authentic learning, being a teacher, choices, Personalized Learning

Choose Your Own Adventure – 4 Learning Options As We Go Virtual/Online

Note: Yes, you may adapt this to fit your own needs, but please give credit and also do not adapt it to sell it online or in any way benefit financially beyond your salary as an educator.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned how I wanted to honor the work we have already been doing in our community as we switch to virtual learning starting next week. Because this shut down of our school does not come with an end date at the moment, I am pacing out instruction by weeks rather than days. If we go back sooner than I expect, which would be incredible, then I can switch this particular project to in-class as well.

We were also given guidelines yesterday from our district; plan for about 35 minutes of learning time for each class, I have a double block but am trying to keep it to around that time still, instead with the extra time, I am hoping kids will find the time to read. Kids are not expected to sit in front of a computer all day. We have guidelines in place for making sure kids are connected to us with virtual office hours. We also need to check in if we are not hearing from kids or seeing them do any learning. We are trying to think of things we cannot even think of yet.

We are trying to keep it relevant, accessible, and not overwhelming.

We are trying to help kids continue their learning even when we are not right there with them.

So, for our students, I have created a “Choose Your Own Adventure” two-week exploration. This, hopefully, continues the honoring of their individual needs and desires, while still helping them with their growth. There are different levels of independence for them to choose from, as well as choices for recording or writing their responses. There are different levels of teaching involved that will unfold once they select their choice.

From a longer letter welcoming kids into our project

Choice 1:  The independent reading adventure.  

On this adventure, you will use a self-chosen fiction chapter book to further your reading analysis skills.  Read and either record or write answers to questions that show your deeper understanding of your chosen text.

The connect-four template we use for this.

This used to be a much more art-based project, I modified it to fit a written response, only because I am not sure if kids will have access to art materials. However, kids can still choose to illustrate and use art to answer their selected questions. All of the questions are review, so we have done this work before but they get to practice by applying it to a new book. This was inspired by the one-pager project, my colleague does and I am grateful for her work. To see the project guidelines, go here.

Choice 2:  The picture book read aloud.

On this adventure, you will listen to a picture book being read aloud every day by lots of fantastic people.  Then you will write or record a response to a specific question every day.

I wanted to honor the picture book read alouds we have done throughout the year, so I gathered picture book recordings for the students to listen to – one a day – and then created questions to go with it such as the one below.

While I love all of the picture books I am finding, I am still changing some of them out to have a wider representation of creators shown. I am also still working through questions, so this document is very much a work in progress. To see the project guidelines, go here.

Choice 3:  The Inquiry Project.

Ever wanted a chance to just pursue a major topic of interest for yourself?  Now is the chance, craft a learning plan for yourself with Mrs. Ripp, learn more about your topic and then showcase your learning to our community.

Project requirement:  

  • Identity an inquiry question you want to pursue – remember, inquiry questions are not straight “Googleable,” they will need learning from many sources or experiences to answer.
  • Fill in the learning plan to show what you will be learning and how you will challenge yourself.
  • Do the learning on your own, checking in with Mrs. Ripp every two days.
  • Create a product of your choice to showcase your learning – you have many choices of what to create.

Independence expectations:

  • This is a project that will require a lot of discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  • The inquiry question you choose to pursue can be one that you already know something about or one that you know very little about, it is up to you. 
  • There should be NEW learning though that happens throughout, not just a summary of what you already knew.

Students will be asked to do a learning plan, so I can support them if they choose this project. It looks like this:

We have done two other inquiry projects so I have seen students navigate this before, I am hoping this will give kids a chance to explore what they would like to explore rather than all of their learning choices being dictated by adults . To see the project guidelines, go here.

Choice 4:  The Creative Writing Project.

I know some of us have longed to do some creative writing, so here is your chance.  Decide how you want to grow as a writer, discuss with Mrs. Ripp, and then start writing.  Teaching points will be based on what you are hoping to work on. 

Project requirement:  

  • Identify your areas of strength as a writer – what do you already do well in writing?
  • Identify areas of growth in writing for yourself – how will this project challenge you?
  • Actively work on those areas of growth through independent study of craft techniques and conferring with Mrs. Ripp.
  • Produce 2 or more pages in a coherent writing form, you choose the writing form.
  • Schedule 2 conferring times with Mrs. Ripp each week – that is 4 times over the two weeks.  These can be via Google meet, email discussion, chat, or some other mode of communication.

Independence expectations:

  • This is a project that will require a lot of discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  • The creative writing project you pursue should be meaningful to you and show growth in your writing tools.
  • There should be NEW learning though that happens throughout, not just a summary of the skills you already have.

We have done creative writing in small spurts throughout the year but not enough in my opinion, so this is our chance to do it more. I am hoping this will offer up those who choose it a way to sink into their writing and create something meaningful. To see the project guidelines, go here.

A note on choices: Students will indicate their choice on a survey form – this will offer me a pathway forward so that I can send the proper resources to them. Because Google Classroom allows me to only give certain things to certain kids, I can easily provide them the next steps in their choices such as learning plans or other tools.

A note on grades: You may have noticed that these projects encompass different standards, this is okay because all of the work we are doing right now is formative as per our district guidelines. As the closing continues, we will be given updated guidelines. What this means is that when the two weeks are over for this project, I will either recycle the options and ask students to choose a different option or brainstorm further learning with my students. If we switch to live school in the middle, then once this project is done we will go back to our regular scheduled learning, which is debates and Shark Tank presentations.

A note on support: I will be individualizing support for my students. For some this will mean just check-ins, for others it will be sharing further resources for their learning. I teach 76 students, I am not sure how this will look, but we will make it work.

Want to connect with me? I am going to do a Facebook live in the upcoming week in our Passionate Readers Facebook group to take questions and share book recommendations. Join me!

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 

authentic learning, being a student, being a teacher, being me, Personalized Learning

Re-thinking Our Learning to Infuse More Joy and Choice

One of many things I love when on break is the chance to simply reconnect with amazing people, and when said amazing people are fellow educators, you can bet that it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to how to make the educational experience better for all kids.

After dinner, I was left thinking about how often we get so caught up in all that we need to do that so many of those grand ideas, the ideals we dreamt up this summer or whenever we have room to be inspired seem to be forgotten as the year starts and the pressure resumes. That while we implement many things, tweak many others, there are many notions and ideas that simply don’t happen. And who can blame us? There are so many days that I am just keeping my head afloat trying to stay a few steps ahead of the students in order to create and sustain relevant educational experiences.

Last night, the conversation turned to joy and play. How little there seems to be purposefully implemented throughout especially older students’ daily routines in school. How the minute they come to us in the upper years there are few opportunities for infusing joy and allowing more creative approaches to learning. And while both of those concepts are foundations of learning I hold dear, I also look back at my own curricular choices for the year and see how easily those two tenets of learning get siphoned away as I feel the need to do more, dig deeper, and make sure that the learning is “serious.” However, the siphoning itself relies on a untruth – joy and creative choice does not equate easier learning and is serious business, in fact, often purposefully creating moments for joy and creative choice requires a broader commitment and self-reliance within the learning happening. So with this in mind, I have done some restructuring of a few upcoming units and also rededicated efforts in other places, so what might that look like coming up in room 203?

The main questions I focused on in my reflection is: how might this spark joy and engagement and how do students have creative choice?

Re-committing to picture books. I usually read a lot of picture books aloud to my 7th graders and also use them in a variety of ways throughout our curriculum and yet, this year, I feel like with the busyness of it all, picture books have been less of a central tenet to us. It’s time to change that. In a little more than a week we kick off our Mock Caldecott unit for the year, a two week investigation into twelve incredible picture books for the year that will lead into a persuasive speech in which students will try to sway others to their choice of winner of the Caldecott. Reading picture books together is something that we already see as joyful and doing it in small groups will hopefully bolster that. Creative choice comes in how students want to persuade their peers – how will they deliver a message that is persuasive in nature and which tools will they use?

Bringing back our immersion project. Two years ago, I did an extended genius hour project in which students got to pick something to learn for themselves in order to teach others about it through a mini-lesson. This consisted of identifying an area to immerse themselves in and then spending time figuring out how to create an enticing lesson for others to learn from them. The topics were broad: How to do a card trick properly, what integration methods are necessary to integrate any function and how are they used, how do you play guitar and so on? These were all catered to student interests and were very broad on purpose. We then infused note-taking skills, how to find sources to teach them how to do the skills, and how to engage an audience in order to help them understand a concept, as well as created a speech rubric in order to practice public speaking. This year, I will finetune it with a few more scaffolds for those who are not sure what they would like to teach, as well as opportunities to tandem-research. This project sparked a lot of joy the first time we did it because students got to self-select their learning, immerse themselves into something they found relevant, as well as show off their knowledge in a fun way. There was a lot of natural choice embedded throughout.

Re-thinking our TED talk unit. Every year, the students get an opportunity to create a TED talk on a chosen topic and then give it to the class, and while the unit itself is solid, I want to spend more time helping students choose topics that they are invested in already. This year many of our students have expressed a deep interest and commitment to social justice work, as well as the overlooked history we have explored. This will, therefore, be my starting point in reminding students of what they already know and which questions they may have to push their thinking further. So often we push students into new learning without realizing how much work it is to research and then synthesize and process all of the information into a brilliant short speech. With the re-introduction of our immersion project, I want to implement more time for students to dive into their identity and what they are already interested in so that their TED talk work can be more focused on filling in knowledge gaps, rather than starting all over with research. This will also be an opportunity to jump into persuasion, how advertisement plays on our biases, and how we are influenced by social media. Choice plays into topic, as well as the angle they want to take in their talk.

Asking for more student input and taking the proper time for it. In the Enriched English class I teach, we have 6 vocabulary lessons consisting of 25 vocabulary words each that we need to somehow process, understand, and implement into our vocabulary. While I have gamified it in the past and also allowed for choice in how students show mastery, I have never really loved what we did. The words seem like a chore no matter how I spin it This year, I plan on showing students the vocabulary and then having them come up with opportunities for how we can learn it together. While there will undoubtedly be traditional methods for students to choose from such as rote memorization with a quiz, I also want to give them the opportunity to come up with other methods for learning that they will be able to choose from as we move into the vocabulary. While I already try to get as much student input as possible, I feel it often gets rushed, so this is a reminder for me to slow down and let it take the time it takes, and this goes for all classes, not just the Enriched English class.

Re-committing to free writing. We have been dabbling with free-writing throughout the year but due to book clubs in December, we changed our process. While students continued to write on their own, the community piece was lacking and so as we enter into January, I want to bring back the prompts and self-selected choice and the time to then share the creations we have. I also want to bring back the notion of playing with writing that so often gets lost as we write. Students so often fear that they have to write great pieces every single time which is an incredibly damaging notion for anyone trying to work through the emotions of writing and so I want to model my own not-so-great writing that tends to happen when we do a free-write. Students don’t need perfect role models, they need real ones.

Skyping with authors. Talking with actual authors is magical at any age and the advent of World Read Aloud Day reminded me to sign up to bring authors into our classrooms more. This is something I used to do a lot but once again seem to have gotten away from. I cannot wait for students to hear from Kevin Sylvester, Juana Martinez-Neal and Ishta Mercurio as they discuss their writing process.

Participating in Global School Play Day again. I love this initiative created by Scott and Tim Bedley with the idea to infuse more play into schools again. I have done this day before with 7th graders and while I am not able to do it the day it is scheduled for this year, I will do it instead on February 7th where students will get all of English to simply play with each other. You should sign up as well.

While this is not an exhaustive list, I am glad to be bringing this lens back to our work together this year to hopefully create experiences where it is not just students learning from me, but more from each other. Where there is more cooperative problem solving, more relevance, and more choice. Where maybe, just maybe, students can think of English class as a class that is meaningful to them beyond developing a love of reading and writing and helping them find themselves. Who knows, but I will keep trying.

I posted the following question on Twitter last night and the responses are definitely worth checking out – so many great ideas for infusing more play and creativity into our work.

And now I ask you as well; how will you restructure or continue to reinforce the notion of play and creative choice in your class these upcoming months?

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students

assessment, assumptions, grades, No grades, Personalized Learning

Using the Single Point Rubric for Better Assessment Conversations

A few years ago, I read the following post discussing single-point rubrics from Jennifer Gonzales on her incredible blog Cult of Pedagogy. The post discussed the idea of using a single-point rubric for assessment rather than the multi-point rubrics I was taught to use and how they were not only easier to create, but also offered up an opportunity for students to understand their assessment in a deeper way. Intrigued, we started tinkering with it over the last few years as an English department, developing our process as we went. The other day, I realized that I have never shared that work on here and thought that perhaps if someone had missed Jen’s post or was wondering what this looks like implemented, a blog post may be helpful.

So first of all, what does a single-point rubric look like? Here is an example of one we used with an assessment after finishing the book Refugee for The Global Read Aloud.

We operate on a 1-4 standards-based assessment system, so the difference between multi-point and single-point is the descriptive language found for each score. Where under a multi-point rubric you would fill in the description for 1 through 4, with a single-point rubric you just focus on what you would expect an at grade-level product to contain. This is what sets it apart in my mind; it allows us to focus on what we are specifically looking for and recognizing that students don’t always fall into the other categorizations that we set, no matter how much we broke them down.

This is one of the major reasons why I have loved using single point rubrics; it allows me to leave more meaningful feedback for students when they are either not meeting the grade-level target or are exceeding it. Rather than trying to think of all of the ways a student may not be at grade-level, I can focus on what would place them there assessment-wise and then reflect on when they are not. This has allowed me to leave more meaningful, personalized feedback, while also really breaking down what at grade-level thinking contains.

So what is the process for creating one?

  1. Determine the standards or learning targets that will be assessed. Students should be a part of this process whether through discussion and creation of the rubric or at the very least seeing and understanding the rubric before anything is turned in, after all, we want students to fully understand what we are trying to discover as far as their learning.
  2. Once the standards have been determined, decide what “at grade-level” understanding will contain. While the rubric shown above shows only one box per standard, sometimes our rubrics are broken down further within the standard in order for students to see exactly what it is we are hoping to see from them. (See the example below).
  3. Discuss with students if you haven’t done so already. Do they understand what at grade-level understanding looks like and what it contains? Is the rubric a helpful tool for them to take control of their learning? If not, go back to the drawing board with the rubric.
  4. Add reflective questions for students so that their voice is heard and further ownership is created over the learning process. This is important because too often assessment is something that is done to students rather than a process that allows students to fully see what they are able to do independently, as well as set goals for what they need to work on.
A few reflective questions – to see the original rubric, go here

Using the single-point rubric is a breeze for me compared to the multi-point rubric. First of all, it takes less time to create because we really just focus on that “at grade-level” understanding. Secondly, and this is the big one for me, it allows me to deeply reflect on why my gut or the rubric is telling me that a child is not showing “at grade-level” understanding or above it somehow. I have to really think about what it is within their understanding that moves them into a different category. One that is not limited by the few things that I could brainstorm before I saw their work. I then have to formulate that into written or spoken feedback in order to help that child understand how they can continue to grow. This allows our assessment conversations to change from grades to reflection.

Tips for implementing:

  1. Discuss it with students before using it the first time. Our students had not seen a rubric like this before and so we took the time to discuss it with them before we used it. This would happen for any assessment rubric, but it took a little bit longer because it looked different.
  2. Set the tone for assessment. I have written extensively about my dislike of grades and how I try to shift the focus, and yet I work within a system that tells me I have to assess with numbers attached to it. So there are a few things that need to be in place with the biggest one being the ongoing conversation that assessment is a tool for reflection and not the end of the journey. This is why students always self-assess first in order to reflect on their own journey and what they need from us. This can be messy in the beginning but through the year it gets easier for students to accurately reflect on their own journey and what they need to grow. They then hand that to me in order for me to look at their work and then it culminates in a final discussion if needed.
  3. Break it down. It is easy to get caught up in too many things to assess, using the single-point rubric has allowed us to focus in on a few important things. This is important so that students can work on those skills specifically rather than feel overwhelmed by everything within the process.

What do students think?

Our students seem to like them, or at least that is what they say. They understand mostly what they are being assessed on and they understand the feedback that is given to them. Having them self-assess and reflect prior to our assessment is also huge as it shows students that they are in charge of their assessment and their growth and that we want them to fully invest in their learning. It gives them an opportunity to see how they are growing and what their next step is before I add my opinion in there. This can also help reduce the “shame” factor that is sometimes associated with grades. When we discuss repeatedly with students that there is nothing wrong with being below grade-level and instead let the assessment guide us to the next steps, it shifts the assessment process, as well as the internalization of grades.

Overall, the single-point rubric has been another tool that allows us to help students become more reflective learners, while also helping us get to know the students’ needs more, resulting in a more impactful assessment experience for everyone involved. While we started small, the single-point rubric is now almost exclusively the only type of rubric we use in English and for that I am grateful. If you haven’t tried it yet, I would highly recommend you do. If you have any questions, after all my brain is tired from traveling, please leave them in the comments.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.   

being a student, being a teacher, personal, Personalized Learning, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement, student voice, Student-centered

5 Tenets of Choice

I have long believed in putting the “person” back in personalized learning.  In creating engaging classroom experiences with our students as we try to help them discover how they learn best and what they still need to grow in.  However working in the public school system in a state that has mandates and tests to take, means that we sometimes cannot just do whatever we want as we explore 7th grade English.  Means that I am not always able to tell my students to create whatever they want and make it work within our standards.  Means that sometimes we all do the same lesson or produce a similar outcome.  Even if I work in a district that is focused on doing what is best for each child and puts immense trust in its teachers.  Even if at my core I believe that children need to feel like they have control in their learning experience so that they will invest themselves.  And I think this is the reality for many teachers that are trying to do their best in engaging all of their learners.  So how do we truly create experiences where students feel empowered and engaged and have choice, even when it is not free rein at all times?

One of the foundations in our classroom is the five tenets of choice.  These ideas by themselves are the foundation for many successful educational experiences, these ideas have been around for a long time, and these ideas, when coupled together, mean that my students always have choice in something, even if it is not apparent at a quick glance.  While the optimal experience would be for them to have all of these choices at any time, sometimes this is not possible within the system I work.  So, instead, I strive for at least two of these, but preferably more, at any given time.

This tiny excerpt from my forthcoming book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Engaging and Reaching Every Child, details the five tenets of choice, hopefully they will be of help to others as well.

1st Tenet

Choice in engagement, meaning how they access the learning; do they need small group instruction, one-on-one conferring, are they independent or want to work with a peer?  I have students do a pre-assessment of how they would like to work through a project and then plan my classes according to their needs.  To see a sample pre-assessment survey, please see the appendix.   

2nd Tenet

Choice in product, meaning what would they like to create to show their understanding and exploration of a concept.  Sometimes this means full control of the product depending on the standards we are working with, while other times it only means minimal choice such as the format of their written work.   

3rd Tenet

Choice in setting, meaning how and where would they like to learn.  As discussed previously, students need to be afforded opportunities to manipulate the learning community environment to suit their needs.  This is part of their learning journey and so students can choose where they sit, how they sit, whether they work in the learning community or in other designated areas, as well as how they use the environment they are working in.   

4th Tenet

Choice in timeline, meaning when they are ready to be assessed.  While this one is harder to do at times, I do try to provide flexible timelines for students, as well as stay in tuned with what else is happening in other classes.  This may mean that for a longer project I will tell students what the final day is for them to turn something in but that they can turn it in any time they are ready before then.   

5th Tenet

Choice in assessment, meaning how and what I assess as far as their mastery of concepts.  Inspired by Kelly Gallagher I will often ask students to turn in the piece that they think showcase their depth of understanding the best and then assess and confer with them regarding this one piece of work.  This allows students more flexibility and control over how they are assessed, as well as gives them the opportunity to reflect on what mastery really means.  This tenet also means that once students have shown mastery for a quarter, they do not have to prove it to me again but can instead move on to more challenging work.  This is a way for me to ensure that students are provided with learning that matches their needs better and also allows them for more self-directed learning.  

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a student, being a teacher, Personalized Learning, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, Student Engagement

Who Are We Really Doing This For?

Traveling this summer seems to have offered me a lot of time for reflection.  There is something about sitting on an airplane, getting nervous about the days ahead and thinking of how did one ever up there?  I realize time and time again that there are certain truths that guide everything I do and that if I ever stray from those truths then I hope I have the spine to admit it.  Because as I travel, I realize more and more that this is not about me, about Pernille the teacher, but instead about the very kids I teach.  About the kids we all teach and yet we seem to so easily forget that as we make decisions in our schools, in our classrooms.

So I realize once again that while I may think I have all of the answers, I won’t ever know unless I ask my students.  That my job is not to foresee and problem solve every little thing, but instead to let them explore and to create alongside me.

That when we go out and share what our students are doing, we need to recognize that this is not about us, but about them.  That it is their education at stake, not our own, and that is why this mission is so very urgent.

We are losing kids every single day in our classrooms.  We are losing them when we remove control over even the slightest things.  We treat them in a way we would not want to be treated ourselves, and then expect them to just be ok with it because that is a part of childhood.  We dictate bathroom breaks, where they sit, who they work with, and even how they share, sometimes allowing very little autonomy in the process.  And then at the end of the day we wonder why they are exhausted and cannot wait to get on with their “real” life?

What if every decision we made was centered on what is best for students?  I know we say that that is what drives us, but is it really?  When we decide on curriculum do we pick it because it is easy for the adults to implement or because it will inspire the children?  When we seek out learning opportunities do we do it for the right reasons or because it is another thing to check off our to do list?

When we control our classrooms so that we can function, do we ever wonder who those we teach will react to the perimeters we set up?

So we can talk about personalizing learning, or whatever other buzz term we are all infatuated with at the moment, or we can talk about good teaching.  About creating learning opportunities that center on the student, on the child, and not the adult needs.  We can remove the “alizing” and just focus on the person instead.

Change may seem hard, but it gets easier as we go.  Think of the small things that already communicate to students that what they need is not as important as what we need.  Think of all the little rules we have in our classrooms that do not benefit them nearly as much as they benefit us.  And then do something about it.

When I ask my students what they wish every teacher would do it is not to give them less work, to give them less tests, or even to speak less – we teachers, do love to talk – it is to let them choose where they sit.  Almost every time.  If that doesn’t speak volumes about how powerless students feel in their education, I am not sure what will.

So this summer, or winter depending on where you are, whenever a new decision needs to be made, don’t think of what you need.  Think of what kids might need, and if you are not sure; ask them.  They are ready to tell us if we only ask.

I am currently working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The first book titled Reimaging Literacy Through Global Collaboration is scheduled for release November, 2016 by Solution Tree.  The second, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Be the change, being a student, being a teacher, being me, Personalized Learning, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, Student Engagement, student voice

You Cannot Buy Your Way to Personalized Learning

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When I decided to change the way I taught, I didn’t have a system.  I had a lot of ideas, a lot of thoughts, a lot of failures to push me forward in my quest to be a better teacher.  I had kids who hoped that school would be about them again.  I had parents that hoped that their kids would like school when their year with me was done.  I had dreams of something different, but I didn’t have a clear path, I didn’t have a curriculum to follow.  If I would have, I don’t know where I would have ended up.

You see, when you choose to make learning more personal to the students, it is not about buying a curriculum.  It is not about buying a solution.  Or even reading a book and following the step-by-step directions to make it more personal.  It is not about finding the new tool so that you can adapt and make it fit all of your learners.  In fact, it may be just the opposite. It is about getting to know your students, getting to know yourself, and then finding as much inspiration you can to become a better teacher for all of your kids.  So when I wrote my book, Passionate Learners, it wasn’t so that others could teach like me, but instead so others could start to question their own teaching as well.  I didn’t want to give directions, but just ideas, questions, and things to reflect on.  Because making learning about the kids again means that we have to be the ones to figure it out.  Because they are our kids, in our schools, and no one can tell us better than what they need than them.

Personalized learning is not about a system.  It is not about a box.  It is not about a computer where students can self-pace as they work through a set curriculum.  It is not about a checklist, nor learning in isolation.  Personalizing learning is about what is right for the kid that is in front of you at that very moment.  About helping them get to a place where they can figure out what they need and what they would like to accomplish.   And yes, sometimes that kid doesn’t know what they need and then it becomes our job to help them figure it out.   It is not about what you can do for the students to take control of their learning, it is about what they can do.  Personalizing learning is indeed what great teaching is all about; knowing the students and helping them find ways to make all learning worth doing again. 

So if someone tries to sell you or your school a  personalized learning system, a personalized learning curriculum, or even a technology solution so that all students can work at their own pace, I would stop and think about that for a moment.  How can they possibly promise you personalized when it is far from personal?  How can someone who does not know your students, your school, your needs, deliver something that will fit all of those things?

Education is a business and we should never forget that.  As much as we may think that every person who creates something for the education market is in it for the right reasons, we would be fools if we truly believed that.  Much like every other educational buzzword, personalized learning will become the new cash cow until a new buzzword overtakes it.  Don’t let companies ruin what kids need.  Don’t fall for the sales pitches.  Personalizing learning for students means the emphasis is on the personal and for the personal to happen, we have to know our kids and we have to listen to our kids.  Not a company.  Not a sales pitch.  But the voices of the very students we teach.  And that is free.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.