Aurora Institute (former iNACOL) defines personalized learning as “tailoring learning for each student’s strength, needs, and interests—including enabling student’s voice and choice in what, how, when, and where they learn—to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.”
Dr. Monica Burns, curriculum and educational technology consultant and founder of ClassTechTips.com, in a recent edWebinar, echoed this iNACOL concept. Before designing learning experiences that are personal to individual students, it is critical for classroom teachers and school leaders to identify student engagement, student interest, student choice, student voice, cross-curricular connections, and differentiated resources.
When it comes to student engagement, Burns said, “We want to make sure that we are capturing student attention by having students’ eyes where we want them to be or their hands where we want them to explore.” At the same time, it is essential to recognize that engagement looks different for every student in a classroom. By listening to what students are excited about and identifying their needs, teachers can provide a flexible learning environment that supports, energizes, and engages all individual learners.
Student choice and voice happens when students have opportunities to share what makes their interests unique and are active participants in conversations around success criteria and curriculum-based norms. How students demonstrate what they’ve learned and celebrated their learning journey is important to the personalized learning process as engagement, interest, voice, and choice.
Students can celebrate and share small learning wins through various personalized options such as text, graphics, collaborative discussions, and digital tools such as podcasts and videos. With their interests identified and supported, students get into the flow of learning and see the purpose of what they are doing in class.
Expanding your personalized-learning practice
To put personalized learning into practice, various cross-curricular connections need to happen across a grade-level team, school, and district. School districts can establish norms and clear standards connections for personalized student experiences through curriculum mapping, school-wide goals, and thematic exploration. Resources should be curated and differentiated and ready for individual students, “whether it is based on their particular reading levels, the way they like to engage with content in online and offline modes, or whether it is merely thinking about what gets them interested in a topic,” said Burns. Resources can be distributed to individual students using digital tools to experience content relevant to their goals and interests.
With adaptive-learning software, student’s learning journeys are customized and supported with resources based on their interest and excitement around particular subtopics while at the same time, allowing teachers to make data-driven educational decisions. Open-ended creation tools such as movie maker, website creator, and eBook tools provide opportunities for students to create concrete or tangible unit projects showing what they have learned.
How to expand personalized learning outward
Educational leaders need to model what a personalized learning environment looks like so that personalized learning happens more widely in classrooms, throughout buildings, and across the district.
Customizing professional development based on educators’ interests and needs and providing more flexibility for PLCs establishes norms and a culture that honors the personal experience that school leaders want for students. School leaders need to allow educators to have time to explore, plan, and reflect on the curation of resources and redesign classroom activities that honor student voice and choice. Along with modeling, school leaders need to support personalization by ensuring that the school community has the resources necessary to support every individual student.
Burns advised school leaders and classroom teachers that there are multiple ways to infuse personalized learning without feeling overwhelmed by the process. By “chunking it down” into daily, weekly, and monthly goals, finding tech partners, and keeping tool belts light, the school community can focus on one or two areas that feel manageable right now. She also advises leaders and teachers to share their personalized learning journey through social media and connect with other districts and teachers doing the same work.