Put students in the Driver Seat and Teachers in the Passenger Seat.
You might be thinking, what is personalized learning? Personalized learning has worked very well for drivers ED. All of my children were taught from behind the wheel. The driver’s license manual gives us the rules to the road, but it does not teach us how to drive. Real learning of how to drive can only be done by actually driving the vehicle. That’s one great example of personalized learning. Visualize how that idea can transition to the classroom.
Student engagement in their personal learning has been a subject of concern for many years. One obvious benefit of the example above is that the student drivers are engaged in their learning. I have never witnessed a new driver that was not engaged in the learning process. This type of engagement can be reached in a personalized learning environment that emphasizes student’s choice. Student choice must be implemented so that personalized learning plans can reflect what students are actually interested in. In this example, students want to pass the driver’s test. There is no problem getting them engaged in the learning process. We must capture the essence of this outcome in every setting.
Our Chief Technical Officer at Classary had a high school experience that was similar to a lot of students. He was not interested in the subjects being taught. He was typically disengaged in the classroom. He had very few teachers that really knew what motivated him and what he was involved in. He spent most of his time outside of school learning to write code for web applications. He relied on finding the information to make him a better coder online and through self-teaching. Imagine if he was given a simple web app development project as a high school student. This does not mean that his high school needed to have a computer programming class. The web app project could be associated with just about any subject that his school offered. As a result, he becomes instantly engaged in learning. School becomes fun because he is absorbed and captivated by the content. Imagine if we connected core subject standards to this project using cross-curricular planning. I envision a language arts standard that asks a student to write a five paragraph, compare and contrast essay. Traditionally the teacher has given the topics of the compare and contrast essay. In a personalized learning situation, he would be able to write a comparison essay about the pros and cons of a Mac computer versus a PC. I would be willing to bet that the teacher would be extremely pleased with his effort. The motivation to perform is built into the fact that he is fascinated with the subject matter. This is an example of meeting the student where they are. A very important ingredient to the success of a personalized learning plan.
We must develop a mindset that allows us to meet the student where they are in their learning experiences. Kim Updike, The Assistant Principal at South Lake High School, in Groveland Florida brought an interesting challenge to teachers recently. She challenged teachers to look down their rosters and tell her one thing about each student. What are some challenges that they face? What do they enjoy? What are they interested in? This challenged proved to be very difficult. Since then, I have made a commitment to do just that. We must understand as teachers that everything is built off of the relationships that we have with students. Same thing is true in our professional lives. Most positive things that happen in your life as it relates to your professional advancement or opportunities come via a relationship. When a friend or acquaintance can introduce you to a person or situation, you gain instant credibility. If a student enjoys being around you, they will work harder for you. A positive relationship with your students in the classroom is at the very heart of a successful personalized learning environment. The only way to structure a proper personalized learning setting is to better understand the student and what motivates them. We know that both students and adults are motivated by what interest them. So we must connect students with their curiosities by meeting them where they are in the personalized learning process.
Personalized learning is moving across our nation at a very fast pace. There has been a large amount of support from private organization to assist with this movement. There are a number of opinions on what personalized learning is. I feel that personalized learning is a continually changing and evolving. There are a number of great examples of good personalized learning programs. I am not from the school of thought that thinks that every student is college bound. I believe that as teachers, we must prepare students for either college or a career path right out of high school. Teachers must encourage the development of the Soft Skills necessary to ensure that the students are successful after their school experience. This learning process will incorporate a variety of important tools to help the student be successful. The simple approach to personalized learning must be anchored in the fact that teachers cannot be afraid to enter this new generation of learning. The traditional approach to teaching and the way most of us have learned is no longer effective. Students have very little interest in listening to teachers stand in front of a classroom lecturing for 50 minutes per period. Personalized learning leans toward the fact that teachers will become facilitators of learning as compared to traditional styles of teaching. As technology, and the ways that students learn has evolved, our teaching styles must evolve also.
When implementing Personalized Learning, teachers must assume the role as a success coach, mentor, advisor, and creator of a learning plans that has the student at the center. Foster good relationships with your students. Take advantage of these good relationships with your students to help them maximize their personalized learning experience.
Teachers must be able to connect the personalized learning to real world application. If YouTube or Khan Academy can demonstrate the teaching point better than you can, then make this resource available to your students. It’s a powerful learning tool. I have learned more things using Lynda.com than I care to share. The point I am trying to make is that we must take advantage of every resource we can to make teaching easier and more effective.
Devices such as smartphones and laptops are an important part of a personalized learning plan. Students should be encouraged to use them. I realize that there are students that do not have access to these devices. Schools must embrace the importance of technology in today’s learning. It’s time to get out of the dark ages. Schools need adequate equipment for their students. The resources exist if the proper commitment is made up the line.