Lose Cookie-Cutter Learning, Keep Deadlines: How to Use Personalized Learning While Maintaining Deadline Integrity

Teaching during the pandemic taught us a lot. I've been reflecting on that and this series, Reclaiming Education: What to Lose and What to Keep after the Pandemic is the result of those reflections. In this post, I discuss a way to lose Cookie-Cutter Learning in favor of a workable style of Personalized Learning and the importance of keeping deadlines. Don't forget to download the templates from my free resource library to help you implement this approach!

Teaching during the pandemic was no doubt challenging. Over the next few weeks, I’m reflecting on what we learned from that time. In the process, I’m analyzing what we should keep and what we should lose as educators. This week, I’m focusing on one thing that we’ve been doing in education since the one-room schoolhouse faded into history–cookie cutter learning–and one thing that came out of the pandemic–diminishing deadlines.

Lose Cookie-Cutter Learning

We all know what cookie-cutter learning is, right? It’s when everyone’s learning the same thing at the same time in the same way. We’ve done this for a long time. And, let’s face it, we’ve done it out of necessity. Secondary teachers have upwards of 150 students each year. We have a prescribed curriculum. Asking a teacher to tailor each lesson to each student is an unrealistic expectation. There simply isn’t time.

In my last post, Lose the Breadth, Keep the Depth, I pointed out that students have stopped playing the game of education. They no longer buy into it. One way to get them to buy in again is by offering them choices. The best way I’ve found to provide choice is by employing a personalized learning model.

The problem with a personalized learning model is the burden that customizing each lesson for each student puts on teachers. I’ve devised a menu-style model of personalized learning that’s much more practical and offers the same benefits of agency and choice to students. I wrote a blog series about it that goes into much greater detail, Baby Steps to Personalized Learning, but I’ll give you the gist of it here.

The Menu-Style Model of personalized learning helps teachers to structure their lessons around limited choices (like a restaurant menu) and student reflection. The process is embedded into templates. Students take a pretest, which determines if they’ll learn the lesson or take a project path. Students who take the project path do the project in steps, each step replacing a lesson grade. Students who take the lesson path do not do the project.

These templates are editable and available in my Free Resource Library. Get access by signing up for my email list.

On the lesson path, students decide how they’ll learn the material–reading, video, or research. They go on to complete practice lessons, an application activity, and a summative assessment. Relearning for mastery is embedded into the process.

These templates are semi-editable and available in my Free Resource Library. Get access by signing up for my email list.

Since the templates are ready to go, once the teacher adds the content, they can be used repeatedly. You can download the templates from my Free Resource Library (sign up for my email list for access). Try it for one lesson and see if your students are more engaged.

Keep Deadlines

One unfortunate effect of the pandemic was the diminishment of deadlines. Students were allowed to turn assignments in whenever they could out of necessity in many cases. Students have continued to view deadlines as suggestions as we’re returning to the status quo.

I understand the importance of grades, not behavior, as a gauge for learning, and I agree with the argument that late work shouldn’t impact grades. But there’s one problem with that ideal.
It’s not workable.

It’s not workable because it’s too much of a burden on secondary teachers and students. Teachers are never caught up, grades are never accurate, and students are always behind. This leads to teacher and student overwhelm which leads to burnout. Burnout leads to teacher and student attrition.

This doesn’t mean that we lose our humanity. There are always circumstances that warrant extensions, but that shouldn’t be every circumstance.

The conundrum is maintaining the integrity of the deadline in tandem with the integrity of the grade. Zeros have a disproportionate impact on grades. Making a zero a 50 diminishes grade integrity. Not honoring deadlines diminishes deadline integrity.

That’s where the bonus quiz comes in. I’ve written about it here before. Each Tuesday I offer a bonus quiz. It’s five questions about the content/skills we learned the previous week. To do well on it, students need to study the material (and hopefully complete the assignment they didn’t, anyway). They receive one point for each correct answer. I put the bonus points in the summative assessment category (the category that’s worth the most). This works to mitigate zeros, maintaining grade and deadline integrity.

The Point

Student choice provides students with ownership of their learning. Ownership increases engagement. Limiting choice makes the process workable. We need to lose the cookie-cutter approach to learning.

Deadlines are important for teachers and students. They prevent procrastination, which leads to overwhelm. If we make a practice of accepting work late, grade book integrity may be maintained but deadline integrity is not. The weekly bonus quiz isn’t a perfect fix, but it’s a workable mitigator. We need to keep the deadlines.

Come back in a couple of weeks to see what else we need to lose and keep in education. And let me know your thoughts on the matter.


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