Baby Steps to Personalized Learning: Taking the Leap

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. This post discusses bringing together the Baby Steps to Personalized Learning and taking the leap.

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.

See Step 1.

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.

See Step 2.

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.

See Step 3.

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.

See Step 4.

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.

See Step 5.

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.

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. This post discusses bringing together the Baby Steps to Personalized Learning and taking the leap.There are several ways to design an entire unit like this, but I am a fan of simplifying things. Here’s
what I’m doing:

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
– Categorizing
– Discussion
– 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.

If you find a template that you can simply plug different options into for purely personalized units, keep using it. Here are some options:
 
1. LMS (Learning Management System) 
Some school systems subscribe to platforms such as Canvas and Schoology. There are options within these platforms for personalization through adaptive release and student choice.
 
2. Symbaloo 
Symbaloo is free. Use it to color-code different learning methods. Students can take different colored paths to achieve their learning goals. For example, students who want to learn the material verbally could select green squares, while students who want to learn it visually could select purple squares. You can hyperlink and color-code the squares. Demonstration in Tip 9.
 
3. Symbaloo Paths
Create a learning path for each type of learning, link to them on an LMS platform for your students, and allow them to decide which path to take. Here’s a tutorial on how to create them.
 
4. Google Slides
I made a template in Google Slides that treats different learning paths like a game. Students select a path based on color and follow that path through to the test. It involves learning, studying, and creating to prepare for assessment.
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. This post discusses bringing together the Baby Steps to Personalized Learning and taking the leap.
 
I created a folder of template docs for adding content to and hyperlinking to the color spaces on the paths. I’m sending this to my email list on Tuesday evening. You can sign up now and get it then.

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.

 
 

 

Do you struggle to implement personalized learning in your standardized classroom? I know I do. That's why I've started a new series on my blog, "Baby Steps to Personalized Learning." In this first post, I discuss ways to personalize using finite student choice.
This is the second part of my series, Baby Steps to Personalized Learning. I'm using this series to discuss small ways to bring personalized learning into our standardized classrooms. This week is all about assessment.
Technology has made information readily available and has also transformed our economy. Knowing how to learn has replaced what to learn as the priority. Part of guiding students through this process is making our learning targets completely transparent. Click through to see how I do it.
A best practice of personalized learning is pretesting. With pretesting, we can track progress and build on prior knowledge. When I pretest, one thing I generally learn is that most of my students need to learn the content I'm supposed to teach. But what about the students who don't? What if they already know the basic content of the unit? Click through to see what I do for them.
The student-teacher conference is vital to any personalized learning environment. The main benefit of personalized learning is student ownership. Click through to see one way to implement them!
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. This post discusses bringing together the Baby Steps to Personalized Learning and taking the leap.

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