The Accelerated Learning Model (ALM)

Hi everyone! This is Cyndie from Chalk One Up for the Teacher and
I’m so excited to be guest blogging over here on Minds in Bloom. I want to thank Rachel for the fabulous opportunity.  Today
I’m so fortunate enough to be co-blogging with our GATE teacher,
Brittney Varao. (She doesn’t have a blog…yet!)

We are here to
talk about an innovative new program that our district is implementing.
It is called Accelerated Learning Model (ALM). There are eight
schools piloting the program this year and we are one of only three that
has a primary component. Next year, the goal is to expand to thirty
schools district-wide. While the program was in place last year, this
is the first year with the GATE program inclusion in the model.

So,
what is ALM? An ALM classroom in the intermediate grades is comprised
of all of the GATE and TAGS students at the school, as well as some of
those revved up, outside the box thinkers. In the primary grades,
several things were considered to build the classrooms. Students had to
have scored well on district testing, be excited about learning, and they
also had to excel in ELA and/or math. Truly, we even listened to
teachers who nominated students based on a “feeling”.

The ALM
model looks different in many schools, but in our school, we have an ALM
class in every grade level. Each classroom looks different, too.  Britney pushes into the classrooms every day…there is no
longer a GATE pullout. She co-teaches with each classroom teacher
throughout the week. Because of the obligation to fill the required
minutes for GATE students in our district, Brittney works mainly with
the intermediate grades. However, she co-teaches with the primary
grades a minimum of 50 minutes per week.

When Brittney comes
to my class, we work on Genius Hour projects, which are passion
projects. Students self select topics that they find interesting,
research them, and then they must present some sort of final project to
an audience of their choosing. We have students working on projects
about 3-D chalk drawings, giving 100% the first time, Minecraft, movie
making, song writing and how to become a better soccer player, just to
name a few. Students are really working in a problem-based learning
frame. They identified the “want” or the issue, and now have to take
steps to find the solution. Problem based learning is a huge focus for
our school. We had a staff-wide training and are looking forward to
completing our own PBL units through another training in March. If you
want to find out more about Genius Hour, you can hop on over to the main
website, Genius Hour, or you can head over to Jen Runde’s blog, Runde’s Room, which is where I first heard about Genius Hour.

So
that only takes up one hour a week. What about the rest of the time?
Each teacher is still responsible for covering their grade level
content, but we have found that many of the students already know much
of the grade level content, so we have been using Kaplan’s Depth and Complexity Icons
to help students go deeper into topics and exercise more critical
thinking skills. We also move at a faster pace when we are tackling
grade level materials.

This year in my second grade
classroom, most of the students came in reading above grade level.
While we started out the year with formal reading groups, it didn’t take
long for me to discover that while these students still needed to have
me listen to them read, they needed to listen to each other read and be
free to discuss (with guidance) what they were reading. So, along came
book clubs. Book clubs are similar to lit circles, but with “looser
guidelines”. This is working so well in our classrooms. Students are
very engaged in discussing what they are reading and I am free to rotate
and work with groups that need me, when they need me.

As
mentioned, we also focused on Project Based Learning (PBL) and have
found students to be truly motivated by what they are learning. We
recently completed a week-long study on paper airplanes. We were able
to tie this into our unit on air and weather. Not only did the students
have a blast learning, they could hardly wait for science each day. I
do not, however, claim responsibility for any of the paper airplanes
that are seen zooming around every day after school. If you want to
learn more about our experiences with this unit, you can read about it
on my blog.

Currently,
we are working on fairy tales and have managed to incorporate most of
our day into this unit. One of the first things that I decided when I
was fortunate enough to be picked for this position, was that I wanted
someone to walk into our classroom and have no idea what subject we were
studying, but be totally amazed at all the learning that was taking
place. That is starting to come together, but we have a lot of work to
do.

The fairy tale unit has allowed us to incorporate another
thing that we learned about this year, which is STEM. We recently had a
morning inservice and our staff got to participate in a large variety
of STEM activities. I have incorporated them, along with this amazing unit
from Tracey Graham a/k/a Smart Chick. This week I told my students
that Cinderella had traded in her glass slippers for hiking boots.
Cinderella called up her friend Rapunzel and asked her if she could try
her new hiking boots out by climbing Rapunzel’s tower. The students
were then charged with creating the tallest, free standing tower (with
Rapunzel’s braid come out of the side). The amount and types of
learning that have been taking place are phenomenal!

As you can imagine, we have plenty of “early finishers”.  When a student finishes early, they are free to choose and activity from one of the menu/choice boards.  These choice boards, also encourage students to learn about the topics, but to try them out in other formats.  I have included a picture of one of the choice boards that I use, but if you teach older kids, you may want to check out Jennifer Findley’s choice boards.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/My-Products/Digital-Products/99087

ALM
classrooms are like any other classrooms in that differentiated
instruction must take place to meet the diverse needs of the students.
How in the world do we manage that on top of infusing creativity and fun
into every last minute?  Well, we curriculum compact where we can (being
careful to make sure any pre-assessments are accurate reflections of
student ability).  We also offer tiered assignments based on student
needs.  Some students might only complete level “A” while others complete
A and B.  Finally, advanced students are required to complete all
levels.  This method has been very beneficial for the students and
teachers!  The lessons are right in every child’s proximal zone of
development!

Our principal’s goal is for our school to become an ALM school.  Each classroom would teach using these various frameworks.  Wouldn’t that just be amazing?

I do have to admit that this feels like the first
year of teaching all over again. I do not think that I have ever
learned so much in one year’s time, but I wouldn’t trade it for the
world. It has been invigorating, exciting, nerve-wracking, but worth
every second of work that has gone into it.

Cyndie @ Chalk One Up for the Teacher

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