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Stages of Personalized Learning Environments (updated)

Stages of Personalized Learning Environments (V2)by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey

Please go to the Personalize Learning website for all information on personalizing learning.

In attempting to transform teaching and learning to personalized learning, consider where you are currently and envision which stage you can see feasible for your school, district or community.

The Stages of Personalized Learning Environments (PLE) Versions 1 and 2 chart needed to be updated. Why? Because of the considerable feedback we received after posting our first version of the chart. Some of the feedback was about consistency and flow across the stages. What worked in what stage?

We definitely want to thank those that critiqued the stages for us and helped us with this version two. Some districts shared with us that our version one was going to be their foundation of their personalized learning initiative. We wanted to refine it so it was clear, consistent, and easily understood. We went to work to update the stages for them and anyone else moving to a personalized learning environment.

Please feel free and let us know how it supports your transformation to personalizing learning.

Download the chart below for free:

Link to Slideshare of Stages of Personalized Learning Environments v2

Some questions to consider before embarking on your journey to personalize learning:

  • Why do you want to personalize learning for your learners?
  • What problems or needs have you identified in your school, organization and/or community?
  • What data can you show that demonstrates the need to personalize learning?
  • What does teaching and learning look like now?
  • What are stakeholders beliefs about learning and change?
  • Why is it critical for your organization and/or community to change now?
  • What challenges or obstacles do you envision as you move to personalizing learning?
  • What do you envision for your personalized learning environment?

These questions showed us that there are different stages of personalizing learning. Personalizing learning for all learners means understanding the different stages of personalized learning environments (PLE).

All feedback is welcome and appreciated. Most of the comments have been through email, on Scoopit and other social media. We are keeping a link to the slideshare of Version One here for your reference.Stages of personalized learning environments (version one) originally published on May 7, 2012

Read Around the World á la Francais

“I think I’m like many teachers: most of us feel like we haven’t yet arrived where we want to be in terms of what we’re doing with students. I have so much further to go and I really want to do more work that infuses rigor and relevance in the curriculum and connects my students to both their communities and the French-speaking community.”    Nicole Naditz

My search for student-centered learning environments led me to Nicole Naditz who teaches French at Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks near Sacramento, California. Our conversation first started about flipping the classroom. She wrote me:

“I’m still a novice in terms of fully turning over my curriculum to the students, but I’m always striving to work more in that direction. In the meantime, I work hard to ensure that what their learning is put to meaningful use, is rigorous and engages them with the French-speaking community beyond our school.
For the online projects with other countries, I have typically designed them in cooperation with the other teacher, although my students always have significant input. I tell the students to write a book encouraging children to eat healthfully. After that, they are free to create. The best books are sent to France or Belgium to be put in the waiting rooms of children’s areas of hospitals or dentists.

That’s when I knew Nicole was moving into the student-centered world even if she didn’t realize it. Email after email, I received specific projects from Nicole.


Preparing for Collaboration with Burkina Faso 
Burkina FasoFor their work with Burkina Faso (the village has no input), Nicole had an idea called ‘Through their Eyes’ about students in both California and the village in Burkina exchanging pictures of how they see their world and lives. Burkina Faso, in West Africa surrounded by six countries, was occupied by France up to 1960. It is currently a member of the African Union and La Francophonie.


The students ran with it from there, taking the pictures, explaining them in French, creating the photo album and selecting other items to send to the students and school along with their pictures. In the box with the photos, they also included some student work from French 3 (student-created “magazine” about French-speaking comic-book characters) and disposable cameras for them to use for their pictures. The students also wanted to send hot chocolate since no one in the village has ever tasted it except for the volunteer. French 4/AP is now matched with a new Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso. The village where she works does not have Internet (or any electricity) but she can access Internet when she goes into town. One day, while she was in town, we decided to go onto Ustream and introduce ourselves to her. We recorded it and sent her the link because it wasn’t possible for her to watch live.


Nicole’s students haven’t yet received their cameras back to get their pictures. This is a very slow process without Internet!!!


Student-Created Museums
Two student-created museums were done by  classes at the Alliance Française de Sacramento. Hosting the museum at the Alliance guarantees they will get at least some other French speakers for whom to present instead of just presenting to the teacher in class. Nicole believes it is extremely important that students do work for an audience greater and more relevant than just for the teacher! - Picture of student explaining show to guests.
at the Alliance Française de Sacramento of a student explaining her exhibit to a guest


African Tales by Solar Light
This was a community event held in cooperation with the local public library as a celebration of solar power before they sent the grant-funded lanterns to a village in Senegal so the families could stop using kerosene to light their huts and the students in the village could do homework and study after dark–students did all the research about solar energy to pick the lanterns and they designed a Web site about their findings.
African Tales by Solar light


The lanterns were funded by a grant from the local utility, SMUD (Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District). The students did such a good job researching solar lanterns to purchase with the grant money that they were able to get twice as many as were needed for the Village, so the class donated another 100 lanterns to the local Red Cross for use during emergencies when there is no electricity.


“Une Nuit à Paris”
Her students are designing a community event celebrating francophone cultures. This will take place at the end of May or beginning of June this year. They chose the theme “Une Nuit à Paris”, how they want to divide up the space (multipurpose room) with exhibits, entertainment, food, etc., and they will be the ones preparing all of the exhibits and food, and presenting all of the entertainment. They will also be the ones hosting the event and speaking with the guests in both French and English (because the audience will have both). This will feature food samplings, student work–possibly including books they wrote and published on Storybird (the class may pay to have them actually printed and bound for the class to share), entertainment by the students, and a few museum-style exhibits on topics of interest to the students.


Earlier this year, French 4/AP created their own inventions and presented them on Ustream: This was very informal. It was a basic homework assignment rather than a “project”. It went with the AP theme of science and technology. We were studying the role and responsibilities of scientists and inventors.


Interview and shot of live stream


French 2 was given free reign to show off what they could do at the end of the first semester. Here is a clip:


Nicole’s class web site is At the top are “links” and within that page are some of the tutorials. Her blog is And she’s working on a new Web site featuring primarily google tools for education but it may expand beyond that:


Nicole NaditzNicole has taught French to grades 3 through 12, including AP French Language since 1993. Nicole is very active in professional organizations. A recipient of numerous awards, including the 2010 Jane Ortner Educating through Music Award, she serves as webmaster and advocacy chair on the FLAGS board. She also serves on the Leadership Team of the Capital Foreign Language Project and she served on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages interview committees for the first National Foreign Language Teacher of the Year in 2005 and for the Florence Steiner Leadership in K-12 Education Award in 2007. Nicole was invited to join the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Subject Matter Advisory Panel for Languages Other than English in 2004. She is the founder of the Read Around the World Program and organizes additional opportunities for students to experience languages and cultures outside of the classroom.


Nicole has presented on a variety of topics at local and state workshops since 1999 and has received several grants for study in France and Canada. She was named an Outstanding Teacher by both the Foreign Language Association of Greater Sacramento and the California Language Teachers’ Association and was a finalist for the California League of High Schools Educator of the Year in Region 3. In addition, Nicole achieved National Board Certification in 2003 and earned her M.Ed in 2006. In 2012, she was named San Juan USD Teacher of the Year, Sacramento County Teacher of the Year and was one of 12 finalists for California State Teacher of the Year. That same year, she also became a Google Certified Teacher.


She has been a member of the FLAGS board since 2001. In her spare time, she enjoys figure skating, calligraphy, singing, crocheting, musical theater and travel. 



Can you see why I wanted to share Nicole’s personal journey?


DOK and Competency-Based Learning

Since 2008-09, New Hampshire high school students have been able to work with educators to create personalized learning plans—with course credit awarded for mastery, not time in class. Time in class is based on the Carnegie Unit or seat time. Demonstrating what you know based on mastery is called “Competency-based Learning.” Rose Colby and Fred Bramante wrote “Off the Clock: Moving Education from Time to Competency.” about New Hampshire’s journey to personalize learning. Rose shared with me their story. I bought their book. I’m curious and want to see how this works. How does this work?

Academic credits can be earned year round through internships, online courses, overseas travel, or attending face-to-face classes. Mentors and/or educators set course-competency guidelines, track progress, and conduct final assessments. Assessments are based on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK).  DOK, created by Norman Webb from the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, is the degree of depth or complexity of knowledge standards and assessments require; this criterion is met if the assessment is as demanding cognitively as the expectations standards are set for students. DOK refers to the complexity of thinking skills that a task requires.

DOK is about…

  • what FOLLOWS the verb. What comes after the verb is more important than the verb itself.
  • the complexity of mental processing that must occur to complete a task.


DOK is NOT about…

  • verbs. The verbs are a valuable guide, but they can sometimes be used at more than one level.
  • the difficulty of what they are learning. All levels of DOK have a place in a rigorous curriculum.


Completely aligned standards and assessments require an assessment system designed to measure in some way the full range of cognitive complexity within each specified content standard. Norman Webb identified four levels for assessing the DOK of content standards and assessment items.

  • Level 1: Recall
  • Level 2: Skill or Concept
  • Level 3: Strategic Thinking
  • Level 4: Extended Thinking


DOK implies the interaction of how deeply a student needs to understand the content with different ways of responding and interacting with the content.

DOK levels are not related to the score points. DOK levels are a ceiling, not a target.  Why is this distinction between “ceiling” and “target” important?

If assessed only at the “target,” all learners with a Level 3 as their highest demand would only be assessed at Level 3. This would potentially have two negative impacts on the assessment:

  1. The assessment as a whole could be too difficult; and
  2. important information about student learning along the achievement continuum would be lost.
How do you determine the DOK ceiling?
  • The level of a DOK item is determined by the task (defined by complex thinking and reasoning skills), not grade level or ability of the student.
  • Therefore, the DOK of the task does not change with grade or ability of the student.
  • Verbs alone do not determine the DOK’s level of an assessment task.  DOK’s focus is on how deeply students need to know content for a given response.
  • Multiple-choice questions can be written at a DOK 3 or 4 level; however, to design a question in this format is difficult.  An Item at DOK level 3 or 4 requires complex reasoning, strategic and extended thinking about the concepts of the content and a real world context, and especially at a level 4 that requires research, investigation and application often over an extended period of time.


Here’s a comparison of Webb’s DOK vs Bloom’s Taxonomy:



Using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge to Measure Rigor


Active Learning using the Socratic Method

Eric Mazur, a Harvard University professor, says learning interests him far more than teaching, and he encourages a shift from “teaching” to “helping students learn.” The trend toward “active learning” may overthrow the style of teaching that has ruled universities for 600 years. [Harvard Magazine “Twilight of the Lecture” May-June 2012]

How can you engage your students and be sure they are learning the conceptual foundations of a lecture course? In From Questions to Concepts, Eric Mazur introduces Peer Instruction and Just-in-Time teaching — two innovative techniques for lectures that use in-class discussion and immediate feedback to improve student learning. Using these techniques in his innovative undergraduate physics course, Mazur demonstrates how lectures and active learning can be successfully combined. This video is also available as part of another DVD, Interactive Teaching, which contains advice on using peer instruction and just-in-time teaching to promote better learning. For more videos on teaching, visit

After seven years of teaching Physics, Mazur realized his students could answer the questions on the test but didn’t grasp the concepts. After administering a test on force, a warning flag went up when one student raised her hand and asked, “How should I answer these questions—according to what you taught me, or how I usually think about these things?” After some soul searching about his teaching techniques, he realized “The students did well on textbook-style problems,” he explains. “They had a bag of tricks, formulas to apply. But that was solving problems by rote. They floundered on the simple word problems, which demanded a real understanding of the concepts behind the formulas.”

He decided to turn everything around and ask his students to discuss the consept with each other. The first time he tried this, it was utter chaos — but it worked. This innovative style of learning grew into “peer instruction” or “interactive learning,” a pedagogical method that has spread far beyond physics and taken root on campuses nationally

Interactive pedagogy, for example, turns passive, note-taking students into active, de facto teachers who explain their ideas to each other and contend for their points of view. (“The person who learns the most in any classroom,” Mazur declares, “is the teacher.”) Active learners take new information and apply it, rather than merely taking note of it. Firsthand use of new material develops personal ownership.

These techniques use the strengths of the Socratic Method that law schools in the US have been using for decades. In law school students read the material before class and in class they discuss with each other the analysis. The whole purpose was to (1) teach you how to think and (2) prepare you for a lifetime of self-learning.

Mazur uses interactive clickers to get instant feedback of understanding. This strategy of active learning can be applied to any grade or age level. Flip the classroom with the concept not just the lecture, then ask each learner to think about it and then discuss it with another learner.


UDL and Transforming Schools: Stephen Petrucci (Thought Leader Interview)

Kathleen McClaskeyKathleen McClaskey interviewed Stephen Petrucci because he was the first British Columbia administrator discussing UDL (Universal Design for Learning) in relation to a personalized learning environment. Stephen is Director of Instruction in School District 60  - Fort St. John, BC.

1.  What is your vision of personalizing learning?

Personalizing learning is education through the eyes and brain of the individual learner.  This entails building a relationship with the learner and creating a profile that reveals personal interests, strengths and prior learning, as well as academic needs.  It involves determining and getting a learner’s input on how they learn best, using a framework such as UDL to collaboratively design instruction and finally, employing the vehicles of technology and the arts to drive that personal learning forward.

**  My vision of personalizing learning has been developing over the past couple of years through our own professional development and through initiatives from the BC Ministry of Education.  Just over a year ago, we took a close look at the report from the Premier’s Technology Council that outlined a vision for 21C education. In addition the ministry put out a call for input from the public through it’s collaborative BC Ed Plan. The ensuing discussions we had at a district level were around the shift from the 3 Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic) to the 7 Cs:

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving.
  • Creativity and innovation.
  • Collaboration, teamwork and leadership.
  • Cross-cultural understanding.
  • Communications, computing and ICT (information, communications and technology) literacy.
  • Career and learning self-reliance.
  • Caring for personal health and planet earth.

Flexible Path


The above graphics are from the Technology Council Report.

As a school district, we continue to reframe our educational practices to try and reflect this shift, particularly as we are beginning to encompass all these new understandings under the umbrella of Personalized Learning.

For myself, I recently attended the UDL course at Harvard in July 2011, which has inspired me to frame our Professional Development using UDL as the filter for Instructional Design.   This is at the very beginning stages and has been complicated by a teacher job action that has been in place since September (no meetings, pro-d, etc.).  A big part of my growing understanding of Personalized Learning has been through a Personal Learning Network (PLN) that includes my blog, twitter, conferences, webinars, collaborative nings (like UDL Connect).

2.  What steps have you taken to create personalized learning environments in your schools?

As I am new to my position (August, 2011 but have been in the district since 1995), I have not personally initiated these projects but as a district, we have done the following:

  • Provided coaching and collaboration time to redesign classroom instruction around Project-Based Learning.  This process allows for learning based on student interest and input.  It is based on the philosopy of High Tech High in San Diego, as envisioned by Larry Rosenstock.
  • About 3 years ago, the district initiated an Appreciative Inquiry process called “world café”, where the community, students and staff gave input and developed a vision for a positive learning experience.   This culminated in a new school built in a hockey rink!  Please see the Youtube video on this here:  Energetic Learning Campus Overview
  • Through professional development of Assessment for Learning on a district-wide level, teachers have collaborated and executed a different approach to assessment.  Rather than relying heavily on summative assessments, we have introduced assessment as learning and assessment for learning as a more common and student-centered practice.  This is particularly evident in one of the criteria of AFL, which is feedback both from the students and the teacher.  Students use peer-feedback as well as give their own reflections on their learning and performance
  • Through the use of BC Performance Standards,  we are able to use descriptive rubrics that allow educators and students to establish a more personalized learning journey.  This includes input from the students as far as self-assessing their progress based on the criteria provided.
  • Specific interventions such as the Reading Recover program for grade 1 students who are struggling with reading.  This is a very comprehensive 1:1 program that works on increasing reading and writing levels based on the individual needs/results of a student.

3.  How do your schools determine how students learn best?

Good question…

  • I’m afraid I can’t say that this is done in any systemic kind of way.  At the Elementary level, there would certainly be more feedback from the students than at the secondary level.  This usually entails activities that are related to Gardner’s multiple intelligences.
  • Where it is done in a more formal way is for special needs students through their IEP (Individualized Education Plan).  Ideally, the classroom teacher along with the learning assistant teacher, specialist teacher and administrator, collaborate on a plan that reflects the learning styles and needs of the student.  Of course, the UDL model teaches us that we should be going through this collaborative process for the entire class…  Unfortunately, this process has had mixed results, particularly when the classroom teacher does not take ownership for the IEP..

4.  How do your students understand how they learn best?

  • We’re not there yet…

5.  How do you see UDL principles working to create personalized learning environments? How are your teachers implementing the principles of UDL in their daily practice to create a personalized learning environment? Please give examples, share photos and/ or tell a story.

See also the responses from question #2, particularly the Energetic Learning Campus video.

  • We are at the beginning stages of telling the story of UDL.  Nevertheless, whether they are aware of it or not, many of the practices our teachers employ fit in the UDL framework.  This is clearly the case with our school and regional science fair.  It is also the case in our environments and classes immersed in the arts such as at our fine arts elementary school – Ecole Central Elementary.  At this school, students are given options for fine arts modules, based upon their interests.
  • As we broaden our understanding and use of assessment in the classroom, we are seeing teachers adjust to the learning needs of their students in a much more timely and effective manner.  All our schools/teachers have had in-service on the Assessment For Learning program
  • We have a 1:1 wireless writing program whereby every grade 6 and 7 student in our district is given a macbook for the year.  They use it at school and can bring it home.  What’s important about this initiative is that the focus is on improving student writing, not on the technology of the laptop.  We have seen our writing results improve over the last few years – particularly with our boys.  Each of the computers is imaged in the same way and include the writing performance standards rubrics for their grade levels.  Students constantly refer to this rubric when writing and most importantly, articulate where they using the assessment language.  The other benefit of this program is of course the spinoff uses for the laptop and the personalization that the students accomplish with it.

All the reports we have on this program are located here:  Wireless Writing

  • Several teachers/students are using technology tools such as Prezi, YouTube, Livebinder, Moodle, etc. to make a more personalized learning environment.  These tools fit well in the UDL framework.

The UDL framework is the ultimate tool for Instructional Design and professional reflection.  It will enable us to move away from content towards process and learning how to learn.  We are a long ways from this but fortunately in our educational jurisdiction of British Columbia, the ministry of Education is allowing us to take the risks necessary to make it happen.  I can’t emphasize enough the power of a Personal Learning Network and how it has helped construct my approach to education.


Stephen Petrucci’s Bio

Stephen Petrucci

  • Grew up in central British Columbia, Canada
  • Bachelor of Arts in French Literature from University of Victoria, BC.  Language Diploma from Université de Caen, France.  Teacher’s training from Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC.   Masters in Ed. Leadership from University of Calgary, Alberta.
  • Started off as French Immersion and Leadership teacher at the secondary level in 1995.
  • Taught Grade 7 French Immersion
  • Vice-principal at the Fine Arts dual-track school (English/French Immersion)
  • Principal of Fine Arts school
  • Principal of K-10 rural school
  • Presently Director of Instruction in School District 60  - Fort St. John, BC.  Since August, 2011.  Responsible for Professional Development, Fine Arts, French Immersion, District Band, Assessment and Evaluation.  And lots of other stuff…


Stephen’s Contact info:
s1petrucci (twitter)


Schools Moving from Time to Competency

The book Off the Clock: Moving Education From Time to Competency by Fred Bramante and Rose Colby provides a comprehensive approach to implementing a large-scale competency-based reform initiative that bases student achievement on mastery rather than “seat time.” This is about the journey that New Hampshire started in 2005 when their state Board of Education revised school approval laws. Learn about a system that is grounded in the passion of the student and experience learning opportunities.

This book is about the ideology of moving from the Carnegie unit “seat time” to having students demonstrate mastery. Competency implies that students have the ability to transfer content and skills across content areas. This is just what we need to personalize learning. After we read the book, talk to the authors, we are going to add stories, data, webinars, and encourage discussions that lead to more discussions about competency-based learning. This book is highly recommended before you have any discussions on personalizing learning.

The Authors:

Fred, a former middle school Science teacher, a former candidate for governor, a life long entrepreneur, and a past Chairman and long standing member of the New Hampshire State Board of Education, led a full-scale effort to redesign public education, especially at the high school level, which resulted in a major revamping of New Hampshire’s education regulations and the subsequent development of the New Hampshire vision For High School Redesign. Fred has been the public voice of this movement and has carried the competency-based message around the country.

Rose Colby is currently a Competency-Based Learning and Assessment Specialist assisting high schools throughout the state of New Hampshire in designing high quality competency, assessment, and grading reform systems. Ms. Colby is a motivational speaker and presenter in the areas of competency based learning, digital learners, differentiation, and school leadership. Since 2007, Ms. Colby has been a partner in the Nellie Mae Education Foundation funded project centered on student success though Extended Learning Opportunities in partnership with Q.E.D. Foundation, Plustime, NH, and the NH Department of Education. She is currently part of the planning team for the N.H. Next Generation Learning Project.

Check out their website for more information.


Kevin McLaughlin shares PJs: Personal Journeys

  “It’s never been a better time to be a teacher/learner.”

Kevin McLaughlin is an ICT Coordinator / Primary Teacher at Old Mill Primary School, Broughton Astley, Leics, UK who transformed his classroom to a personalized learning environment.  He is a Google Certified Teacher, an Apple Distinguished Educator, and Google Apps Certified Trainer. His students create PJs or what he calls their Personal Journeys. Kathleen McClaskey and I had to interview Kevin so he can share with our readers the why and how he changed his teaching and how his students learn now.


“My name is Kevin McLaughlin and I am a teacher. I also use technology, a lot, although it isn’t always about the technology. I am passionate in my role as an educator, and I use my website to offer advice to others as well as detail my use of a wide variety of teaching and learning approaches.”

Why personalize learning?
If you are going to consider personalised learning as an approach in your classroom then you should first understand that every learner is unique. Learners may appear to be similar and at times we can teach learners in the same fashion but to use this whole class approach for every lesson you teach then you run the risk of leaving learners behind. Learning requires more than a teaching plan that focuses on teaching. As educators we need to focus on the learning that is going to occur and the learning that is to come. We can do this by using a personalised learning approach.

What is your vision of personalizing learning?
I have envisaged personalised learning in my classroom as one that involves every learner in the development of their learning journey, that includes their own learning themes as well as those that the curriculum requires of them and allows them the opportunity to explore this learning in any way they see fit to achieve it.

Describe the first steps that you took to create a personalized learning environment in your classroom?
I began developing my approach when I realised that the three step teaching approach – introduction, main activity and plenary was hindering many of the learners in my class. Those that understood the learning focus would grow bored very quickly waiting for the opportunity to show off their learning. Those that required additional teaching had to sit through introductions and main activity demonstrations before getting the opportunity to be guided in their learning. A personalized approach gave me the time to focus on the needs of every learner from the onset.

How did you decide on the new design of your classroom?  
I came up with the design after trial and error. I knew the traditional classroom layout would deter a personalized learning approach so it had to be changed. This requires a good understanding of your learners, how they interact with each other and the development of trust and respect from the start of the academic year as a personalized learning approach will be daunting for any teacher at first. You need to be prepared to allow the learners to move around, to interact with their peers, to sit anywhere with anyone, to use the floor space as well as a table and not to use groupings of any sort unless there is a specific reason for it.

The room is now our Learning Zone and there are no pre-seating arrangements. My class are free to move around, sit with whomever they wish at any time and, if they so wish, pop outdoors for some fresh air and a quick ‘chill out’ session if needed. The Learning Zone is divided into 5 areas:

  1. Discussion and Thinking Zone – Learners can drop in whenever they wish to talk about their learning, find solutions, help each other and just to think and chill out. It’s also still the area where my class gathers for a whole group focus or an additional Creation/Show Off zone.
  2. Discovery Zone – There are 2 of these although one is missed off the top of the image. These contain laptops, pc’s and other technology that the learners can use to guide them on their learning, discover answers, investigate and solve problems, collaborate on projects and create presentations.
  3. Show Off Zone – This is where the learners focus on discoveries they have made and demonstrate their understanding through writing, presentation, art work, display whatever medium they wish to present their work.
  4. Repeat Level – This has evolved from my use of Gamification of learning and an approach that my class enjoy. Whenever any learner requires help, advice, explanations and is ‘stuck’ this is the area they come to repeat the learning so they can move to the next level.
  5. Creation Zone – Creating content for use in their learning, creating presentations to demonstrate learning, blogging, refining, editing. It happens here and it’s usually very busy.


Read more about this on my website.

How does it contribute to personalizing learning for your students?
The classroom layout allows my class the freedom to explore their learning in a way that would not be possible if they were grouped by ability and had specified seating arranged for them.  You can watch a video about this here.


Do you believe that your classroom model can be scaled?
Any educator would find it very straightforward to arrange their own classroom according to my layout. It’s a simple matter of stepping back as the teacher at the front and giving your class over to learning.

How does your school determine how students learn best?
I am quite fortunate in that my school respect and trust the staff to teach in the way they see best for their class. My headteacher has been very positive in my use of this approach and after 8 weeks has seen the proof through improved results in Maths and English.

How do your students understand how they learn best?
My class and I discussed this approach on the first day back in January. We talked about when they considered the best ways to learn, how they liked to move around to discuss learning with others in the class, how when they were at home they could take a break when they needed one, how they could sit on the floor as well as at their desk. I valued their responses to help develop our classroom layout and the personalized learning approach that they would use.

What types of technologies are you and your students using to support their learning?
In my class the learners have access to desktop computers, laptops, 5 iPad devices and the school PC suite whenever it has open spaces. My class can use these technologies in their learning when they know it will be an effective tool for their learning. This approach to choosing the right tool for the job is an essential skill that takes time to instill. This is a recent example of a PJ, a Personal Journey that every learner in my class receives at the start of each week.

The Numeracy and Literacy targets include those required by the school curriculum but the rest is created by the learner and what they deem important to their own learning. Personalising the curriculum for every child in my class has been an inspiring journey for me. I have watched in awe at children working their way through their learning, solving problems in pairs, discussing and thinking, coming up with solutions, offering suggestions and advice to their peers. It has confirmed my belief that if we give learners opportunities to follow a personalised approach they will fly. After the very first week of using PJ’s in my class I found the following outcomes.

  • Every child preferred this approach to their learning
  • Every child was on task every day without having to be told
  • Every learner made progress in Numeracy and achieved at least two targets that I had set them
  • Every learner achieved at least 1 of their own targets
  • Every learner told me they were looking forward to the next week of learning in their Personalised Journeys


What have you learned and what changes have you made from your initial steps?
I quickly learned that using a personalised learning approach meant standing back more as a teacher and giving the learners more opportunities to develop their learning. I found that I had to stop myself from merely giving the process at the start to provoking a question that would inspire the learners to discover solutions for themselves. My planning had to adapt very quickly and I found a daily planner created by Doug Belshaw to be the catalyst for the development of our ‘Personal Journey’ that every child is now using weekly for their learning experiences. The ‘PJ’ has changed from its initial conception after discussions with the learners about what worked and what could be left out. We have now agreed on a format that every learner is happy with.

What would you change in the future?
At the moment I am happy with how the use of the PJ is going. Our PJ’s are on paper as we have found this is the best media for quickly changing plans on the go. I recently came across your chart on ‘Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization’ and it has sharpened my thinking and I will no doubt refer to it during the next few weeks to develop my approach further.

Read more here.

Readers can contact Kevin using any of the following:


Dave Truss on the Inquiry Hub (Thought Leader Interview)

Dave Truss

Dave Truss is an educator (Vice Principal) with the Learning Innovations Network, Coquitlam Open Learning (COL), School District #43 in BC, Canada. Dave shared his thoughts and writes about Inquiry in a way that makes it easy to understand. Kathleen McClaskey and I asked Dave some questions about the Inquiry Hub and personalized learning. He shares how his school will fit well with the BCedplan and the future of education in their Province. It fits well with Coquitlam’s School District’s collaborative work on “Learning Without Boundaries”.


Q. What is The Inquiry Hub? Can you tell us how and why it was developed?

The Inquiry Hub was inspired by conversations around our district vision of “Learning Without Boundaries”.  Coquitlam District Principal Stephen Whiffin envisioned the Inquiry Hub as a natural extension of our program. Stephen is Principal, and I am Vice Principal, of Coquitlam Open Learning, which offers online and blended courses for high school students, as well as to adults looking to graduate or upgrade courses. As part of the student population of Coquitlam Open Learning, Stephen noticed that we were getting more and more school-aged students that were moving away from their day schools and choosing to take full online course loads. However, this wasn’t necessarily an ideal situation, but rather a choice not to attend a local high school.. The Inquiry Hub was born out of the idea that there are students who don’t necessarily ‘fit’ in a traditional high school, but would benefit from having a school to go to daily, rather than just choosing to take courses online.

The Inquiry Hub will offer Grade 8-12 students whom chose to come to this school:

  • Instruction which blends classroom and online experiences in a hybrid model
  • A student-driven inquiry approach to learning
  • Significant reduction of formally structured class time and emphasis on a learning commons where students do daily group project work and individual, computer-based learning
  • Class environments which group students around interests and project focus rather than grade levels
  • Extensive use of peer mentorship in cross-grade project work
  • Core, inquiry-based program offerings which are extended through the extensive list of COL online courses


Q. Can you explain the student-driven inquiry approach to learning?

We are working on the simple premise that if we help students develop meaningful and engaging questions around their own interests, passions and ideas that matter to them, then the learning will be rich and meaningful to our entire learning community. By helping students connect, create and learn together, we will encourage them to look outside of their box and seek a world of potential.


“The power of an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning is its potential to increase intellectual engagement and foster deep understanding through the development of a hands-on, minds-on and ‘research-based disposition’ towards teaching and learning. Inquiry honours the complex, interconnected nature of knowledge construction, striving to provide opportunities for both teachers and students to collaboratively build, test and reflect on their learning.” Neil Stephenson
 Q. How do you help students understand how they learn best?
Thinking about thinking (metacognition) will be something all students explore at the Inquiry Hub. We are currently developing two ‘requisite’ courses that we’ll have every student take when they join us, regardless of the grade they come to us. One of these courses will be “Principles of Inquiry” which will look at domains of inquiry, question development and research design. The other course will be “Applications of Digital Learning” which will explore social networking (and creating a positive digital footprint), learning management systems, search & research, and principles of digital presentation. We will be working with expert educators in these fields to develop these courses over the coming months.
Also, we won’t be having traditional styled classes but instead we will have workshops on specific topics and a significant part of the day that will be designed by students in collaboration with teachers and other students. We will have two larger learning commons areas and also smaller conference rooms that groups of students can work in. Students are empowered to work with other students, meet with their teachers or use their time working independently. We will work with students to figure out a balance of freedom in their schedule with effective use of time, with more freedom provided for students that are self-directed and more guidance for students that work best with that kind of support.
Q. How do you design learning paths for each student? How do students pursue their own interests and have a voice in the direction of their learning?
At the Inquiry Hub we will encourage students to explore their own questions from key themes:
  • Community and global issues
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Media Art, design and technology


In the spring we will be working with teachers to examine the key learning outcomes in the BC curriculum and determine which ones can be incorporated into student driven inquiry and which ones we will support through workshops and online resources. Our goal is to maximize how much of the required curriculum can be covered and uncovered through student inquiry. As students develop and answer their own inquiry questions, teachers will consult and advise students as to how they can incorporate curricular outcomes into their projects.
We also want to provide students with a voice that extends beyond the school, and we are looking for creative ways to involve parent and community groups/members in extending inquiry questions beyond the scope of the school. We hope to foster relationships such that the Hub is just a launch pad for projects that involve doing things in the community that matter and make a difference.


Q. What technology will students access and use to demonstrate evidence of learning?

Every student will be expected to bring their own laptop, (which we can supply if there are financial issues), and students are also welcome to bring any other devices they wish to use to connect and network as well as share what they are doing online.  We are currently looking at different kinds of digital portfolios and learning management systems that would best work within our school district and also serve as an online learning hub for all of our students and staff.

 Here’s a presentation about The Inquiry Hub’s website:

Introducing the Inquiry Hub

View more PowerPoint from David Truss
We are going to follow up with Dave with a podcast asking him about  Truly Questioning Everything. Thanks Dave for sharing your thoughts and helping us define why we need to question everything.
Contact information for Dave:

Personal Learner Profiles and Common Core

Kathleen McClaskey and Barbara BrayKathleen McClaskey and I realize that moving to a personalized learning environment where learners drive their learning takes time over several phases. The first phase is starting with the teacher so they understand Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and how to teach and support all learners in their class. Kathleen co-authored this post with me.


Let’s look at three 3rd grade students with three different learner profiles and how they can meet one English/Language Arts Common Core Standard:

Third Grade Literature > Key Ideas and Details
ELA-RL.3.1. Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

Each Learner is Unique
CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology) states that common sense tells us that each learner is unique. Neuroscience takes into account how individuals bring a huge variety of skills, needs, and interests to learning. [] Three primary brain networks come into play:

  • The “what” of learning: how we gather facts and categorize what we see, hear, and read. Identifying letters, words, or an author’s style are recognition tasks.
  • The “how” of learning: planning and performing tasks. How we organize and express our ideas. Writing an essay or solving a math problem are strategic tasks.
  • The “why” of learning: How learners get engaged and stay motivated. How they are challenged, excited, or interested.


You can determine each learner’s needs by using the UDL (Universal Design for Learning) Class Learning Profile where you can understand their strengths, weaknesses, aptitudes, interests, talents and, yes, aspirations. Using the Class Learning Profile, teachers discover how learners can best:

  • access content information and what format that would include;
  • express what they know and how they could express it; and
  • engage with content.


The UDLClass Learning Profile is mostly used in a individualized learning environment where there may be one teacher to about six students instead of a traditional classroom with 20-30 or more students. However, the design of the Class Learning Profile provides more information about how each learner learns and when used with the combination of other assessments, a clearer picture of the learners in any classroom can be realized and be used for UDL lesson design in any learning environment.

Personal Learner Profile

Three Learner Profiles
The following profiles are about three fictitious students we created to emphasize how learner profiles can support different types of learners and help drive their learning.

John has a difficult time focusing on the text, is not able to write or speak descriptively, and is frustrated when writing his ideas down on paper. He is very comfortable with computers. He is good in math, is able to visualize numbers and patterns, but cannot sequence what is happening in a story. He does not know how to formulate a good question.


Mary is a good storyteller who understands the moral and message of her own stories. She loves to write stories but has long term memory problems which affects how she recounts stories, characters, and plots of a story that she reads. She has trouble in math with visualizing numbers and patterns. Mary likes to talk, raises her hand even though she may not know the answer, and asks lots of questions yet many do not pertain to the story.


Suzie is an avid reader and loves to write. She can write descriptively, likes to draw but is anxious when she speaks in front of others. She forgets the sequence, moral and message of the story when she is put on the spot. She has trouble in math with patterns and sequencing. Susie wants to ask questions but is uncomfortable voicing her concerns. She works better individually or in a small group and enjoys writing in her journal.

In a traditional classroom, third graders read or listen to the same literature and usually are asked to respond the same way to the text as everyone else in the class according to ELA-RL.3.1 standard.

In a personalized learning environment, each third grader knows how they learn best and the best way that works for them to demonstrate what they know. To meet the standard ELA-RL.3.1, the teacher presents a story and offers multiple ways to read, listen, and respond to the story. To personalize the classroom, it can be set up with multiple stations so learners have choices how to learn and demonstrate understanding of a concept:

  • Station 1: laptop computers
  • Station 2: 2-3 tables grouped for collaborative work
  • Station 3: teacher area with places for students to sit (rug or bean bag chairs)
  • Station 4: individual area for privacy or journalling with mobile devices
  • Station 5: standing or pacing area (desks could be high without chairs)


The teacher reads the story to the whole class, invites students to read different sections, and/or includes the book in digital interactive format on the laptops or on mobile devices for students to read on their own during reading time. For this example, we will use the book, Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. Here’s a summary of the book from Carol Hurst’s Children Literature Site:

This beautiful picture book tells of the life of the author’s great aunt Alice, now called The Lupine Lady. When she was little, Alice told her grandfather that she wanted to do as he did: go to far away places and live in a house by the sea. He told her that she must also do something to make the world more beautiful.

She accomplishes all she set out to do: traveling to tropical islands, climbing mountains before she hurts her back falling from a camel and decides to live by the sea. Her need to make the world more beautiful is a source of consternation to her.

Her solution of spreading lupine seeds wherever she walks is at first inadvertent – birds and the wind disperse lupine seeds from some she had planted in her garden before her bad back forced her into a semi-invalided life. When she sees new plants growing on nearby hillsides and cliffs, she spreads the seed herself after she feels better.


After reading the story, the teacher asks students to brainstorm questions that she writes on her interactive whiteboard using a mindmap like Inspiration. She asks students to pair with another student to come up with even more questions and then prioritize the questions so they eventually choose a question to write a response.

The moral behind Miss Rumphius is about values and making the world more beautiful. Each student may perceive values different based on their family and background. On her website Teaching Children Philosophy, Jenna Caputo provides guidelines for philosophical discussions and examples of questions about Miss Rumphius. The teacher can use some of these questions as examples:

Topic: Making the World More Beautiful
Miss Rumphius’ grandfather tells her that she must make the world more beautiful.

  1. What does Miss Rumphius’ grandfather do to make the world more beautiful?
  2. What does Miss Rumphius do to make the world more beautiful?
  3. Is there a right or wrong way to make the world more beautiful?
  4. Does making something more beautiful make it better?
  5. Can you make a person more beautiful? Does that make a better person?


Now let’s go back to our fictitious students: John, Mary, and Susie and how they may develop questions and respond to them based on how they learn best.

John reviewed his learner profile with his teacher where they determined that he needed help focusing and how to come up with questions or responses. The teacher paired him with another student, David, who really knows how to focus on a topic. David is not as comfortable with computers as John. They both signed up for the laptop station where John typed on Google Docs while David focused prioritizing the different questions until they came up with one question: “what would we do to make the world more beautiful?” Then each of them shared what would they do. John wasn’t sure but David nudged him to think about his concerns about pollution, climate change, and too much stuff. John thought about this and his response led to planning a recycling center at school.


Mary and her teacher went over her learner profile. They both decided for her to go to the teacher station. Her teacher could help her focus on the characters and setting of the story. The teacher set up a digital storyboard that included a set of visuals about the story. She then guided Mary to sequence the story visually so she was able to understand the story and generate good questions. Mary used a mobile device with the app, AudioNote to write and/or record her questions. She then shared the questions with two other students who helped her prioritize them. With their help, she came up with the question “how can I make our school more beautiful?” and her response was to design a butterfly garden outside of their classroom.


Suzie’s personal learner profile made it clear that she best works alone. The teacher showed her Notability that has the ability to draw, write, bring in pictures and create audio notes. She discovered that drawing first helped her write her questions in more detail. The teacher came by as Suzie was writing her questions and showed her how she could record her questions using Notability as a way to share her voice. Suzie felt uncomfortable speaking into the device so the teacher asked another student, Jane, to work with Suzie. They worked in a private area in the classroom with the mobile device and practiced going over the questions. Jane’s strength was listening and repeating back what she heard. This was just what Suzie needed to hear: her questions and help with prioritizing them. She decided on the question “Does making something more beautiful make it better?” and to write a response to the question in the form of a story.

When each learner and their teacher understands how they learn best, the learner is more involved in the learning process. The teacher designs a supportive learning environment that allows for each student to personalize how they access and engage with the content as well as how they demonstrate their understanding. This does not imply that students are grouped or taken out of the classroom. A personalized learning environment means redesigning the physical nature of the classroom and the teacher is more of a “guide on the side.”

Universal Design for Learning is a registered trademark of Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). Personal Learner Profile is a trademark of Kathleen McClaskey and Barbara Bray of Personalize Learning.


Making Thinking Visible

How can classrooms become places of intellectual stimulation where learning is viewed not as test scores but in the development of individuals who can think, plan, create, question, and engage independently as learners?

Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners offers educators research-based solutions for creating just such cultures of thinking. This innovative book unravels the mysteries of thinking and its connection to understanding and engagement. It then takes readers inside diverse learning environments to show how thinking can be made visible at any grade level and across all subject areas through the use of effective questioning, listening, documentation, and facilitative structures called thinking routines. These routines, designed by researchers at Project Zero at Harvard, scaffold and support one’s thinking. By applying these processes, thinking becomes visible as learners’ ideas are expressed, discussed, and reflected upon.

The authors, Ron Ritchard, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison, ask “As we shared our research and classroom tested ideas about how to make thinking visible, be it in a classroom or with a group of adult learners, people kept asking us where they could read more about them. How could they learn more about how others were using them? How could they ensure that they and their students weren’t just using the thinking routines as activities? To answer those questions we put together this book with help from educators around the world.”

Watch a video from co-author Ron Richard about the Importance of Thinking.