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Mythbusters: Breaking Down 10 Common Misconceptions of Personalized Learning

Mythbusters: Breaking Down 10 Common Misconceptions of Personalized Learning

Personalized Learning  |  Teachers

Since 2003, Discovery’s show Mythbusters has been a smash hit. Though Adam & Jamie stopped hosting in 2016, the reruns and spin-offs continue. Why? Because rumors, myths, and curiosity are a part of what it means to be human. Finding answers to questions we’ve wondered about helps us process and move on with new knowledge. Sometimes the myths they would bust were fun and quirky – like, is there truth behind the 5-second rule for food? Or can you really shoot a scuba tank and it’ll explode? Spoiler alert – NO to both.

But sometimes there are myths that aren’t fun and quirky, and don’t end up on TV. Some myths have depth and need to be addressed in order for progress to be made. This is true for advancing the work of personalized learning.

Our partner, School District 197 in Minnesota, has been rolling out personalized learning (PL) in waves over the last four years. Over the years we have learned that PL myths seem to be a barrier. That’s why this year we went myth-busting. At our first all-day training, we decided to get out ahead of common concerns by addressing the top myths we’ve heard over the years. We did this by placing myths around the room, then asked staff to discuss and draw on their knowledge of best practices to bust myths. If we had identified something as a myth, we were setting it up for teachers to debunk the myth. We then asked various staff members to share which myths they were happy to bust. Below are some of the myths we came across during our workshop with teachers. 

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1. Myth: There is only one right way to do Personalized Learning (PL)

  • Busted: PL is a philosophy and there is no one right way.

  • How to Overcome the Myth: Provide look fors and/or components for teachers that will help them see there are multiple places to start personalizing the learning for students, such as with goal setting. 

2. Myth: You have to build a unique playlist or pathway for every child

3. Myth: Every child is working on a computer and there is no direct instruction

  • Busted: Technology is a tool and should be used to enhance instruction, not be the only instruction a student receives. Ideally, digital tools should also give teachers more time to work with students.

  • How to Overcome the Myth: It is important to introduce teachers to different learning models such as station rotation, workshop, and flipped classroom.

4. Myth: PL means all students are doing different things

  • Busted: All students are working on what they need based on their data from standard aligned assessments. PL can provide individualized content through digital programs, but it can also increase choice within a common project or task. Hyper individualization of content is a job for digital programs, not teachers. 

  • How to Overcome the Myth: Show teachers how to use pre-assessment and/or real-time data to make groups based on students’ needs. If a student has mastered adding fractions, they should move on to subtracting fractions.

5. Myth: For PL to truly take place students should be quietly working

  • Busted: Often times classrooms look more like organized chaos. With some students working in groups, others might be working independently and some might be getting a small group mini-lesson.

  • How to Overcome the Myth: Sharing with teachers that collaboration is not quiet, students should be questioning, and that talking is part of the learning process. Sometimes we forget to make implicit things explicit with our teachers.

We love Adam and Jamie around here! Check out our blog post, On This Episode of Mythbusters: Personalized Does Not Mean Digital.


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6. Myth: PL means students choose whatever they want to learn

  • Busted: Students should be working on standards based on their needs, allowing them to have a choice in task, product, and how they demonstrate mastery of their learning, as this motivates learners. 

  • How to Overcome the Myth: Research shows having choice motivates people (children and adults). However, this does not mean that the student needs to have ten choices – simply giving students choice A or B is a choice. 

7. Myth: PL means there’s no more whole group direct instruction

  • Busted: We definitely believe that student-centered learning (PL) is a move away from teacher-directed learning, like sage on a stage. But a move away doesn’t mean a total rejection. Whole group instruction is still an important part of teaching. It just shouldn’t be all that a teacher does.

  • How to Overcome the Myth:  Students should always have some direct instruction every day but it doesn’t always have to be the whole group. It can be small group direct instruction or it could be virtual direct instruction. Many researchers have proven why whole group instruction doesn’t work. Want to learn more? Watch this Ted Talk: the Myth of Average by Todd Rose.  

8. Myth: I have to do PL in all subject areas or blocks

  • Busted: Everyone has a different journey for moving their classroom to a PL philosophy. The most successful teachers start small with one subject or one block and try out what works for them. 

  • How to Help Overcome the Myth:  Allowing educators to choose which subject area and/or which block to start PL off is helpful. It models offering choice and for them to take ownership.

9. Myth: PL means I have to change everything I’m doing

  • Busted: Oftentimes when we walk into classrooms, educators are already engaging in components of PL.

  • How to Overcome the Myth: Allow educators to come in and visit your classroom and share with you all the ways you are on the continuum to a more student-centered classroom. Take one area that is more teacher-centered and try allowing students to take more ownership. For example, if you as the teacher are creating goals, allow the students to start creating their own goals. 

 10. Myth: PL is more work and is overwhelming.

  • Busted: PL is not necessarily more work, but about working differently. It can be overwhelming if you let it.

  • How to Overcome the Myth: Planning time should change so that it reflects what we need to be doing – such as focusing on what the students are doing versus going over lessons or pacing guide. In order for PL to not be overwhelming, we suggest taking small steps in changing your teaching practice, as it will not be changed overnight.

Just like the Mythbuster show taught us four things: 

  1. Everyone can be a scientist 
  2. It is okay to fail you can 
  3. It can be fun  
  4. You get results 

PL Mythbuster teaches us similar lessons:

  1. All grade levels and subjects can implement PL 
  2. It is okay to fail, learn from the mistake, and try again
  3. It brings the fun back to teaching
  4. You gain student ownership and results. 

Want to bust more myths about Personalized Learning? Join us at the Education Elements Summit 2020 this May, where there will be PL simulations that can help you learn more about PL for every school at any stage, and debunk other myths.

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About Jill Thompson and School District 197

Jill Thompson is an Associate Partner on the Design and Implementation Team where she works closely with schools and district leaders to help them make the shift towards more personalized learning. Prior to working with Education Elements, she was the Director of Personalized Digital Learning at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). She was responsible for leading the CMS transformation in a highly complex, large urban environment. She developed a personalized data driven model to provide professional learning, and created micro-credentialing learning paths. Jill is a former classroom teacher, who has won multiple awards for being an outstanding educator. She is an authorized Google Education Trainer and Apple Teacher. She grew up in Syracuse NY and currently lives in the Charlotte area. In her free time, Jill enjoys reading, working out and spending time with friends and family.

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