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Commentary: A model of empowered education

Peg Hoey describes Kunskapsskolan Education, an international school model based in Sweden and now in the U.S.

As the world becomes increasingly complex and interconnected, new opportunities open for our children every day. To gain access to all that the world has to offer — education, social connections and careers – they need to have the curiosity, courage, stamina and resilience to recognize opportunity and turn it into their futures.

Since 2000, when our first school opened in Sweden, Kunskapsskolan Education (KED) has continuously redeveloped its model of personalized education to meet this demand by providing the supports, resources and tools for students to discover that they can learn from anything – that there is always a way around – given the right mindset and educational foundation.

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Our core values drive our approach to personalized education:

  • All people are different
  • We have clear goals and challenging requirements
  • Education is for life
  • Life is what I make it

The KED model provides the foundation for a personalized, empowered education. Since “all people are different,” we focus on each student as an individual. Every student has a base coach who meets with her in a base group twice a day in addition to engaging in a 1:1 coaching session each week. The focus of this session is to look back on what worked well and what needs revision as the student and coach reflect on what strategies the student employed in meeting her goals. Over time – for some students, a little and for others, a lot – students build their personal backpack of strategies that work for them, from where and when to study to whom and with what to study. Our students build a constructive attitude towards learning to pull out of that backpack when the world gets tough or confusing.

Different people have different goals. For students to achieve academically and socially more than they think possible, those goals must be clear, challenging and reasonable. First, the goals should be clear: Everyone working with the student should be able to understand the goals so we can work together to make sure the student is more than successful.

Goals in our schools are unabashedly tied to academics and flow backwards and forwards to the quality and quantity of knowledge the student wants to achieve by the time she leaves our school.  Goals must be challenging and represent an enticing stretch for the student, and at the same time, the goal must be reasonable – something that the student can achieve in a time span that she can grasp and that is in line with her abilities.

In addition to goal setting, strategy experimentation, and coaching, we provide the student with an integrated set of tools so that personalization can happen:

  • We use time as a resource by organizing it into different teaching and learning sessions so that students and teachers can use it most efficiently. Students attend labs (inquiry-based sessions), workshops (time to work with subject teacher support), lectures (short, intensive presentations to a group), communication sessions (oral dialogue) and seminars (structured discussions to deepen understanding). Students’ schedules are a mix of compulsory and non-compulsory sessions that they chose to meet their academic goals.
  • Our teachers have three different roles: As base coaches, subject teachers and general teachers. As a base coach, they are students’ guides and facilitators. As a subject teacher, they are responsible for students’ mastery over their content area; as a general teacher, they help and are role models to all students.
  • Our Steps and Themes curriculum is housed in the Learning Portal™, which can be accessed 24/7. Our subjects meet students where they currently are in their knowledge development, and they organized around authentic projects that where students prove mastery over the content. In Steps (ELA, Math, Spanish) students progress at their own pace. In Themes, students study the humanities through multidisciplinary themes with their grade cohorts.
  • We use space differently. Our walls are transparent so that everyone can be seen, which creates safety, collaboration, and creativity. Wasted space is kept to a minimum, since all spaces are learning spaces.

KED is now educating students in three countries – the U.K., Sweden, and the U.S.; our first school in India opens in 2013. To leverage this global field of practice, we have co-developed core manuals, performance management tools, and a KED teacher certification path. Our network-wide working groups in special education, math, and curriculum meet monthly via Skype. The KED common maps and language stimulate innovation and collaboration among our thousands of students and teachers: Since they can “speak” to each other, they can share best practices, plans, and exemplar work.

Our first Skype session between a 6th grader at Innovate Manhattan and a 6th grader in Stockholm showed students’ joy when they discover that someone so far away is learning in a shared model. Daniel offered to help Wilma in math, and they devised a plan to take a field trip to India to introduce students to the KED program. The fact that they saw these plans as possible and doable – their empowerment – is why we do what we do.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.