This is the third 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. The first week, we discussed An Easy Way to Personalize Learning with Student Choice. Then we discussed Assessment and Personalized Learning in a Standardized Classroom. This week is about creating transparent goals.
Technology has made information readily available and has also transformed our economy. Knowing how to learn has replaced what to learn (this will constantly change for our students in the marketplace) as the priority.
The most beneficial way to bring personalized learning to our standardized classrooms is by completely removing the mystery from our content. If our students are unclear about what they are supposed to learn and what they are supposed to do with it, then they cannot set goals and take ownership of their learning. They cannot reflect on methods that work and don’t work for them. A hallmark of personalized learning is transparency–learning targets should be clear and students should use them to set clear goals.
I began using a Unit Organizer to plan my units and help students (and myself) stay focused and know what to expect a long time ago. They have evolved over the years and will probably continue to do so, but they have always included the same basic components:
1. Standards Addressed
2. Essential Questions/ Learning Targets/ Topics Covered
3. Unit Vocabulary/ Terms to Know
Here’s the evolution:
1. I began as an English teacher but no longer have any of my ELA Unit Organizers (sad day–I went looking for them, but during all the computer changes over the years, I apparently didn’t think they were worth saving, so I’m using world history for this one. They were designed the same way).
There’s nothing wrong with this organizer, and I like using the essential questions as formative assessment at the end of each lesson, but I wanted to incorporate some type of student interaction with the standards. So a colleague and I came up with this:
I think this is better because students are summarizing the standards, but they summarized and then did nothing else with them. So I’m moving to this:
With this format, students summarize the standards and then use them to create learning targets. They use the verbs in the standards to understand the action they need to take with each standard. Do they need to explore, explain, evaluate, or describe? For example, if they have to compare and contrast, we talk about what that means and formulate learning targets around that. Students are basically unpacking the standards.
This is the rubric they use to rate their progress on each Learning Target:
Finally, students should know where to locate all information for a unit, the purpose behind each assignment (learning targets addressed), and to check off assignments completed or to reflect on why they did not complete a particular assignment.
A note on completing assignments: Sometimes students don’t do something because they already know it. If they can prove that through assessment, I don’t see a reason to penalize their grade for lack of activity (I have to admit, I clenched my teeth when I typed that). In a personalized learning environment, we are grading for knowledge, not activity. But if students haven’t fully bought in (and, realistically, not everyone will), this can create a classroom management nightmare. Students think they understand a concept and elect not to do the work. There are other ways to hold them accountable.
1. If your school doesn’t have a work ethic grade, then gamification is a good option. My students earn XP (experience points) and move up levels for some of the work ethic behaviors that I shouldn’t apply to their grades.
2. Alternate demonstrations of knowledge, such as a bonus quiz. My colleague and I offer them weekly. We each have 140 plus students and at the end of the day, not having strict deadlines is unfair to us. Chasing down late work and grading it takes time that we don’t have. Boundaries are vital. So we offer a weekly bonus quiz. Students can prove that they know the previous week’s content and earn back points. Read about it here.
3. Having students tie each assignment to a learning target and requiring students to check off completion and to reflect on why they didn’t do something is a powerful tool. When students reflect on a unit, if they perform poorly on a particular learning target, going back and seeing that they did not complete assignments attached to that target takes the mystery out of assessment and studying for them.
The goal of personalized learning is ultimately to make students responsible for their own learning. In order to do this, transparency is vital. I do this by carefully shaping how I structure each unit and making students a part of the process.
How do you increase transparency in your classroom? Leave a comment and let me know. And be sure to come back next week for more Baby Steps to Personalized Learning.
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And be sure to check out the entire series, Baby Steps to Personalized Learning.