Whether you yourself desire to personalize learning or you have been asked by your admin to do so, the process of doing so can seem extremely overwhelming- maybe even downright terror inducing. Upon hearing the phrase Personalized Learning you may find yourself asking some pretty important questions (after you ask what it is, of course!):
Where do I start?
Do I have to throw out everything I have already built?
How will I know students are learning? What if they are not learning?
How will I assess student learning?
How can I possibly personalize learning for all 150+ students in my secondary classroom?
How can I manage multiple texts and multiple assessment options?
How can I manage students going at their own pace? Doesn’t there need to be a beginning and consequent ending of each unit?
How will students know what to do? How will I know what they are doing?
Won’t students simply choose the easiest options? Will they really challenge themselves? How do I make sure they meet the standards?
Before you run from the school building screaming, know that everyone who takes this journey finds these questions nearly paralyzing as they begin.
As I began the process of adopting this new teaching paradigm into my classroom, I found the answers to these questions- and you will too. You will find methods within this pedagogy that work for you and your personal teaching style. What I can offer you is advice on each of these questions, the best answers that I have found along my five year journey with personalizing learning. Within this series of blog posts we’ll dive into each question, and discuss practical applications for your classroom. Let’s start with the important discovery of what it really means to personalize learning, and chat about why you DO want to give it a try in your classroom.
1. What is it?
I like to think of personalized learning as ‘voice and choice on steroids’.
Within a traditional classroom, teachers are the drivers of learning. They plan the best route to knowledge. They determine all of the stops along the way, and the activities that will take place during the ride. Students, within this model, are passive passengers, often going through the motions- playing the game of ‘school’.
Personalized learning strives to push students into that metaphorical driver’s seat. When they take control of their learning, they take ownership of it. But what does this really mean? Students will finally have a say in how they learn new material, when they learn new material, where they choose to learn the material, and often have a choice in the material they learn based on their personal interests.
Whoa! That feels overwhelming again, doesn’t it? Don’t take off running just yet! Start slow. Try differentiating a lesson for your gifted students, offering an extra option for learning, a second option for assessment, or allowing students to flex their seating (not all on the same day, with the same lesson). Rome was not build in a day, and neither is the perfect personalized classroom.
2. Why you DO want to give this a try.
When you begin to try letting go of that tightly grasped curriculum, and allowing students to take that control for themselves, you will see your students transform before your eyes. I distinctly remember being told the same within a staff meeting, and scoffing at the prospect and the presenter herself. And then I gave it a try. My students thrived- even as I made mistakes through the implementation process. I watched them advocate for their learning needs, collaborate on real projects of interest, meet standards at levels higher than I would have even dared to strive for. They tackled the curriculum, and we moved faster through the standards than my own backwards planning. They moved ME forward, and together we achieved the highest test scores I’ve ever seen from my students in the past.
Learners feel respected when you entrust them with that responsibility, they feel mature, and they feel SUCCESS. It’s contagious. The intrinsic motivation becomes a driving force for learners of all backgrounds and abilities. They learn to use words and phrases such as: “what I need for my learning is_____”, “Let’s get refocused so we can stay on pace with our learning”, and “sitting in a collaborative space doesn’t work for my learning, I need a quiet space”. When you hear these (and more) phrases, you will know success. You will feel it. What you have just done is prepare those students for a life outside of school. You have built them to be successful in life—and that is the greatest gift we can give our students.