A Deeper Understanding of Personalized Learning

Hey Coach,

I’ve heard a lot about personalized learning, but what is it? Is personalized learning just another educational initiative?

Not Another One

Dear Not Another One,

If you have been in education for more than a minute you’ve seen half a dozen educational initiatives come and go, so your question isn’t without merit. I want to give you a straightforward answer, but it gets a little tricky.

If you haven’t already, check out the Personalized Learning white paper by Dr. Anissa Lokey-Vega and Stephanee Stephens. It explains personalized learning and breaks down the essential conditions for a personalized learning environment. Also important to note, as the authors do, the white paper is subject to iteration as research and experiences inform pedagogy and the vision of personalized learning becomes refined.

Personalized learning has some core tenets that set it apart from the traditional educational model. You can see an overview of these tenets on our Essential Conditions…

Using Individual Paths to Increase Achievement

Hey Coach, 
I read a recent post on the iTeach blog about fostering risk-taking in the classroom, and it got me thinking about some of my unit projects. My students pride themselves on getting good grades, but this causes them to play it safe by letting the rubric completely dictate what they create. I worry that giving them a rubric limits what they could accomplish if they weren’t so concerned about exactly what they have to do to earn an A. I want my students to attempt new and challenging tasks as they dig deep and explore the subject of the project, but if I don’t provide a detailed rubric, my students and their parents panic! What can I do?
Rubric Regrets
Dear Rubric Regrets,
Grading challenges are not an easy issue to deal with. Panic often sets in when students (and their parents) feel like there is not an explicit set of directions to get to that "A."  The great news is that these challenges offer an excellent opportunity to drive our teaching practice forw…

Fostering Risk-Taking and Perseverance

Hey Coach,
I have noticed a trend in my classroom - my students shy away from challenging tasks that require them to step out of their comfort zone! I want to create an environment where students feel comfortable taking risks and are willing to persevere through difficulties. What can I do to foster these skills in my students right from the start of the school year?
Ready for Risk-Taking

Dear Ready for Risk-Taking,
Way to go! I like that you are thinking about how you can support your students as they build these important executive functioning skills! As you know, covering content and standards is just part of the equation. Building executive functioning skills like perseverance and risk-taking are a critical piece of academic success. Research shows that grit, or the ability to persevere when faced with obstacles, is one of the key principles that influence student learning and predict student success (Duckworth & Peterson, 2007).
Design challenges offer students excell…

Getting To Know You Activities

Hey Coach,

I used to have my students take a “learning styles” test on the first day of school to discover their best modality of learning, but recently learned that “learning styles” research has been debunked and those tests you see online aren’t really helping students find out how best to learn. I want to do something fun and engaging to learn about my students for the first day of school. Do you have any suggestions?

Sincerely, Learning Styles Debunked

Dear Debunked,

You are right! The research into learning styles has largely been disproven; the idea that one learns best in one modality is a fallacy. To read more about it, check out the article “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence.”  Getting-to-know-you activities are a great way to kick off the school year and to connect with your students. There are a million ways to get to know your students and for them to get to know each other. Check out these innovative ideas:

1.       An Infographic All About Me – You can have students cr…

Bringing Vision Into Focus: Georgia’s Journey to a Statewide Vision of Personalized Learning

Personalized Learning. Two words that at the same time inspire hearts and minds, and leave our pragmatic minds wandering.  
If you are anything like the educators and leaders in the schools and districts we at iTeach support, you are already a ‘believer’ in the promise of a learning experience that is personalized. You might even have your own working definition for what it looks like in your instance, and that definition may well be informed by the good work of organizations like Education Elements, iNACOL, Learning Accelerator, and other thought leaders. For us, here in Georgia, we were all so caught up in igniting the spark of this new paradigm, that we created some confusion, or at least some incongruence across the state. Some early-adopting districts spending money on redesign and consultation, create and communicate their own vision with their own language, leaving smaller or less-resourced districts unable to shoulder the financial burden of such work to pick at the bone and …

You Can’t Win in a Classroom: The Benefit of the Individualized Path

The wrong analogy at the wrong time
Education tends to lend itself to the term “race” a lot, maybe the most influential the 2009 “Race to the Top” campaign to reward innovation in education. Education espouses acceptance and even encouragement of otherness with which this metaphor doesn’t align. Races are for sprinters or marathoners to win or lose. The classroom and education are places to experiment and fail and learn, where failure and coming in second shouldn’t be demonized. We wouldn’t punish the second student to finish an exam with less than 100% if they deserve their 100. They learned the lesson. The individualized path champions self-advocacy, perseverance, and, ultimately, understanding of knowledge for students.
30 Lesson Plans?! Not what we have in mind

A better analogy than a race, would be a bowling alley where students are the bowling balls, each with their own path to knock all of the pins down. While some students roll themselves right through all 10 pins, another stude…

Creating Cross-Curricular Learning Opportunities While Personalizing Learning

Studying Space and Space flight incorporates the study of  several disciplines: math, science, geography. Within these disciplines there are multiple subjects that can be studied to gain insight into the space program: measurementplanetsmapsweatherspeed and distanceexercise needshuman bodyenvironmentnutrition...the list goes on. With the many choices within this unit of study, personalizing learning (PL) becomes an easy fit.
In schools that have already chosen one or more Personalized Learning (PL) Principles to focus on, teachers can easily pick one or two to hone in on as they prepare the unit. PL Principles are rarely demonstrated in isolation. Instead the principles are interconnected and overlapping.  If Choice and Voice is a principle area of focus, the options for students to demonstrate their understanding include choice boards, choosing challenging projects based on the student’s interests and ability level, classroom presentations to either their peers or to parents and peer…

Ideas for Starting a Badging Program at the School Level

Getting teachers to try new technology can be hard. However, implementing a badging program along with incentives is a great way to spark interest for reluctant teachers. While not everyone is driven by the idea of earning a badge or working for that free Starbucks gift card, this can help improve motivation and get more teachers on board. Getting Started Starting a badging program takes time. It is important to have a support system, like the administration (Principal, Assistant Principal, etc.), to back you up. You will want to take time to plan out your school’s badging program so that you will not have hiccups when you are ready to start.
Here are some logistics you will want to work out ahead of time: PurposeGetting to the WHY of your badging programMaking it meaningfulAligning your badging program with school goals or a personalized learning planWhat will the badges look like?How will you create the badges?Will they be digital or paper (or both)?How many badges do you expect tea…
While targeting the personalized learning principles of just in time direct instruction, mastery-based assessments, and varied strategies as well as the Engineering Design Process, this team of teachers implemented an integrated unit that had students and teachers alike pumped for learning!     Classes studied the European Exploration of North America and learned about the different explorers, the obstacles they faced, and their accomplishments.  Taught through a variety of methods including direct instruction, curated digital resources, and student-paced Nearpod lessons. After all of the content had been taught, each class was then responsible for becoming an "expert" on their chosen explorer.  Students demonstrated mastery by creating an artifact of their choosing to be included in the classroom exhibit. Peers collaborated and created digital artifacts using Chatterpix, Sway, PowerPoint, and coding maps using Ozobots with 3D printed boats or thinglink-esque poster present…

Fall for Personalized Learning

A teacher’s job seems to be never ending, with multiple meetings to attend, lessons to teach, and new strategies to implement. It can be tough getting teachers on board with a new initiative or idea when they may feel it doesn’t fit into their classroom vision or they feel they don’t have the time to devote to learning a new skill or strategy. Personalized learning is an amazing method that can help students fall in love with learning and helps teachers find ways to reach all of their students on personalized and individual levels. Just like any other strategy, however, a teacher must totally buy in and feel that it is what is best for their classroom and students. Here are a few tips to help teachers “fall for personalized learning.”

Give them a Voice
It is so important to allow teachers the ability to use their voice to advocate for their classrooms. Teachers spend all of their time with the same students and know better than anyone what their classroom needs, along with what indivi…