Over the past few months, we’ve been discussing Baby Steps to Personalized Learning. I genuinely believe that personalized learning is the direction that schools should be headed. Public education hasn’t changed much since its inception during the Industrial Revolution. But times have changed, the economy has changed, and students’ needs have changed.
I’m afraid that many of us visualize personalized learning as isolated students sitting in front of a computer screen, following a pre-packaged curriculum. That’s not the scenario I or many other proponents of personalized learning envision.
There is a dynamic vision of personalized learning that is student driven, creative, and laser-focused on specific learning targets. This vision of personalized learning teaches students to take ownership of their learning and to become life-long learners, as they will surely need to be in our rapidly changing economy. Our students will not hold the same job for 30 years, or if they do, they will not go about their job the same way for 30 years. Technology is advancing too rapidly for that. They will need to know how to learn.
But we teach in public schools. There’s a way things are done–a system. Everybody does the same thing in every classroom, and teachers are the purveyors of knowledge. Students expect it. Parents expect it. Many administrators expect it. Standardized testing almost marries teachers to it.
That’s why in order to foment actual change, I believe that we as teachers must work within the system we already have. Minor changes can lead to major ones. We’ve been talking about taking baby steps. If we take those steps, one at a time, we and our students are better prepared to take a leap at some point. Each baby step we’ve taken is preparing us to go all in and take that leap. Each Baby Step is a component of Personalized Learning.
We began with student choice–adding one component to a unit that allows students to choose how they will learn a specific target.
They choose whether they want to read, view, or research–limited options, but still options. They choose how they want to work with the content they are learning, and then they take a quiz to demonstrate their learning.
This is a baby step, but students are getting used to making more choices regarding their learning and teachers are getting used to giving up a level of control.
Then we brought in a key component of Personalized Learning–re-assessment.
The idea of not moving on until mastery is achieved is not new. Most students take the SAT multiple times. Highest score wins. I took the Driver’s Test three times before I got it right (yup–I’m admitting it). The first two times didn’t matter once I got my licence. Even if students fail a course, they are required to retake it (true–the original F still stands, but if they can demonstrate mastery, should it? That’s a question for another time).
Personalized Learning offers students the opportunity to relearn and re-assess before they move on. By filling out a Unit Reflection Form, students develop a strategy for re-learning and select a method of re-assessment to demonstrate their knowledge of learning targets.
The third step was to look at unit design–students need to know exactly what they are supposed to learn.
In order to do that, each unit needs transparency. Students must understand the standards and learning targets they are aiming for.
We need a consistent and organized structure for delivering transparency. I offered a suggestion in Baby Step 3, but as long as students know what to expect, the specific structures and mediums of delivery don’t matter.
If we are truly personalizing learning, we need a plan for what to do if a student already knows the learning targets for a specific unit.
This is where baby step four comes in. It involves providing students who pretest out of a unit with a project path so that they can discover more and flex their creativity.
Each part of the project should focus on a specific learning target and will replace specific grades. The student should drive the planning of the project and be responsible for its completion.
The fifth step is imperative for encouraging student ownership of and reflection on learning–the student-teacher conference.
These should be conducted regularly. I recommend at the beginning of the year to set goals and then once at the end of every unit. They can be conducted during class while students are working on other things.
I recommend students reflect on these conferences with a journal so that they can track their progress throughout the year and by filling out a Google Form after each conference so that the teacher can track data and growth.
This last step is more of a leap. It’s to find a structure to enable students to learn at their own pace and in their own way for an entire unit.
1. Provide students with the learning targets and key concepts.
These can be digital or in a notebook, depending on your students. Mine are always in a traditional notebook, but when students start on their path, I link to them digitally, as well.
2. Administer a pretest. If they kill it, this is a good opportunity to bring in the project path. Otherwise, they’ll be wasting their time. With the project, they’re still focused on the learning targets, but they’re digging deeper.
3. Give them options as to how they can learn the concepts and learning targets.
I like to keep it simple. Generally–do they like to read, view, or research–but there are many more options. Do they like to listen (podcasts?), move (scavenger hunts?), solve (escape rooms?). This is one thing that separates Personalized Learning from Differentiated Learning.
Though they are similar, Personalized Learning is proactive and Differentiated Learning is reactive. With Personalized Learning, we create templates and gather as many resources as possible. With Differentiated Learning, we scramble to tailor something to a specific student’s need. In this way, Personalized Instruction is easier on the teacher.
4. Provide them with a specific study strategy each time, depending on the path they choose.
A huge issue with our students is that they do not know how to study. If we can provide them with an arsenal of strategies, this will benefit them as life-long learners. Some strategies include:
– Card Sorts
– Flash Card Review
– Summarizing Aloud or in Writing
– Picture Representation
– Student-Created Assessments
– Students Teaching the Information
– Making Connections among Concepts
– Student-Created Mnemonic Devices
There are many tried and true study strategies, but if students experiment with several and find a couple that benefit them currently and in the future, that’s invaluable.
5. Provide students with an engaging creative project to solidify and enrich the concepts they just learned.
Understand here that the students are who will make projects creative, well, by creating it. That’s their job, not ours as teachers. But if they can become engrossed in a project that has clear learning targets, they are learning. Project ideas can include:
– Writing an Essay
– Designing a Website
– Creating a Museum Display
– Writing and Performing a Skit
– Creating an Ad Campaign
– Student Choice with Teacher Approval (my favorite–the more creative they are, the more engaged they will be)
6. Give a post test.
AutoMastery is a free Google Forms add-on that allows you to level scores in three ways–Mastery, Intermediate, and Beginning. Students will be emailed their next assignment on the road to mastery if they don’t achieve it the first time. Here’s a tutorial on how to use it.
7. Add opportunities for remediation and bonus opportunities.
Students should be given the opportunity to achieve mastery if at first they don’t succeed. Some options for remediation include:
– Edpuzzle (a video with attached activities)
– Digital Puzzles (from sources such as Flippity and LearningApps)
– Readings and Self-Correcting Quizzes
– Trying and Documenting a New Study Strategy (recording evidence on a site such as FlipGrid)
Find a delivery method that works for you.
A Few Parting Tips for Personalizing Learning in Your Classroom
If you are personalizing the learning opportunities in your classroom, accumulation of resources is imperative.
– If somebody gives you something that you can’t use now–file it away for later.
– Educate yourself about the resources your county has already purchased. Do you have access to sites with pre-made lessons such as Newsela or Nearpod? You may not use them for your whole class, but you may use them for a single student or as an option.
– If you find a lesson on the web that fits your curriculum but you can’t use now–download it. A student may need it in the future.
– Purchase useful resources on sites such as TeachersPayTeachers with the idea that you won’t necessarily use them for your entire class, but that you may add them to paths as an option.
– Use a bookmarking system, such as the Google Keep Extension, to mark websites and videos that explain concepts well.
– If you have lectures that your regularly deliver yourself, record yourself doing so with a tool such as Screencastify so that you can assign it to students as part of a path. But there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Always check Khan Academy and Ted Ed to see if they already have something similar. Or just search Youtube–there’s a lot out there.
I hope you’ve gotten something out of this series on personalized learning–even if it’s just a resource or an idea to file away for later! Feel free to email me or leave a comment below to let me know what you’d like to explore next–we grow better together. 🙂
And be sure to check out the entire series, Baby Steps to Personalized Learning.