Imagine if, as a student, you had the ability to get an in-depth view of how you learn. A view that goes beyond whether you prefer audio versus, visual versus, hands-on-learning and – on top of that – a toolkit for how to leverage your strengths and improve on your challenges.

On the flipside, as an educator, how powerful would it be if you could find out better ways to more deeply engage with your students and really tailor their experience to adapt and connect to how they learn best?

We all learn differently, and, as adults, we can often advocate for or find solutions to help us find experiences that best fit our learning style. Unfortunately, students often don’t have the resources or even the knowledge to know how to advocate for themselves. On top of that, the lack of awareness regarding how one learns can become frustrating for students as they struggle to learn concepts that are seemingly simple for their classmates.

The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation in the College of Education at NC State University announced last week a solution that will help avoid those frustrations and better connect educators to their students. The goal is to create greater opportunity for personalized learning that adapts to how each student learns best. The free experience, called Students LEAD (Learn, Explore, & Advocate Differently), “guides students to explore key areas such as attention, memory, idea expression and time management” and supports the development of a more meaningful understanding of themselves as learners.

“We know that all students learn differently, but what we at The Friday Institute were struggling with was how can we help students understand, embrace and redirect their own work habits and approaches,” said Dr. Mary Ann Wolf, director of digital learning programs at The Friday Institute.

“The Students LEAD course takes a unique, research-based approach to empower students to lead their own learning. The course supports students as they begin to understand their own learning and empowers them to partner with teachers and other allies to leverage their strengths and address their own needs.”

In addition, once the course is completed, students (and their teachers) receive an Advocacy Plan (sample pictured below) that outlines their strengths and challenges and makes recommendations to consider. While helpful for all, Students LEAD was created especially for those who may struggle with time management, memory, expressing ideas, or attention. Through the program, students are armed with strategies to strengthen their own learning, for partnering with parents and educators to make sure they’re getting the supports needed, to engage with other students about learning differences and to help them understand they’re not alone. And as mentioned by Andrew below, the strategies students curate through the program will also prove helpful beyond school walls as they enter a career path.

“Learning strategies to use my strengths to help me be successful in school was really helpful. I have also used these tools outside of school to help me with my job. I learned that I am happiest and most successful doing hands-on activities and I now know how to make learning more hands-on for myself. Students LEAD was really easy to use, and I really liked being able to connect with other students during the course.” said Andrew, a high school junior.

According to research, students who can understand and reflect on their learning—using metacognitive strategies—are more likely to succeed.  “The encouraging conclusion is that the gap between high achievers and struggling students can be closed by guiding the latter to develop a metacognitive approach to learning” (Wilson & Conyers, 2016).

What I find most impressive about the program is that it was developed in coordination with middle and high school students. All too often we create tools for students without considering their ideas or opinion. Students were instrumental in the creation of Students LEAD. They shared ideas about the value and impact of videos, particularly the real-life stories of four different Eye to Eye students’ experiences with learning differences and leveraging their strengths in and outside of school. AVID, East Wake Academy, Eye to Eye, Project Tomorrow and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were also part of the development team.

Stay tuned, next week we’ll get a more in-depth look at the student advocacy profiles from Dr. Wolf. In the meantime, to learn more about Students LEAD, click here.

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