When our district started talking about personalized learning a few years ago, I wondered if this new teaching trend was going to be something that I would learn and appreciate, or learn and hate. The basic idea behind personalized learning is that students have a larger stake in HOW they learn. Students do not have a choice in what they learn, but they CAN have more choices on how they learn it, who they learn it with, and what tools they use to show mastery. This shift in teaching requires a concentrated effort from the teacher to relinquish at least a portion of control in light of student autonomy. I think of it this way. In order for my students to know if they can ride without training wheels, they have to at least get a small push from me…give their best effort to pedal and balance without falling…while I run alongside their wobbly bike and make sure they are okay. After working to implement personalized learning with my first graders last year, I am very eager to implement it with my third graders this upcoming year!
Needless to say, when I first heard about this, it seemed like the kids were ‘learning on their own’…and idea which I HATED, and that it was a TON of work. It was very overwhelming to me. In order to minimize my anxiety, I did a few things that now after reflecting on things were VERY helpful in the long term.
1.Look for areas where you are already giving students autonomy.
Do you enjoy differentiation? Are you great in small group? Do you allow students to have flexible seating? In what ways do you give your students autonomy with how they utilize technology? Do you have a class president? What ways do your students lead in the classroom: Morning Meetings, Math Talks, Peer tutoring/editing? Do you deconstruct standards in the classroom with your students? There are so many other ways that could fall under the umbrella of personalized learning, but in all these ways, students are given choices and they participate in their own learning through leading and self reflecting.
Don’t try to do it all. Enhance elements that you’re giving autonomy in already. One of my strengths is standards based instruction and teaching with rubrics. This was the framework that I used to begin my journey into personalized learning. I started by deconstructing the standards with my students. Then we created I CAN statements based on what we understood from the words of the standard itself. If you want a closer breakdown of what I did with my learners, click on the picture to learn more about that!
3. Come up with some standard operating procedures (SOP’s) that both you and the students can agree to!
Getting a good solid management structure going BEFORE you engage in any type of autonomous teaching experiment is paramount. Kids can’t learn through independent exploration if there is not a STRONG structure in place. That’s not to say that they must be silent or all in lock step. In my room, it looks like accountable, on task discussion and activity. Any student could be stopped at any time and asked how what they are doing relates to the overarching goal of the unit and they should know! I did a post on how I set up my SOP for interruptions during small group time. We also had some rules that we decided on as a class. Just some basic statements that we memorized. I had a student lead the class in those affirmations before we started small group so that they would remember what they’d committed to.
4. Direct instruction is not the enemy. Do NOT stop whole group time!
Students still want and need structure and guidelines! They WANT you to tell them what their parameters are. Whenever you’re engaging in allowing the students time to learn on their own, you MUST start out with some whole group time to get them all on the same page with the goal of that interaction for the day! The biggest critique of personalized learning from both students and parents is that there is not enough support. Teachers are giving assignments and just saying: Do the work. That is NOT personalized learning. Learning can not happen without structure and support from a dedicated teacher.
5. Come up with a lesson structure that works for you.
Remember that part of personalized learning is going to involve student choice. You start with small choices as you’re adapting, and then move to bigger choices as you get more comfortable. I usually start with a mini lesson where I go over the rubric for the objective and I teach a very short lesson. Then I ask the students to evaluate what they think they understand in relation to the rubric. That is sometimes done by a mini-assessment with four questions. It’s important to have the students reflect first…and then confirm with their score. The scores determine my groups. I take the lowest performing students in my first group, while I allow the rest of the students to go to student choice centers. The choice centers involve MUST DO work, and CAN DO work. Although I don’t tell them the order that they do their work in, must do’s go before can do’s. After about 15 minutes, I call for another group of students to come to the table to work with me. Then after another 15 minutes I take the highest group to see if they truly are at a high level on that skill. On subsequent days, I encourage the Level 4’s-the above level students, to find students to assist that are NOT Level 4’s. They do this during either the must do, or can do work time. I follow up with my students of greatest need daily…the others I follow up with more sporadically. The chart below shows how I do this as well!
I truly hope that some of these tips helped to minimize your anxiety about starting out with personalized learning! I am looking forward to diving into this more throughout the year. I will try to share what I’m doing with you all as well!
Thanks for reading!