Say personalized learning to most people and it conjures up classrooms where every child is doing their own thing and the teacher is furiously trying to maintain order and overview in an otherwise rule-free classroom. Yet, this is not exactly what it is. Instead, personalized learning to me means student voice and choice, where student input is used to create a personalized learning path that allows students room to explore their passions while exposing them to new things. Sounds great but where do you even begin on this path? Or even better, what are you already doing that would count as a step toward personalized learning?
Change the way they sit. I ask my students to sit wherever they want as long as they can work. Only once in awhile do I have to interfere as to their seating choice and I have much happier students. Why? Because they got to have a say in their classroom environment, they were given control.
Change the way they work. I ask my students to discover how they work best; do they like to hand-write things, type, dictate? Are they kids that love to write papers rather than make a movie? How do they want to read? How do they want to think? If students are to discover how they work best we have to give them choice and room for exploration. This doesn’t mean that every single thing has to be open for anything, but simply providing choice in some things is a step in the right direction.
Change the knowledge they have. One push-back against personalized learning has been that students don’t necessarily know what they need to know, and I agree. That is why personalized learning also has to include exposing students to various topics, such as the materials we have to cover due to standards. However, there are many ways to expose students to these topics, so don’t do the same thing over and over; change it up and allow for student ideas in the way material is covered.
Change the expectations for all. We tend to teach the way we learn best but that is not always the way our students learn best. So rather than plan by yourself, plan with your students. Their ideas are often much better than ours anyway. This also allows us to move out of our comfort zone rather than use the same type of format, or go with just your own thinking. So ask the students HOW they would like to learn something and then heed their advice. You don’t have to go with every single idea but try a few of them at least.
Change the timeline. I used to think all students had to gain mastery of something at the same time because I had taught it to them all at the same time, until I had my twins. Kids, even born at roughly the same time from the same mother, do not learn things at the same time so why do we expect our students to? My students will now show me mastery of the standards when they feel they are ready within the quarter. Sure, it will require a more lucid timeline but it really doesn’t add more work to me, all I need is a more flexible mindset.
Change the conversation. I used to be the queen of all answers and solutions. If a student had a problem, I fixed it. If a student needed help, I helped them. I used to think that was one of my main components of being a teacher; the helper/fixer/teacher role. Now I know that students need support so they can help themselves and figure things out themselves and my language reflects that. Rather than giving an answer, I ask a question back. Rather than affirming an answer, I ask them to explain it. I ask for their input, I ask them to reflect, I ask them to provide solutions and to teach others what they know. This classroom is no longer about what I need them to do or know, but what they need to do or know, and that carries power. So change the way you speak, include the students in the conversation, and stick with it.
Starting a journey toward personalized learning can be a terrifying endeavor, but have faith; every step you take toward giving your classroom back to your students matter. Every idea you have that gives the students more power matters. We have to create environments where students are passionate learners, that want to take control of their learning journeys. I wrote my first book on how I did my journey, hoping to inspire others, and still my journey continues. I am not done changing the way I teach because every year I have new students to grow with. It is not just the students that need to be exposed to personalized learning, it is us the adults as well.