaround school that was taken over by ReNEW Schools, a charter management organization, in 2013. As a system, ReNEW Schools has embraced a personalized learning vision based on the mantra “own your learning.” ReNEW Schools uses blended learning as a key mechanism to empower, remove boundaries for, and put students at the center of schools.

ReNEW Schools Personalized Learning Vision Graphic

Schools in the ReNEW network have the autonomy to use different approaches to achieve this vision, receiving support from ReNEW Schools’ central team as practitioners prototype new models within the classroom.

This page profiles one of these new models.

ReNEW DTA launched a mastery-based math pilot in 2016. The teaching team, struggling to meet the diverse needs of its eight grade students, put into place a new program to help its students fill gaps and accelerate learning to grade level so they can graduate ready for high school mathematics and continue on their college-ready pathways. This self-paced, personalized approach takes place within the bounds of ReNEW School’s more traditional programs and structures.

Learning In Action

In this self-paced and personalized learning environment, each student has a Chromebook and their own version of a learning agenda, which outlines all of the standards that need to be completed for 8th grade math, as well as more granular learning objectives required for each standard. Students choose which standards and objectives they want to work on, as well as whether they work independently or with a partner of their choice.

As students progress through their learning agenda, they show mastery through online assessments. Once students have mastered all of their objectives within a standard, the teacher quickly reviews their progress, then tasks them with creating a “mastery video,” in which the student teaches others to solve three problems within that standard. The teacher will review the video to determine assessment readiness, and provide the student with a final mastery quiz for each standard. Data are shared freely within the class so students can seek each other out for help. A positive class culture is cultivated to support the self-directed learning environment and help students focus on growth.

Teaching In Action

Eighth grade math is a challenging subject to teach at ReNEW DTA. As both a turnaround and neighborhood school in a high-mobility district, students come to class with a wide range of incoming skills, often with large gaps in readiness. To tackle this challenge, and accelerate student learning, ReNEW DTA’s eighth grade math team has initiated a self-paced, mastery-based math pilot to complement daily grade-level instruction, which follows the more traditional network-wide scope and sequence.

Time is separated into two blocks, allowing for direct instruction and independent, self-paced learning time. The class is split in half during the first block and the teacher groups students according to ability for direct instruction. While half of the class learns from the teacher, the other half learns independently. During the second block, the entire class works through their independent learning agendas, partnering with others as needed. The teacher is able to monitor progress and support students as needed during this time, ensuring every student is learning the math skills they need.


Strategies

In-Person Learning

ReNEW's math pilot takes place within the bounds of the school's more traditional programs and structures, including a network-wide grade-level scope and sequence. Given this, in-person learning is divided into two tracks. The first is a more traditional grade-level instruction, which students have daily. The second is an individual track, which is self-paced and dependent on specific gaps and needs a student might have.


Technology

ReNEW has a one-to-one device ratio, using Chromebooks. The teacher also has two iPads available for students. The school has internet connectivity of 400 mbps. ReNEW allows teachers considerable autonomy in choosing software. ReNEW's Director of Personalized Learning curates a site to help teachers learn about and select the right tool for their needs, as well as access professional development and support.


Real-Time Data Use

Student progress is tracked against both individual and group goals. On the individual side, students work through learning objectives in a self-paced manner, reporting and sharing their own progress. The teacher monitors this progress and provides targeted support. Students request to demonstrate mastery once enough evidence is shown in practice. On the group-level, achievement and pacing against grade-level expectations is monitored through network-wide interim assessments three times a year and quizzes every other week.


Mastery-Based Progression

Students work at their own pace through granular learning objectives, which are grouped and aligned to the Louisiana Academic Standards). Each learning objective has a playlist of resources as well as an IXL quiz. Students work on the objective until they reach the mastery threshold (between 80-100%, depending on the objective). Once the mastery threshold has been met for all objectives within the standard, a student then records a demonstration on an iPad and completes a mastery quiz for the standard. Grades for the class are based upon demonstrated levels of mastery, and students can increase their grade by re-taking assessments.


Replication and Scale

ReNEW's math blended pilot takes place within the bounds of the school's more traditional programs and structures, including a network-wide, grade-level scope and sequence. Recognizing the need for greater differentiation and personalization, teachers developed a program that leverages existing assets and time structures. Students use the devices they already have on hand and digital content use, while some of which is proprietary (like IXL), is easily accessed by other educators at no- to low-cost. 

This model has not yet been scaled to additional schools or tested in other subjects. Given this early stage of development, it has relied heavily on the teaching team's content expertise and ability to prototype and problem solve with existing resources. This team was supported by ReNEW's system-level commitment to personalization-- including the availability of one-to-one devices, digital content, willingness to allow educators some "run room" to try new ideas, and a system-level personalized learning director who stewards work happening across all schools to support implementations like these.

Conditions for Success

Educators seeking to try out this model with their students should keep the following key needs in mind:

  • Staffing and Teacher Support: While this model could be deployed in a more traditional classroom structure (e.g. 1 teacher working in a standalone classroom), this model requires significant teacher expertise to curate resources and provide differentiated content support. Ideally, teachers should be able to work in teams to share the workload, analyze data, and plan. ReNEW also provides centralized technology procurement and support.
  • Devices: This model requires that every student have access to a learning device at all times. 
  • Content: This model relies on the availability of online learning programs and assessments. The cost need not be high-- ReNEW utilizes Google Apps to create playlists and track progress as well as IXL for ongoing mastery quizzes-- but availability of these resources is a must to allow students to work at their own pace.
  • Broadband/Connectivity: Students must have adequate connectivity at all times. 

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