Addressing the Misconceptions-What Personalized Learning IS, and What it IS NOT – #2

There are many misconceptions when it comes to a truly personalized learning platform of instruction.

Misconception # 1
Direct instruction is no longer acceptable.

You will still teach to your entire class just as you are now! Will this become less so as you begin to offer voice and choice? Yes. You will find yourself working in small group sessions far more often as students begin to drive their own pace, and content. At first, this was entirely terrifying for me. I love direct instruction: I get excited about my content, I put on a show, I act, I sing, I dance, I create dramatic pauses, and, best of all, I use humor to engage students like a stand-up comedian. The thought of teaching in different styles was enough to send me into a full blown panic attack. Begrudgingly, I stepped away from the spotlight, and left my center stage in an attempt to personalize learning. I worried, of course, that without this classroom’s leading lady- how would students find their way? Who would direct, and drive the show? It really didn’t take long for me to see that the light didn’t go out, it just began to shine on the students instead of me.
What does this extended metaphor really saying? When you stop putting on that show every day, you will find two things happen:

1. You go home FAR less exhausted every day.
2. Your students go home FAR MORE exhausted every day.

When we cajole, act, dance, sing, pray that we get their attention every hour of every day, we are working far harder at their education than they do! They get to be passive learners in their education, taking in the information when they so desire or are able. When they are put in charge- when they drive their own education- when that responsibility is in their hands, they will work harder than ever before. They will be ACTIVE in their education and their learning- and that is an exceedingly beautiful thing.

Misconception # 2
Students are given a list of standards to meet and told to ‘go’.

While students are given standards to meet, they are absolutely supported throughout the process of mastery of each and every standard. The ‘list of standards’ is the greatest component to personalized learning. When students see the standards they are working towards, they understand the age old question- WHY ARE WE LEARNING THIS? They no longer wonder- they know!

“To meet the standard of crafting an argument essay, I must first meet the following learning targets… When I can do all of these smaller pieces, I can show my teacher that I have mastered the standard of writing an argument essay.”

Before personalized learning we might display the daily learning targets, but without the bigger picture, what did students really take away from these silly statements written on the board? They were generally left out of the planning process, and certainly left in the dark about the specific wording and phrasing of the standards that actually drive our instruction each and every day. By clueing them in, we create an immense amount of learner buy-in.
This does not mean that we give students a list of every standard for the entire semester or year. It’s never a good idea to overwhelm students, but you can list the standards associated with a given unit! I usually ask students to reflect on their knowledge of and ability to master the standards before the unit, mid-unit, and post-unit. Below is an image of how I lay out the standards for our “Cemetery Path” Short Story Unit (for sale on my TpT Store).

Students are given a list of the power standards (our district’s terminology for the common core standards), the learning target, the available seminars and coaching workshops, the learning journey suggestions (ways to practice, supportive websites, graphic organizers, etc) and ways to show mastery of each standard. Students are able to create a unit plan for their learning by following the standards they need to meet!

Misconception #3
Teachers don’t really do a great deal of teaching; the students simply go and learn for themselves.

While I will agree that I did a lot less direct instruction teaching, I feel far more active in my teaching than I did prior to the personalized learning platform. I spend a good deal of my time in coaching workshops, or individual conferencing. These settings allow me the opportunity to create meaningful learning experiences, connect with students, engage them in their learning, etc. I look forward to these sessions, and rarely miss the direct teaching I was so accustomed to. I didn’t realize how completely exhausting direct teaching can be until I stopped making this my go-to method of teaching!
I strongly believe that I do far more ‘teaching’ than ever before. There is never a time that I simply sit at my desk, nor do I just walk around and monitor students as they work.

Misconception #4
I have to make a personal learning plan for every single student, every single day.

This is usually the misconception that has teachers trembling in their boots (or in their seats at professional development meetings!) If this is your biggest concern, I have great news for you-YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS! Your students will do this for themselves! I know that sounds too good to be true, but true it is! As your students become more familiar with driving their own learning, they will create their own path towards meeting the standards. You will still offer the same instruction as you would have with the traditional methodology; you may deliver this content differently, but good instruction does not go away in personalized learning. You will still offer a path for learning, guiding, practicing, and applying content- just as would have previously. You will still offer some suggestions/guidelines towards a summative assessment. The only real difference is that these paths are optional. Students can choose to attend all of the coaching workshops, or they can choose to learn it on their own. They can choose to complete all of the practice you offer, or they may create their own path for practice. They can choose the assessment options you have provided, or they can (and will) create unique summative assessment ideas on their own. I have found that the summative assessment options that students create are often far more challenging than anything I would have expected! They often far surpass my expectations. I will say that most students, (until your classes are fairly experienced with the new learning platform) will still simply follow your plan. This allows them to feel success with planning the pacing, and experience the freedom personalized learning will bring- all within a fairly structured environment. Then, as students become more familiar with the process, they will begin to derive their own learning methods, create their own learning materials, and assessments. You don’t have to create a plan for every student, they will create a plan that actually meets their very specific learning needs. I promise!
Below are three products for sale on my store that include a personalized learning teaching plan, introduction to personalized learning lessons, student agendas, and teaching instructions! These are a good place to start as you begin this exciting process!