Student Self-Discovery with PEP (Personalized Enrichment Projects)

Bena Kallick

Bena Kallick is a private consultant providing services to school districts, state departments of education, professional organizations, and public agencies throughout the United States and internationally.

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Allison and I were invited to work with Region One, a consortium of schools in northwest CT. As a part of their strategic plan, they have identified personalized learning with Habits of Mind. We offered a keynote in January, 2018 in which we introduced some of the key ideas from our book, ‘Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind.’ The teachers from Cornwall Consolidated School were in attendance and were inspired to extend their innovative, inquiry based course from just focusing on 8th grade to include grades 5-8.

I had the opportunity to visit the school and observe the powerful work they are doing. Their work over the past few years affirms the significance of the 4 attributes. Starting with the proposal for an inquiry project all the way through to sharing their work with an authentic audience, students’ voices are at the center. They participate in the creation of their projects, engage resources to gain knowledge, and learn not only about their inquiry questions but also about who they are as independent, self-directed learners. The teachers have the courage to allow for the students to take many risks and grow as they chart unfamiliar territories.

I asked them to share their work so that others might learn from their experience. Here is their story and we invite you to engage with them.

Cornwall Staff Explanation:

Cornwall Consolidated School is a small public K-8 school in northwest Connecticut that is part of Region One. Our school has taken steps over the past few years to begin implementing and integrating personalized learning. A schoolwide committee was formed to research and report on personalized learning and Professional development time was also devoted to focusing on personalized learning. Our region brought in Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda to work with our school’s staff.

CCS has had an 8th grade culminating, yearlong, student-generated, inquiry-based course for several years. This course, titled “Explorations,” has been funded by the Cornwall Consolidated School Fund for Excellence. Awards grant money to students (up to $90) to assist in the completion of their project and to further their education in their determined topic. Explorations includes many personalized elements, including initially learning about oneself as a learner, the application of driving questions, a community benefit, co-creation with teachers and assigned mentors/experts, and presentations and reflections with an authentic audience. There has certainly been a lot of self-discovery with CCS’s students!

With the Explorations model firmly established, encouragement from the CCS Fund for Excellence, and additional training in personalized learning, this year we established a course for the rest of our middle schoolers (5th, 6th, and 7th graders) that we call PEP (personalized enrichment project). PEP happens during our enrichment period— a thirty minute block every school day (that we are likely to add to for next school year). This period is the epitome of flexibility. During this enrichment time we schedule intervention time for students with SRBI plans (specifically for ELA and math) or those receiving related services, a setting for “taking care of business,” or TCB (for those students who need to retake a test, get caught up with assignments, or seek additional teacher help), Advisory time (which is small groups and multi-aged, and spends considerable time planning and preparing for student-led conferences), clubs and special courses such as jazz band, open art studio, and student council, as well as activities which are teacher-created, student-chosen educational courses that may fall outside of the typical curriculum.

Students are not permanently set in PEP and everyone works at his/her own pace. Some students may be there one day a week, others may be working on the personalized project four days a week. Attendance lists for the PEP are updated daily depending on each student’s particular needs.

Beginning steps in PEP include brainstorming, coming up with at least three possible project topics, a formal proposal that is reviewed, discussed, and, if necessary, revised with teachers/adults. A formal letter of approval and possibly a second letter, if requesting funds from the CCS Fund for Excellence are required. Sometimes PEP students want to teach others about their hold after school classes. We require that they do the recruiting for their classes, that they create, distribute, and collect permission slips, that they communicate with our school secretary and principal, and use a formal event request form. Blank versions of the aforementioned documents as well as some student examples are found below.

Getting Ready for PEP PEP brainstorm form edit


Student Examples

CCS Student Idea #1_ ___Giving Children In Hospitals Teddy Bears CCS Student Idea #2_ __Helping Out The Elderly CCS Student Idea #3_ _Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen Personal Enrichment Project (PEP) Proposal PEP ProposalGrant Letter Request – Checklist (1) checklist


Dear Members of the CCS Fund for Excellence Dear CCS Fund For Excellence (1) PEP Presentations PEP EVENT REQUEST FORM (1)
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