Personalizing Learning: Getting it Right
I can’t remember how many times I have been asked “Am I doing it right?” I’ve heard this question so many times in my support of over 150 schools as they implement personalized learning that I no longer count. Teachers and leaders want to know, am I “doing” personalized learning right.
This question is both essential and a tough one to answer. And, it’s important because it tells us a bit about the person asking it:
- They care deeply about their students and want to do what is best for them.
- They aren’t clear on what next steps they should take to start shifting their practice to be more student-centered
It’s tough to answer because there is no one way to personalize instruction for students. Personalized Learning is not one specific strategy or a model, but rather a combination of student-centered best practices under a shared vision for classroom instruction. At Education Elements, we use the Core Four to break down this umbrella term, Personalized Learning. But the way that the Core Four interact and show up might look different in each classroom based on student-need and teacher preference.
So you might be thinking -- what do you actually suggest when someone asks you if they are doing it right?
First, I share a few sentiments:
- There is no one right way to Personalize Learning. What is suitable for your classroom might not be right for the classroom down the hall -- but there is plenty of research on what instructional practices are best for kids, including the use of data to inform instruction (both formative and summative), differentiation (group-based or individual), the value of providing students opportunities to reflect and set goals (develop metacognition), and the importance of allowing students to make decisions through choice and flexibility. So these practices might differ from classroom to classroom.
- Go slow to go far. Make small shifts over time to build more student ownership. This will be better for you and your students – you need time to plan intentionally, and students need to develop skills that allow them to become more self-directed. In the same way, we need to teach students content-specific concepts like the Pythagorean theorem, we also need to teach them communication skills such as how to be strong collaborators, and skills such as how to build a capacity for self-reflection.
- It’s about the journey, not the destination. Cliche and true. When you do anything for the first time, it will be messy and imperfect, and you will learn and iterate.
Then I share a helpful resource:
The Next 30 Days of Personalized Learning. This planning tool can help map out your next 30 days, 90 days, or three months (the time can be what you want it to be). Here’s are a few things to consider in order to get the most out of this resource:
- The practices build off of each other each week. If you decide you want to focus on the Core Four component of Reflection and Goal Setting, in week one you will set classroom norms and goals with your students. In week two, you will support students in setting their own goals. In week three, you will teach students how to reflect, and in week four, you will have students reflect on the goals you set in week one.
- There are strategies to align different Core Four components each week. In order to truly personalize learning for students, all Core Four components should be happening in your classroom – we wanted to share ideas for how to try different components out at the same time!
- The last page is an editable and interactive planning template. We’ve seen a lot of success with teams when they try the same practice and then reflect on how it went together. This could be a great way to structure CLTs or PLCs.
I imagine – for the self-reflective – that this question “am I doing it right” will never go away. But I hope with these resources and this framing, we’ll each find that we can start to address the question and continue to evolve our practice.
More Personalized Learning reading
About Katie Camp
Katie Camp is a Senior Design Principal on the Design and Implementation Team. She began her career in education as a 5th grade math and science teacher at Bodine Elementary School in Oklahoma City. While in Oklahoma, she also worked as a Content Specialist for Teach for America where she designed and delivered professional development for teachers and spent summers coaching new teachers. After 3 years in OKC, she moved to Boston where she worked as a Research Analyst on the Massachusetts Education Committee. Her legislative portfolio included school climate and safety, personalized learning, curriculum, assessments, at-risk students, English Learners, and student health. She worked as the lead analyst on 2 conference committees, where she led the revision of English Learner policy and civics curriculum in MA. Katie holds a B.A in History and Political Science from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She was born and raised in New Jersey and currently lives in Washington, D.C.