Turn your classroom upside down: personalize learning | Mentoring in the Middle

Turn your classroom upside down: personalize learning

There were times when I wished I'd never shared this thought with my Assistant Principal.  When I wondered why (for the umpteenth time) I had not thought through all the things that would take place in my classroom this month.  When I was frustrated by how hard it was to plan out the details.  But something kept me going, despite knowing that this required a real, and somewhat uncomfortable shift in my thinking.

Personalized learning takes differentiated instruction and ramps it up a notch.  It allows you to tailor your instruction to each student's needs and preferences. There's no question that technology plays a big part in making it successful (and gives you grey hairs when apps or videos don't work as planned!) 
1.  Start with the end in mind
What's your Essential question?  What do you want students to take away from this set of lessons?  In my case, students were going to read several passages about taking care of the environment.  After some thought, I decided that I wanted each of them to come up with an Action Plan, something they could do at home, at school, or in the community, based on what they'd learned.
2.  How do you want each student to achieve that goal?
For me, this was the tricky part.  It's easy for me to do this when I'm in the front of the room for a little while.  Putting it all in their hands meant shifting my thinking.  My students come in all shapes and sizes when it comes to reading comprehension.  So they needed passages that were either leveled, or ones they could read or listen to.  Some students needed to evaluate what they read, some compared what they read with how they lived, while others used what they'd read as a model for the Action Plan they'd create.  To keep me sane in planning this, I create three unique groups.
3.  How do you get students to move towards that goal?
We use Schoology in our district, and that certainly made life easier.  Each direction, link, assessment, assignment, video or photo submission was placed there.  Schoology also lets you make an activity dependent on the completion of a previous one, so students have to complete assignments in the order you determine.

I created one folder for the entire set of lessons.  Within that folder were four subfolders, one for each of the topics/activities I wanted students to complete.  I created three different sets of plans, and assigned them to my three groups.  That's one nice thing about Schoology!  Within those folders, the format in each was consistent: first, clear and detailed instructions tailored to each student group. Then, links to articles to be read, videos to be watched, links to websites, etc.  There was a checkpoint with me in each folder.  Some students had to show me that hey had mastered concepts by the end of that folder; others started reading with me before I sent them off on their own.  Still others worked with me in an even more chunked format, until I felt they were ready to be successful on their own.
4.  The good, the bad, and the ugly
So, what was the outcome?  Well, there were some things that my students and I really liked, some that we didn't and still others that I would change.  Overall, I'm pleased with the outcome and it has taught me a number of things about the way my students learn.

My stronger readers loved that they could pace themselves.  My weaker readers didn't.  They wanted my help as they navigated through sometimes unclear words and thoughts.  Even though I worked with them through some of the steps, they didn't have the confidence to continue on their own.  Lesson learned.

I felt like there were lots of opportunities to confer with me, although some students had to wait a few minutes because I was working with someone else.  We have to get to a place of comfort that when they give me an indication that they need me to check on something, I'll be there in a few minutes.  Or, as in some cases, that I tell them to move ahead until I can get to them.

Giving up control was hard for me!  And for them.  But I think, with repetition, students will come to own their learning a little more this way.  It's worth doing again.  With a few modifications along the way, I'm already thinking about the next set of personalized lessons!

Have a great week!

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