Three Keys to Personalizing Learning

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How do you reach all of your students?

Personalized Learning continues to be a frequently discussed topic in the world of education. With ever-rising class sizes and teachers racing the clock to get through curriculum each school year, the idea of personalizing a students pathway, while attractive, is often viewed with skepticism.

In my own 6th grade math classroom, I have the opportunity to work with about 150 students a day. How do you focus on getting students what they need, when they need it, if your classroom seems to be a never-ending assembly line of students?

While in school to become an educator, I learned all about these “new” and “progressive” techniques to reach all students. Ideas such as mastery learning, standards-based grading, individualized conferencing, and student reflection/goal setting were echoed up and down the halls of the university. However, when ever they were addressed, these systems seemed to require such specific specifications—one with supportive administration, flexible scheduling, collaborative colleagues, small class sizes, etc. I always wondered, if I didn't intend to end up in the “perfect” school, did this mean these data supported, best practices were not accessible to my students? 

The reality is, there IS a way to reach all of your students and get them the support they need to find their own learning success while mastering content standards. All you need is a framework. 

Let’s explore the top three things you need to master personalized learning : 

Student Ownership

Students who feel ownership in their learning journey are more likely to stay engaged and focus on their personal growth! The two easiest ways to build student ownership is through the incorporation of student choice and targeted teacher-student feedback. 

Student choice can manifest in many forms. In many cases, student choice deals with the learner identifying the medium in which they wish to prove mastery - writing a paper vs creating a presentation. Challenge yourself to use choice in additional ways as well! These may include seating, learning pathway, practice opportunities, or independent / collaborative spaces. 

Educators can easily build student ownership into their classroom through a change in the language used throughout the learning experience. For example, a teacher could ask students “Do you feel prepared to prove your understanding on this target? I have a formative assessment ready for you.” or “You are going to take this formative assessment today.” In both instances, the student is inevitably going to complete the quick formative assessment to evaluate their understanding on an idea. However, teacher 1 allows the student to reflect and make an active choice in being ready for the evaluation. This small language change welcomes discussion from the student if he or she does not feel prepared while also putting the ownership in the students next steps back in their hands. 

Another adjustment an educator could make to encourage student ownership may be to focus on encouraging students to advocate for themselves. In my classroom, students operate in a self-paced classroom. Therefore, students complete formative assessments when they feel they are ready and conference individually or in small groups to evaluate their understanding. After the formative assessment is turned in, students update (what we call) a Tracking Page to advocate for their needs. This is a living document that tracks student success throughout their learning. Colors are used to communicate students next steps and progression toward mastery. 

This ownership shift is not just impactful for a learners development, but is setting a culture for a personalized classroom. 

Student Goal Setting & Reflecting

Personalized Learning allows for students to gain the support they need to master content when they need it. Therefore, personalized learning is dramatically more effective with the use of student daily goal setting and reflection. This 5 min process supports students in taking the time to evaluate their work session while also documenting their success thus far to understand the content. 

Consider having students answer the following questions as they move throughout their learning each day… 

While this purposeful moment of reflection can be completed through a variety of mediums, I would encourage you to use choice throughout this process as well! Using a tech tool like SeeSaw, students may choose a different medium of reflection daily. SeeSaw offers video recording, typing, painting, and more! 

Student Scaffolded Pathway

A specific learning pathway for a student must be more deeply developed then assigning a checklist. Therefore, using best practice techniques like scaffolding information using Webb’s DOK, should be an intentional component of your personalized student pathway planning!

Consider structuring your students personalized approach using scaffolded targets - allowing students to first begin identifying components of the content then work toward using their understanding of the information to create and design new elements from there!

Conclusion

Yes, each one of these elements are essential for a personalized approach. However, like anything else in education, there are a few other nuts and bolts to get your airplane flying without complication. One of my favorite personalized learnings, mastery frameworks I use every day in my classroom is called The Grid Method. This framework is not just content driven - allowing you to take any curriculum and scaffold it using Webb’s DOK - but it also approaches the implementation element as well (I like to call this the triage system). 

My classroom was transformed 4 years ago when I finally took the leap toward a more mastery focused, student driven classroom. Was it a challenge? Sure. But isn’t everything worth doing a challenge at first?

Don’t let fear be the end to your exploration. Solutions exist and you are capable of reaching all of your learners. You just need a framework.