The First Step to Personalize Learning is Knowing Your Students
As a teacher, I always loved and dreaded the start of a school year. I loved meeting my new class and forming a bond with my students, but feared forgetting a name, failing to connect with a student, or tanking a lesson. Every year, I sprinted to learn each student’s name, interests, food tastes, and strengths on the first day. Back then I relied heavily on paper surveys to help me gain a quick sense of student’s home life and favorite tv shows, subjects, and food. I’d use these surveys to tailor the projects students worked on and the books I recommended for independent reading time.
But after the first few days, I tossed the surveys in the wastebin and never formally checked back with students to see if their interests or strengths had changed. I think one of my biggest failings as a teacher was never explicitly teaching my students to reflect on how they liked to learn, how they learned best, or why certain ways of learning might be better for one student over another. Luckily, one of benefits of my role now working as a consultant at Education Elements with hundreds of schools around the country is getting to meet and observe teachers whose expertise as instructors far exceed my own. One of the practices I’ve been most excited by this year is teachers use of learner profiles to personalize learning. Instead of stopping at a “get to know you” surveys, teachers are creating detailed and flexible learner profiles in collaboration with their students. I wanted to share what I have seen so far!
The Gates Foundation and NGLC see learner profiles as a core design attribute for innovative schools that personalize learning for all students. I’ve gathered a few of my favorite resources for developing learner profiles below. I hope these will be useful for you and your school as you plan for and create systems for supporting your students through learner profiles.
Sample Google Form Learner Profile Survey (you will be prompted to make a copy of this form, after which you can customize it for your class or school)
Overview of Developing Learner Profiles from Alberta Education (I especially like the first six pages of this chapter)
The How To’s of Planning Lessons Differentiated by Learning Profile (an excerpt from Carol Ann Tomlinson’s excellent book How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms, 2nd Edition)
Knowing the Learner (videos, tools, and activities for developing learner profiles from Dare to Differentiate)
- NY Times Article on using student surveys to help teachers gain understanding of if and how they are reaching their students
I recommend using these resources to pilot a learner profile program in your class or school. Test your ideas with a few students or a few classes. Then reflect on your own, with your colleagues, and most importantly, with your students. Did this new process change their level of mastery? Did it change the way they felt about learning? Did it change the way they interacted with you? If you have questions or are ready to share out regarding your learner profiles, join the conversation on our Google+ PL Community.
About Keara Duggan
Keara is a Partner at Education Elements who focuses on how to build and scale a culture of innovation in large systems, how to create national communities of collaboration, and how to keep laughing when pursuing daunting, large-scale changes. She was lucky to collaborate with co-authors Alexis Gonzales-Black and Anthony Kim to design the website and toolkit for The NEW School Rules: 6 Practices for Responsive and Thriving Schools.