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The Benefits of Personalized Learning in a K-12 Setting: A Student’s Perspective

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Repurposed speech from educator Carrie Hargrove during her Personalized Learning and Individualized Learning (EDUC629) class at American Public University.

By Carrie Hargrove
Online Learning Tips Guest Contributor

Imagine a world where every child learns at his or her own pace, is given the tools to succeed,  is motivated, has the desire to come to school each day, is presented with learning opportunities that match their unique characteristics and where all students love to learn. Now reflect on your own educational experiences. When I attended k-12 schools, the teacher-centered approach was the norm. Teachers presented the information, students were expected to listen, and the same assignments (usually worksheets) were handed out to complete. A set curriculum, time to attend, place, and certain expectations were in place for all to follow. This is still the norm in most schools today.

What is Personalized Learning?

In, How To Teach Now: Five Keys to Personalized Learning in the Global Classroom (Powell & Kusuma-Powell, 2011), the authors  note that “Personalized learning is about making the curriculum as attractive and relevant as possible to the widest possible audience. This is accomplished by providing multiple access points to a high-quality curriculum access points that will entice students with different readiness levels, interests, cultural backgrounds, intelligence preferences, and learning styles.” So how do we do this as teachers? The Powell’s explain that there are five key steps to accomplishing that goal:

Step 1: Knowing our students as learners

This step involves really getting to know our students — their background, how they learn best, their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, etc. This comes from careful observations in and outside of the classroom, conversations with parents, previous teachers, and conversations with the students themselves. It also involves looking at classroom data to see how well students perform on various types of learning tasks. Once you know these things, you can present them with learning opportunities that are the best fit. If a student is very visual, maybe they need to utilize a computer game, watch a video, or do a hands-on project. If a student is very active, maybe they need to practice their multiplication facts while jumping up and down.

Step 2: Knowing ourselves as teachers

As educators we are expected to reflect on our beliefs about teaching, about students, and on any “cultural biases” we have, while being willing to adjust our thinking if we see that our ways of thinking are not best for the students.

Step 3: Knowing our curriculum at the conceptual level

When we think about the curriculum, we think about how we can best reach each student to draw them in, get them excited, and help them to learn. The authors suggest that it’s about finding that “access point,” which doesn’t mean that the teacher has to create several different lessons for each student to match their learning preferences. It is about giving them options and different ways of learning the material and showing what they know (videos, drawings, verbal responses, hands on, etc.).

Step 4: Knowing our assessments

This step relates to “knowing the curriculum.” We need to offer students choice in how they show their understanding. If a student is a struggling writer, we could think about allowing them to share verbally, draw a picture, or create something. We really want to see in-depth, critical thinking to know they understand the material.

Step 5: Knowing collegial relationships

Working together with fellow teachers is so important in personalized learning. Like our students, teachers have different backgrounds, personalities, and learning styles. If we have a student we cannot seem to reach, our colleagues can offer some great ideas that we may not have thought of.

The Powell’s explain that a personalized classroom must be “respectful” and everything done must be “purposeful.” We need to make sure all students are included, that we make a concerted effort to present them with meaningful learning opportunities to match their needs, and everything needs to be done with thought and purpose — how they are seated and grouped, when they have breaks, and so on.

The article Innovate to educate: System [re]design for personalized learning; A report from the 2010 symposium (Wolf, 2010), discusses how a group of educators collaborated to come up with the following “five essential elements” of personalized learning:

  1. Flexible, Anytime/everywhere learning (learning that doesn’t just occur during the typical school day and school hours.
  2. Redefine Teacher Role and Expand “Teacher” — This means the teacher becomes more of a facilitator.
  3. Project-Based/Authentic Learning Opportunities — allowing students to use more critical thinking and hands on learning to show a true, real-world understanding of ideas.
  4. Student- Driven Learning Path — students make choices and take ownership in their learning.
  5. Mastery/Competency-Based Progression/Pace — students do not move on until they truly grasp the content.

It is helpful to read about real examples of how personalized learning has been implemented to give you some ideas. The Powell’s write about a boy named Nicolas, a struggling writer that really could not show a deep understanding of a book the class was reading when asked to answer prompts on paper. When given the opportunity to draw out his thoughts, he blossomed. The drawings created a bridge and he was then able to verbally and in writing articulate some deep thoughts.  In Connections Academy®, which is a virtual online school, the year begins with the teacher having an in-depth discussion with the parent and student to learn about their strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, likes, dislikes, and so on. As the year progresses and the teacher learns more about the student, personalized learning takes shape. Supplemental instructional programs are put in place for kids that respond well to online educational game type programs. Adjustments can be made to the pace of lessons, and the teacher can suggest ways to help a student grasp a concept by looking at their unique learning needs and personalities.

Personalized learning is something specific to every educator, and should be taken into careful consideration with each class, and the students. As a result, we will see students eager to get to school and learn, rather than students dragging out of bed and complaining that they do not want to go to school. Learning should be fun, and you can help make it that way for your class.

References

Powell, W., & Kusuma-Powell, O. (2011). How to teach now: Five keys to personalized learning in the global classroom. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.

Software & Information Industry Association. (2010). Innovate to educate: System [re]design for personalized learning; A report from the 2010 symposium. In collaboration with ASCD and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Washington, DC. Author: Mary Ann Wolf. Retrieved from http://www.siia.net/pli/presentations/PerLearnPaper.pdf

 

About the Author:

Carrie Hargrove is a second grade teacher at Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA) and has taught there for six and a half years. ORCA is the largest public virtual school in Oregon, serving more than 3,000 students in grades K-12. Carrie earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Western Oregon University, and her Master of Science Degree in Education from Eastern Oregon University. She previously taught in classroom settings in public schools.

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