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Focus on Teachers: Aaron Kaswell, Individualizing Instruction for Students

December 02, 2013

Individualized instruction for one hundred students in a class. Sounds impossible, right? In the way that New York City teacher Aaron Kaswell explains the approach, it actually makes a lot of sense.

Located in Brooklyn, Aaron’s school, Middle School 88, serves about 1,000 students with more than 70 percent receiving free or reduced lunch. Aaron describes MS 88 as a place where there is “a lot of respect and rapport amongst teachers and students.” He credits his principal, Ailene Mitchell, for fostering a culture of teacher collaboration and teaming.

 I think the big challenge now is: How do we really push the envelope academically? We know how to do the program; we do it well, fine, acceptable. I want to do it amazingly.Aaron KaswellAaron and four of his math colleagues have recently taken teacher collaboration to an entirely new level, even for MS 88. Working with New Classrooms’ School of One, the teachers restructured their day so that they are co-teaching their students in a redesigned classroom equivalent in size to three classrooms. The large class size of 100 allows the teachers to group and regroup their students each day—with the help of School of One’s computer-generated data—based on the math concepts and skills they learned and what they need support on. 

Aaron’s students are involved in group discussion and collaboration, individual activities and online lessons. At the end of each class, they take a computerized 5-minute exit ticket (or mini-assessment) that is individualized to what they learned that day. The information is then used to regroup students for their lessons the following day. The program also provides the teachers with sample lessons they can use and adapt.

Entering into his second year using School of One, Aaron highlights how the program helps him teach more effectively: “Without School of One, I could never do individualized exit tickets for even 30 students in a class or group 300 students effectively each days based on their needs. I defer to the computer to perform tasks that I can't and likewise let the computer defer to me to engage students in ways it can't.”

Aaron also appreciates that he is now unconfined by administrative duties related to teaching such as copying, grading assessments and recording student performance on daily lessons and tests. As Aaron explains, “I can now go straight to analyzing and using the information about how and what my students are learning instead of taking a lot of time collecting and capturing the information. Now, I can immediately ask: What does this data tell me? How will I provide better questioning and feedback to get to the heart of the identified misunderstandings they are having? How can I deliver the content better or in a way that will engage these particular students?”

To help ensure that the classroom runs smoothly, Aaron and his team have a common planning time every day in which they nail down logistics, determine common rules, procedures, consequences to be consistent for students and share tasks and instructional strategies they are using.  

Aaron notes how the new approach has developed and improved over the last year: “In the first few months, we were dealing with the logistics of computers and the portal and making sure it all runs correctly. This year, we are able to spend more time focusing on the academics. I think the big challenge now is: How do we really push the envelope academically? We know how to do the program; we do it well, fine, acceptable. I want to do it amazingly.  How can we make sure that even more learning is happening? How do we push the kids even more? The kids are there and ready to learn. They are more engaged than I’ve ever seen them.”

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