Posts Tagged personalized learning
This post is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. The building block of Choice helps students to feel more personally connected to their learning. Making meaningful choices engages students in determining the processes and products involved in their learning. Facilitating student choice involves more than providing options for learning that are predetermined by the teacher that marginally differentiate the learning experience. In personalized learning, the choices are intrinsically significant for each student and assist learners in understanding unfamiliar content by making the material more attainable and relatable. There are particular interconnected qualities of effective choices that teachers should consider when designing learning opportunities.
Qualities of Choice
Relevant – Relevant choices can engage students in learning by empowering them to show what they know by using their own innate or acquired strengths and abilities. A choice is also relevant when it holds particular meaning for the student. This relevancy may be encompassed by the process, the product, and/or the content involved in the learning task. When choices are relevant to students, they may create products that showcase talents, such as particular skills with art or mathematics, or they may choose to focus on an aspect of the topic that they find especially interesting.
Authentic – When learning activities possess real world significance or meaning, they can provide authentic choices for students. These experiences enable students to select from various possible scenarios that will cause them to use specific skills, strategies, or content knowledge in order to solve real problems. Choices that encourage students to utilize what they have learned to delve into meaningful issues or problems and construct original solutions, can motivate students to persevere when tasks are difficult. Students will care more about a topic when they understand and appreciate its broader importance.
Competency-Based – Choices need to ensure that students will be able to show mastery of learning standards regardless of what task they choose to undertake. By completing a learning task, students should be able to demonstrate that they understand a particular concept or skill. Teachers and students need to design a variety of tasks that encompass the targeted learning standards, so that options are equivalent. After identifying the essential skills embedded within the standard, the teacher and student can collaboratively determine what processes or products could show understanding. Considering the complexity of learning tasks will also help teachers evaluate whether or not choices are comparable.
Student-Driven – Students have to learn how to make their own choices rather than solely relying on their teachers to decide for them. They may not be accustomed to making choices because most of their schooling has forced them to be passive learners. I have heard students ask, “Can you just choose for me?” By asking guiding questions, the teacher can help students learn how to choose learning tasks that they find motivating and yet involve the targeted learning standards. Students need to develop an awareness of their personal areas of strength and how to capitalize on those strengths in order to overcome their weaknesses.
Student-Generated – There needs to be an opportunity for each student to develop a personalized learning path, and it would be impossible for a teacher to be able to be aware of every possible route when designing instruction. Therefore, it is necessary to involve students in the design process for personalized learning. By including an option to Choose Your Own among the list of available choices, students are able to tweak an existing task or to develop an original proposal that encourages innovation and individuality. Ultimately, a goal of personalized learning is for students to learn how to make their own choices for every activity as they are presented with learning standards so that they can design their own tasks to demonstrate their understanding.
It would be difficult for a teacher to design dynamic choices for students in isolation; therefore it may be helpful for teachers to collaborate with their colleagues to develop a variety of learning tasks. If teachers are to address the above qualities of effective choices for personalized learning, they have to have a good understanding of their students. This understanding arises from purposefully nurturing a learning community within the classroom. By regularly conferencing with students, teachers can help them set goals and make choices that are necessary for personalized learning. The teacher also needs to model how to make good choices for students and to share their own personal interests and strengths. Being the lead learner and an engaged participant are roles the teacher must practice in the personalized learning ecosystem.
This post is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. The building block of Critical Thinking helps to construct a firm foundation for personalized learning. In many classrooms, teachers don’t provide the time necessary for critical thinking in order to develop original solutions to problems. Many of the problems that are provided to students also have only one possible right or wrong answer and don’t encourage true critical thinking. When students are given the opportunity to utilize all of the resources available within a classroom (including their own ingenuity) to solve problems, they can be challenged to personally connect to their learning and construct new understanding.
Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking
Provide Time for Reflection – After being presented with unfamiliar content and ideas, students need time so that they can accommodate that new information within their previously developed schema of that topic. This process involves making sense of new concepts by constructing or reconstructing personal frameworks of thought. Solely telling students to accept the information and moving on to new content doesn’t enable them to work through this process. Students can reflect in a variety of ways, and an effective practice for reflection is for students to learn what ways best help them to make sense of new information. Some strategies could include drawing an illustration; creating a mind map or graphic to understand how concepts are interrelated; or restating information in your own words and making a recording for playback.
Ask Open-Ended Questions – Essential questions proposed at the beginning of a lesson can set the stage for new learning and helps students focus on the core components of a concept or process. This practice helps students answer why they should be learning this information and explains why they should give it their attention. Personalizing the questions will again help students become more connected to that content, so they should also learn how to ask their own questions about topics. Effective questioning for both teachers and students requires practice. Closed questions have one right or wrong answer, and it is virtually impossible to connect to those questions personally. Open questions provide students with opportunities to answer them in a variety of ways based on personal experiences and understandings. Encourage students to provide evidence to support their thinking as they answer open questions to reinforce the connection between personal experience and new content.
Design Rigorous Assignments – So much time in school is spent doing rote types of assignments and activities that involve answering closed questions – completing worksheets, taking notes, etc. Rigorous assignments are those that stretch student thinking with complexity, intricacy, and divergency. Even when teachers have students complete projects or hands-on activities, many of the steps for completing those assignments are pre-determined by the teacher and often stifle true critical thinking. Having students design their own strategies for showing their thinking adds rigor to an assignment. Exploring and discovering new processes for using tools (such as technology) can also add complexity to learning tasks – and promotes effective digital learning, rather than just digitized learning. This practice is often a struggle for many students, especially because many of them are unused to being asked to really think in school. Initially, teachers may have to model the process of critical thinking for students in order to scaffold steps for completing a rigorous assignment.
Expect Every Child to Contribute – When posing questions to students, teachers sometimes rely on the first few responses from a couple of students and proceed to additional concepts. Struggling or introverted students begin relying on others to answer all of the questions in class while they remain silent. This practice keeps them from thinking critically about the content. Every student needs to grapple with the information and contribute to the collective understanding of each concept. Using a student response system can provide each student with a voice and assist in sharing ideas. Likewise, synchronous and asynchronous participation in discussion forums can also serve to help students process their thinking about what they are learning. Even having students turn to each other and discuss new information or to answer an open question and then share their thinking with the class provides a greater opportunity for participation.
Provide Multiple Ways to Show Understanding – Having every student utilize the same application or complete the same process to show their understanding can limit opportunities for critical thinking. Providing multiple ways to show understanding can enable students to think through the process or the application that better meets their individual needs or capitalizes on their personal strengths or interests. Again, it can be daunting for students to learn all of the possible ways that they could show what they know, but teachers can help facilitate this process by providing choices, modeling thinking, and being open to a variety of learning strategies. Engaging students in the process of developing a rubric for evaluating their thinking and assignments can also support personalized learning.
There are many more strategies for encouraging critical thinking in classrooms, but teachers can begin utilizing the five strategies described above for personalizing the learning experience for students. As with any strategy implemented with fidelity, on-going practice and support will also help both teachers and students develop more expertise in critical thinking.
Almost two years ago, I wrote an article for eSchool News entitled, “The Advantages of the BYOT Classroom.” At the time, I was the Coordinator of Instructional Technology for Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, and the advantages that I listed were the qualities that I had observed in classrooms that effectively utilized Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) to transform teaching and learning opportunities with students’ personal technology tools.
Now, I’m collaborating with several schools and districts around the country that are beginning to implement Personalized Learning to better connect students with engaging academic content; to facilitate the development of digital age skills; and to utilize technology to provide access to anytime, anywhere learning. These benefits occur as districts, schools, and teachers recognize that students have unique strengths, needs, and interests that must be considered within the design of instruction. The methods for addressing student individuality may differ, but they include the same hallmarks of the BYOT classroom. In the illustration above, I refer to these as building blocks, as they collectively construct a firm foundation for personalized learning.
Within each of the blog posts linked below, I focused on the concepts included within the illustration of the building blocks to highlight why they are essential, foundational components for personalizing learning. I also included strategies or described necessary qualities for encouraging the development of each building block within your own personalized learning implementation plan.
Building Blocks for Personalized Learning Blog Posts
- Critical Thinking
A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is beginning its sixth year in implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT). In this post, Instructional Technology Specialist at South Forsyth High School, Carla Youmans, shares her experiences of facilitating BYOT in the SFHS Media and Instructional Technology Center.
Many school systems and businesses have started to permit students and employees to use their own computer devices within school or at work. It saves money, allows for a certain level of comfort, and ensures that more individuals have the capabilities of working digitally. Many people refer to 21st Century Learning in a BYOT/BYOD environment. Perhaps we should begin saying BYOT/BYOD in a digital, personalized learning environment. Our educational system, parents, and society expect high rigor for and from all students. Since more students are taking AP or IB courses than ever before, more students must be capable of high performing work. Therefore, in a BYOT/BYOD digital learning environment we must create a space where students learn and develop skills that set them apart from each other (creativity, problem-solving, innovation, etc).
Steps in the Process
We follow five simple steps in our Media and Instructional Technology Center. The first step is to read. We want students to read for information — to understand, to question, and to infer. As they read, the next step is to collect valid, accurate and reliable information. Many students immediately want to create a new product; however, they have no data or research to support the reasoning for the new product. So, once they have read and collected information, we want them to critically think — What have I learned? What more do I want to know? What can I share? What do others know? How could we together build something greater? This is where the fourth and fifth steps come in: to collaborate and to create.
When we can help students understand this process and follow it then we believe we have pushed them out of their comfort zone where great things can happen.
Empowering Students to Drive the Learning
Encouraging teachers to use BYOT/BYOD in our digital learning environment is best achieved through a project-based learning approach. We teach with a “use what you have to show what you know” mentality that empowers students to drive their assessment by encouraging student choice and student voice in as much of the projects as possible. What does this really mean? It means: possibly having 30 totally different projects submitted by 30 different students to assess the same exact standard. WOW! What a shift from the much discussed “differentiated” classroom to a “personalized” classroom. Imagine all of the students in your classroom learning the way that is best for them? AMAZING!
Transforming the classroom may be scary for some teachers. First of all, teachers are known for writing great directions that explain “exactly” how they want a project to be completed. When we give students packets of directions to create a project, we take away all of the problem-solving, creativity, and innovative pieces that they may add. Secondly, high-achieving students who typically receive a 99 on an assignment and ask “why didn’t I get a 100?” may be caught off guard when they “use what they have to show what they know.” Our current system has molded them to be step-by-step direction followers rather than inquisitive problem solvers and creators.
We never stop learning. Surprise yourself and your students. Allow them to create their own assessments and watch your project based BYOT/BYOD turn into a phenomenal student-centered digital learning environment.