Direct Instruction-- Seminar
Now, as I said above, you will still have your opportunity to be the star, center-stage, guiding that direct instruction. Good teaching strategies apply in a personalized learning platform as well. You will simply find that other methods work well to guide and coach students in their learning. I call this a seminar as this is what it truly is. This collegiate term applies as students continue to grow and move into college; what are we doing if we are not preparing them for the possibility of such?
Small Group Instruction—Coaching Workshops
You will find that small group instruction will become a staple in your teaching tool-bag of tricks. I call this a coaching workshop. These sessions can be completely teacher-led, focused on a skill, an activity, a standard, supporting students as they move faster or slower through their learning, etc. These can be student led as students support one-another in learning and growing in a standard.
Most often I find myself working with students on specific skills as they are ready to learn them. As students begin to drive the pace of their learning, you will find that students need to learn different skills, concepts, standards, at different times. This is an excellent place to teach students these concepts as they are ready to learn them.
Consider this situation that we have all experienced as teachers:
You are in the middle of a unit you have beautifully backward planned with amazing lessons, relevant content, rich assessments, etc. You realize that most of your class is ready to move on to the next lesson, but you have a few kids who are a bit behind. They may have forgotten to turn in their work, or they were absent, or didn’t understand the concepts from last week, etc. You decide to forge ahead with the new skill. For most of your class, this is just fine. They are ready for the new content. They quickly move to your beautifully assigned practice and assessment. Yet, we have this nagging feeling about those few. What do we do? How do we help them? Do we keep them after school? Assign extra work? We know they couldn’t understand today’s lesson because they didn’t understand yesterday’s lesson. OR how about the students who need material that is more advanced, more challenging?
This is a real struggle for most teachers, but these small group coaching workshops are a great way to support all of these learners at their level, and at the time they need it.
Individual Support- Conferencing
I know that I found it exceedingly difficult to meet with students on a one-to-one basis when I used the direct instruction approach on a daily basis. Since transferring to the personalized method of instruction, I am finding these opportunities more than ever before. The best part about these individual conferences- the time you make for each student- is the relationships you build with your students. I used to pride myself on the connections I made with my students at the middle/high school level- yes, all 180 of them. I really thought that I made deep and lasting connections with each individual student. Since allowing more time for these one-on-one sessions, I realized just how little I knew my students within the traditional teaching method. I began to know not just the academic abilities of each student, or basic family/friend/relationship facts about each student, I began to become a part of their lives. I was allowed into their world- their hopes, dreams, fears, the hurdles or set-backs in their learning as well as the immense personal achievement as they grew academically.
Discussion- Academic Forum
As an English teacher, I have been working to foster literary discussions my entire career, but I have since realized that discussions are critical to learning across all skills and content areas. I think about how I learn best as an educator. I glean a great deal more when I am a part of a discussion (those lovely PLC groups) than sitting passively in a staff meeting as I am talked at- yes talked at. When I can have conversations over a shared professional development text, new methodology, or even data, I am engaged in growing within that content. I am active in my own learning, and illuminating new pathways to thinking about said content, even the dreaded data discussions!
Independent Learning- Personal Flex
Within personalized learning, students will often have more voice and choice in whether they would like to complete projects alone, or with a partner/small group. That being said, there are many times that students will just need time to work towards completing a standard. Personal flex allows students to delineate time within the classroom to work on academic goals. Students can be working on a variety of standards and projects within the same class period, on the same day, with the same instructor; it can be done! Personal flex expectations must be clearly defined and practiced- even with your eldest high schoolers, wait, especially with your eldest high schoolers!
Group Work- Group Flex
Students will find themselves working in small groups on some of the standards. Of course, you can always determine if a specific standard is open to group work, or should be completed independently. This, of course, depends on the standard and the specific learning goals. I often find that the writing standards within the English curriculum are completed independently, but the reading and speaking standards can often be met within a group setting. It is important to recognize that middle and high school students are social beings. This is readily apparent as we maneuver through the hallways, watch our students text during a lesson, snap chat pictures of their face during independent work times, and- oh yeah- those psychology courses we all took in college. Because this is natural and expected behavior, let’s, as teachers, capitalize on this! Allow this time as they work towards their educational goals, they are building skills they will use the rest of their lives! How many times do we hear that employers are far more interested in team players than solo, inflexible practitioners within any given field! As with the independent flex, group flex expectations must be clearly defined and practice right at the beginning of the year, or immediately as you begin to personalize learning. Additionally, a group flex must have a clearly defined space separate from the independent flex. Students need to have clear distinctions within the room- in this space, I can talk- in that space, I cannot! Usually spaces with grouped desks, couches, horseshoe tables, etc are perfect for group flex space. The furniture helps to define that this is a space for collaborative work. Desk in rows, quite hallways, etc. are far better to define a personal- silent- flex space.
If you were wondering earlier, as I described the small group coaching workshops, what the rest of your class would be doing, don’t worry, this was my main concern as well. The answer lies within the Discussion forum, the Personal Flex, and the Group Flex. As students work towards mastery of a given standard, they will have important work to complete. No more busy work to allow yourself the freedom to meet with specific students, they will drive what they are working on each day. They will determine the best space for their learning, and THEY WILL complete tasks- I promise. It is a bit of a leap of faith at first, but you will soon see great rewards if you just go ahead and jump!
What to learn more about personalized learning? Check out these blog posts: