What to Identify Before Personalizing Learning

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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 articulated that “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.” However, 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 show what they have learned and celebrate their learning journey is as important to the personalized learning process as engagement, interest, voice, and choice. Students can celebrate and share small learning wins through a variety of 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. 

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To put personalized learning into practice, there are a variety of cross-curricular connections that need to happen across a grade level team, a school and a district. Through curriculum mapping, school-wide goals and thematic exploration, school districts can establish norms and clear standards connections for personalized student experiences. Resources should be curated and differentiated and ready for individual students “whether it is 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.” Resources can be distributed to individual students in real time using digital tools so that students experience content that is relevant to their goals and interests. With adaptive learning software, student 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.

It is not all about what is going on in the classroom that creates these transformational learning experiences for all students. It is essential for educational leaders to model what it looks like to have a personalized learning environment so that personalized learning happens more widely in classrooms, within a building or throughout a 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. It is vital for school leaders to allow educators to have time to explore, plan and reflect on the curation of resources and the redesign of classroom activities that honor student voice and choice. Along with modeling, school leaders need to support personalization by making sure 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 manageable goals, finding partners in tech and keeping tool belts light, the school community can focus on one or two areas that feel actionable right now. She also advises leaders and teachers to share their personalized learning journey through social media to connect with other districts and teachers doing the same work.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Britannica Digital Learning.

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This article was modified and published by eSchool News.

About the Presenter

Dr. Monica Burns is a curriculum and educational technology consultant, Apple Distinguished Educator and founder of ClassTechTips.com. As a classroom teacher, Dr. Burns used one-to-one technology to create engaging, standards-based lessons for students. She has presented to teachers, administrators and tech enthusiasts at numerous national and international conferences including SXSWedu, ISTE, FETC, and EduTECH. She is the author of several books including Tasks Before Apps: Designing Rigorous Learning in a Tech-Rich Classroom (ASCD). She visits schools across the country to work with PreK-20 teachers to make technology integration meaningful and purposeful. You can find out more about working with Dr. Burns and her books and resources by visiting ClassTechTips.com.

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Ignite Digital Learning is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net where educators, librarians, and administrators can explore strategies and tactics for getting every child to be a better thinker, better reader, and better writer through the use of digital resources.

Britannica Digital LearningBritannica Digital Learning’s mission is simple: to ignite curiosity and spread the joy of discovery. With nearly 250 years under their belts and an institutional product suite that reaches over 32 million students across the United States, the organization believes that its job is to give educators effective, engaging tools that they can depend on to meet the personalized needs of their students and communities.