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Flipping Formatives and Structures in your New Personalized Learning Classroom
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Flipping Formatives and Structures in your New Personalized Learning Classroom

Personalized Learning

As we count down to this year's Education Elements Summit, we asked presenters from last year's Summit to share more of their innovative thinking with us. Kelsey Brown, a teacher in Loudoun County Public Schools, led one of the most popular Personalized Learning Simulations last year, and shares with us her thoughts on classroom structures!


After reflecting, our school realized that sometimes teachers are simply placing personalized learning models on top of traditional methods, and therefore, is anything really different? As I thought about this, I realized my classroom is using a model for personalized learning (PL), but that model only works for me, and PL isn’t one size fits all – for students or for teachers. If I was going to help teachers, I had to give them more; I had to understand how.

Most of what we know about teaching is based on traditional models, which are what we grew up experiencing, what we learned in college, and for most of us, how our careers began. Personalized learning has revolutionized traditional teaching for a new, well, personalized version. But how do we revolutionize our classrooms, too? With my supervisor’s feedback in mind, I set out to do just that. We needed to dig deeper and discover the ‘how.’ How do we create classroom structures using these new techniques? How do we redesign lessons around PL? 

Creating Structure 

I began with learning walks and answered the question of how others implement different models. As I was walking through teachers’ rooms, I began to realize what strong, but different classroom management methods each had. I began to equate classroom management strategies for PL development. If I walked into the room of a colleague struggling with management, I (as well as many teachers) could give a plethora of suggestions, allowing them to choose what works for them. But if I walked into a teacher’s room who was struggling with PL, what did I have to offer? I could suggest they do a playlist, but how do they implement that model? 

After consolidating my notes from the learning walks, I found numerous ‘hows’ for teachers.  I grabbed my notes and a colleague, and we sifted through to create the Hyperdoc of How, a key resource that includes a variety of examples for establishing routines and procedures. This was a key part in the development of my PL Simulation. Through my observations, I realized not everything needed to be a huge change – for example, as with student accountability. If I was with a small group and saw kids off task, I could follow up with them later, redirect them with a signal or (gasp!) go check-in with them right then. I always felt glued to my seat in small groups, but I didn’t have to be.  My observations gave me a range of suggestions for teachers. Instead of telling them what I do, they could now have options to decide what works best for them. 

I had suggestions for managing PL all gathered in my Hyperdoc of How, so I was on to the next question: how do I create a lesson? Instead of having one activity for students, I now needed students to take ownership of varied flexible content (activities) based on data in order to target instruction. I knew I used a framework in my classroom, but I needed to make it applicable on a larger scale. 

Planning the Lesson

I began to look at the flipped classroom model that I used. When I sat down to plan, what was the first step I took? After I decided on the standards, I anticipated student groups based on current data and my prior experiences – ensuring each flipped classroom directly related to the formative and standard so students could easily take ownership of their strengths and struggles. I knew I wanted students to take the formative first to assess their present level so I would have data to drive my instruction. But how did I create four different lessons around the same standard with multiple activities for my instruction? That is about 16 different activities, for ONE day. I started by looking at the resources I already had and then I turned to my trusty sidekick – Google. If teaching has taught me anything, it’s to never reinvent the wheel. There are hundreds of resources out there, and I just had to find the ones that worked for my students. I also didn’t need four completely different resources for each group – I could reuse some! The starting activity for my students who had mastered a concept could easily become the challenge activity for struggling students, making the most of the resources. 

When planning a lesson, technology integration for your flexible content is important. While technology is not a requirement to have a flipped classroom with a formative, it’s definitely helpful! Is it doable without having one-to-one student devices? Absolutely. As a part of my simulation, I demonstrated the same lesson with varied uses of technology depending on what is available to teachers. Personalizing student learning is possible with and without technology. 

As we determine our activities and technology, it is key to keep the students in mind during the planning process. Consider where you will be during each aspect of the lesson. Which students will need your help right away? Which students can start independently? The answers to these questions will lead you to the final (and my favorite) part – lesson design. 

In the simulation, participants received a variety of templates to house their lesson, as well as examples from various content areas. One size does not fit all. Choose a model that is clear for you and your students. They will get lost following the directions. When this happens, frustration comes easily – you spent hours creating activities for each group, how could they be misunderstood? Upon discovering a student has chosen an incorrect activity, allow the student and you to reflect, by asking, “Can you show me how you got there?” 

It was a privilege to represent Loudoun County and share my experiences with other educators at the Summit. Thank you to Education Elements for facilitating growth and sharing among educators. Feel free to reach out via email kelsey.brown@lcps.org or twitter @Miss_Brown323 with any questions! Happy Flipping! 

If you're looking more more learning around innovation in your district, school, and classroom, the Education Elements Summit 2020 is taking place in May this year, with sessions around team habits, innovative leadership, teacher retention, strategic planning, personalized learning, and more. Join us from May 13-15 – and get the early bird rate if you register before March 16!

Join us at the Education Elements Summit 2020

Header image courtesy of Kelsey Brown.

About Kelsey Brown - Guest Author

Kelsey first learned of PL three years ago when she began work at at J. Michael Lunsford Middle School in Loudoun County, where she teaches 6th Grade English; her passion for PL has since exploded. Kelsey loves learning and exploring new techniques for deepening student understanding and engagement. PL allows students to be contributors to learning, rather than just subscribers to it.

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