Park Terrace teacher Candance Bunyan working in a small group with students

What does Maya know about herself at age six? She likes to eat tacos. She wants to be a ballerina. Her favorite color is blue. By the end of kindergarten, when she’s turning seven? She might know that she doesn’t like to work in groups. She prefers a wobble chair (to help with concentration). She’s interested in animals and (it’s likely) she still likes tacos.

Information that communicates who a child is and how they learn best is the kind of information recorded on a student’s learner profile. The profile documents a student’s strengths, interests and needs as a learner as well as who they are as a person. It grows as they do during their time at Spring Lake Park Schools and supports their learning.

Maya’s kid-friendly learner profile – a colorful art project from the beginning of the year - hangs above her cubby in Candace Bunyan’s kindergarten room. It reminds her what makes her special and what some of her dreams are. For now, it primarily helps Candace, her teacher, but in a few years, it will help Maya own her own learning.

Getting to know you

“One of our documented goals for the K-12 journey at SLP is for students to learn how to learn without us,” says Hope Rahn, executive director of learning and innovation. “When students graduate, we want them to be incredibly self-aware of their strengths, interests and needs as a learner, so they can navigate anything they might encounter. Learner profiles are an important tool.”

Learner profiles are co-created by students with teachers and with input from families. They help educators to know students more deeply and design engaging work and experiences for them. They also help students become more aware of who they are as a learner. The vision is updated each year as the learner learns more about themselves.

“While we’ve been on a multi-year journey with learner profiles, we really made significant progress, especially at the younger grades, during the pandemic,” says Hope. “These have been increasingly important tools for us to keep learning going for kids during this time and will now grow with them through their remaining years at Spring Lake Park Schools.”

Supporting beginnings

A Park Terrace student holding up his Learner Profile and smiling

Kindergartener Nakib with his Learner Profile he created that lists things he knows about himself at age five.

Candace’s kindergarten team made learner profiles an art project. Students completed the phrases “I am….” “I want to be….” “I like…” and drew and painted their profiles. The art project was a visible reflection of conversations Candace had one-to-one with each of them.

“I’m getting them to think about – what do you want to be? What is a dream? What do you like? What is a challenge? We have the conversation one-to-one so they’re really telling me about themselves and not what their friends think,” she says.

In the fall, Candace asked the same questions of parents about their child and also shared what their child had shared with her.

“Quite a few said things like, ‘You’re making me think – how does my child do this or that?’ Parents were thankful to be included in the conversation,” she says. “I really honor parents as their child’s first teacher and approach this as how they can help me understand so I can better help and support their child.”

For Candace, starting the conversations at this age is key. She has one student who wants to be a princess. On day 102, her answer hasn’t changed.

“It’s not too wild for kindergarten,” says Candace. “Having the conversation is all that really matters. Now, I’m listening for a student to be able to explain their thinking – that’s what matters most to me. There are so many reasons they may want to be a princess and think it makes sense for them. They can talk about their thinking. They are saying why.”

Next year’s first grade teachers will see what Candace, her students and their families included on their learner profiles in kindergarten. They’ll revisit the profile and students will make adjustments. A student might take something off and replace it with something else as they get to know themselves better and use that information as they tackle first grade.

Tapping into interests

As she works with students on specific reading and math skills, academic specialist Jenny Zimmermann appreciates looking at a student’s learner profile to tap into their interests.

“I like being able to learn about them – finding out what type of learner they are, what did they say as a kindergartener and what do they say now” says Jenny. “I use it to see what their interests are. If it’s something I know nothing about, like Pokémon, I try to learn about that so I can incorporate that into my lessons.”

Jenny is often working with students on very specific skills. With each student, she creates a learner map to document where they are with the skill, their goal and the steps they will take. Sometimes the goal is being able to read a chapter book or being comfortable reading out loud.

That learner map is one goal – one very small part of who they are. Whereas the learner profile includes who they are as a whole kid. I can use all that information to help meet the goal. Jenny Zimmermann, CV academic specialist

A group of kindergarteners loves baby Yoda, so Jenny hides letters under a baby Yoda toy and the students make it disappear by practicing their letters and sounds. A third grader wants to be a pediatrician so the book they read is about a pediatrician and what led them to that path. A tactile learner is learning letters and writing words in sand.

“We are now starting to have a trail with the learner profiles and maps,” says Jenny. “I can see what skills and goals kids had and when they met them. How did they meet them? What was the strategy? Then, maybe they lost the skill but then recouped it quick or didn’t. As we get deeper into our use of these tools, it is so helpful to make all those little connections.”

Building independence and ownership

By the fourth grade, students are gaining independence. Claire Lively views building that independence as part of her work.

“I really see the learner profiles as a tool for self-reflection, to build self-awareness,” says Claire. “In the fourth grade, we’re really trying to get them to take ownership of their learning and that starts with self-reflection - figuring out where they are, what their strengths are and what they need to be successful.”

Centerview teacher Claire Lively teaching in a group circle

              Centerview teacher Claire Lively leading a   
              discussion with her fourth grade students.

Fourth graders are also using learner maps to set goals and using information from their learner profiles in the process.

“I had a conversation with a student today,” says Claire. “Her goal was to be able to identify different polygons. When we got to ‘How am I going to achieve my goal’ she was thinking more about some really good friends she has in this class and making sure she chooses a good spot to sit so she is able to focus. She wasn't thinking so much about the content but about herself as a learner and what she needs – things from her learner profile.”

Claire’s fourth grade team uses information on student learner profiles to design end of module tasks using information on the profile about how students like to show what they’ve learned.

“Not every student wants to take a math test,” says Claire. “Some want to do projects – something hands on. Some like to do a presentation or art. As our team is planning our end of module task, we can take those into consideration and have a few options. I have a lot of artists, so they might choose to a comic strip or stop motion.”

Throughout the year, Claire’s students add work samples they are proud of to their fourth grade portfolio. Soon, they will also update their learner profiles and prepare to hand them off to their 5th grade selves. As they start fifth grade, they’ll be able to show their teachers their profile and the work they've done in 4th grade that makes them proud.

“These tools are really helping us be intentional in personalizing learning,” she says. “We're still getting out some kinks, but it is a cool growth process.”