Individual Assessment is Key Component Encouraging Students Through Personalized Learning

Physical education teachers use IHT ZONE heart rate monitors to assess students without subjective comparisons to classmates.

In his article “From Zero Sum to Positive Sum” published in the summer edition of Education Next, Michael B. Horn recommends that educators move away from a “Zero Sum” model where students learn that final results matter more than the effort involved in learning and mastering skills or concepts.

personalized assessment“This zero-sum mindset—that for every winner there must be a loser—means that, by age 18, before people have lived most of their lives, we have labeled the vast majority of students,” Horn writes. “Although this might be easier administratively than the alternative, it is devastating.”

Horn sees Todd Rose’s work “The End of Average” as an important solution for schools. Rose advocates for an educational system that encourages students to be unique.

“The last thing you want to do is be competing with some other people on the exact same thing,” he said. “It limits you. It limits your value.” 

Personalized Assessment with Heart Rate Monitors

Teachers, and PE teachers in particular, have put Rose’s model into practice with great success using tools – IHT ZONE heart rate monitors – in a curriculum designed to provide personalized assessment for assess each student. Experienced PE teacher Scott Smith’s San Bernardino City Unified School District PE program struggled just a few years ago. A complete program overhaul that included giving students heart rate monitors revitalized the program by allowing students to work on becoming their best selves.

“Our lessons started reflecting the future and we became a 21st century program,” Smith said. “We have innovative lessons promoting MVPA. We use the technology to assess students honestly, fairly, individually. That’s what has supercharged it for us.“

heart rate reportSmith’s students went from doing the bare minimum required to pass the class to working to exceed daily goals for MVPA. Students keep track of their progress through real-time feedback from the IHT ZONE heart rate monitors they wear and post-session feedback from an automatic email that shows them:

  • How much total time they spent exercising during class
  • How many minutes they spent in moderate (yellow) or vigorous (red) heart rate zones
  • A graph of their heart rate throughout their class session

With their personalized assessment of students, Smith calls the heart rate monitors the key piece to his program improvement plan. Students saw immediately that they didn’t have to be the fastest in class or the strongest or most flexible to be successful. Data from the IHT ZONE showed both student and teacher exactly what was happening.

“They finally felt that we were thinking about them as individuals,” he said. “We were not grading them against somebody else. It allowed them to push themselves and set their own goals. It also allowed them to have conversations about health and fitness because they felt better about themselves. Their self-esteem improved – if you say 100% is the best you can go, then it presented at 100%.”

Smith’s students moved into what Rose describes as a positive-sum educational system, where the success of some students no longer comes at the expense of others. 

“We can look at students’ progress against their goals…to see which areas are truly their strengths and aptitudes,” Horn writes. “This offers a better way for educators to help all students…fulfill their potential.”

Creating Opportunities for All Students to Find Success

Focused particularly on PE, Horn recommends programs do what Smith and others have already done: move from teaching organized sports and games to “ensuring that each student is moving daily and improving their fitness. Far too often, PE class makes some individuals feel like failures.”

When he began using the IHT ZONE monitors with his Portage Central Middle School students, John Dunlop saw students who previously struggled with PE find unexpected – and motivating – success. Dunlop’s class included a student who “hates PE, doesn’t really like school and he struggles a little academically.”

When Dunlop introduced the heart rate monitor, the student saw he wouldn’t be compared to more athletic students in his class. He quickly became a full participant in the class and surprised himself by meeting his goal for MVPA minutes.

“When we started using the heart rate monitors, I saw a complete change in his attitude,” Dunlop recalled. “He said, ‘hey, I did pretty good today.’ I don’t know if that kid has ever experienced success in PE until now.”

Other IHT ZONE proponents have similar stories. When students understand they aren’t being compared to their classmates, they are more willing to give their best efforts – and get their best results. 

Baldwin Creek Elementary School teacher Misty Atnip transformed her PE class by including Tabata-style workouts along with the IHT ZONE monitors. Prior to the changes, she noticed a student who stayed in the background and went through the motions.

“There’s one kid who’s quite a bit overweight and he watches his monitor probably more than anyone else,” Atnip said. “He can’t wait to check his and see if he hit the goal. He almost always does and now he leaves the gym feeling good about himself.”

Let Students Discover the Activities that Bring the Best Results

Other teachers give students their choice of activities with the expectation that whatever they choose, they’ll still work toward their daily goal of MVPA. Hudson High School PE teacher Sean Leonard saw students find great success when he let them choose their activity for the day.

“They know the activities they really like to do,” he said, “and they know that we’re still going to get the fitness benefits out of them. I’m beginning to wonder: does it matter what (activities) we do as long as they’re in the zone for as long as we want them to be? If they know how to get (in the zone) and stay there?”

Horn’s article referenced Hartford High School PE teacher Peter Driscoll, who recently changed his curriculum to focus on fitness rather than team games. Adapting the CrossFit-style Tabatas he enjoys, Driscoll created a PE environment that lets students find success by focusing on themselves.

“So when I switched to kind of a fitness-based approach and got away from team games and the competitive side of team sports, the program has blossomed, and the kids would go home and rave about what they did in class,” Driscoll said. 

By creating programs that students enjoy and fully participate in, the teachers are also helping students get themselves prepared for academic success. Numerous studies detail the relationship between physical activity and academic readiness.

“Physical activity can have both immediate and long-term benefits on academic performance,” a report published by Active Living Research found in 2015. “Almost immediately after engaging in physical activity, children are better able to concentrate on classroom tasks, which can enhance learning.”

These teachers’ work to create a positive environment, Horn writes, represents a significant step toward creating a positive-sum culture in schools.

Make the IHT ZONE heart rate monitor part of your School's Student Wellness Program

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