Thought Leader Interview:
Greg Wilborn, Personalized Learning Coordinator
Kathleen McClaskey interviewed Greg Wilborn about District 11, Colorado Springs in Colorado and their journey to personalize learning.
Q. Why personalize learning?
Because we finally CAN!
For the first time in our history, we have the tools and access to resources to allow individual learners the flexibility and freedom to pursue an education centered around their own interests and aptitudes. Educators and philosophers for centuries have yearned for education that is learner centered and molded by the learner as opposed to the factory system. While the desire has been there, the methods have been shackled by the restrictions of human interaction and delivery methods. There is only so much that can be personalized with one facilitator, 20 to 40 learners, and print media and production methods.
Technology is the lever that can move learning to heights yet unseen and now is the time to evolve the approaches and systems to support each and every learner anytime, anywhere.
Personalized learning allows learners to have a wide choice of what they learn, how they learn, when, where, and how they demonstrate their learning. Imagine how many ways learners can approach the subject of civil rights if given the right direction, resources, and coaching. Instead of limiting the subject to the content perspective of a certain time period and location, (i.e. the southern United States from 1960 to 1970) learners can research civil rights globally or locally, related to their own family tree, a historic figure, or throughout history. The research can be done on one of several devices, from many locations, and results can be displayed in a variety of engaging formats and even published for the world to see. Creating (verb) is now the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy and learners can now spend much more time in the act of creating something significant from appropriate content that is of interest to them.
Every learner in every corner of the globe with connectivity can now take courses from the finest learning institutions in the world, collaborate with others, compete for the best jobs, or start their own global business. All with just an inexpensive connected computer device. Those who opt out or are left out may find themselves unable to recover therefore it is morally imperative that leaders transform education and make it accessible to all.
Q. What is your school district’s vision of personalizing learning?
At the heart of the District’s Personalized Learning Vision is the desire to provide all learners with a personalized learning experience enabled by universal access to education through technology, wherever and whenever they choose. The provision of a personalized experience for each individual will drive students’ motivation to learn. They will have the opportunity to work individually, in groups, or as a whole class, locally, nationally and internationally.
The entire district will maximize opportunities for promoting learning and engaging students in exciting and innovative ways. Access to technology resources will be far broader than classrooms; schools’ social areas and the external environments will utilize technology through interactive displays, challenges, streaming information and celebrations of achievement that enhance the academic culture of the district.
The development of a learning platform will allow the learning environment to extend beyond school buildings and traditional opening hours. It will give access to resources, individualized plans, targets, communication tools and achievements for all learners. Online access to schemes of work will allow our learners to plan and think ahead, seeing the progression and connectedness of their learning.
Our digital learning environment will allow learners to engage and collaborate with a wide variety of mentors from global industry and education. This collaboration will enhance the quality of resources available and provide an ‘on demand’ approach that helps build personalized learning pathways.
There will be no single mode of learning throughout District 11; technology will provide flexibility to meet the needs of learners working in different ways. This will be supported by an imaginative approach to school usage, providing a variety of physical learning environments.
A combination of fixed and mobile technologies throughout our schools will be necessary to support this vision but possibly the biggest challenge will be providing access at home in terms of both device and connectivity.
Throughout District 11, technology will be used to deliver a ‘wow’ factor to ignite and stimulate learning. The use of technology across all subjects will become a seamlessly integrated part of the learning experience promoting independent working, creativity, enterprise and lifelong success for our students.
Q. What steps have your principals and teachers taken to create personalized learning environments in their school(s)?
We have launched a comprehensive plan to move all of our schools and classrooms towards personalized learning environments. This enormous endeavor is strategically planned and aligned to the Knoster Model for Change to ensure the greatest chance of success.
Upon completion of the district vision we set up meetings with every principal, walk throughs of their building, administered a School Self Review (http://www.gregorydenby.com/self- review.html) for their leadership team, set up training sessions for team planning and offered planning support along the way. Each school now has a strategic plan created by them, for them and aligned to the district’s vision.
It was crucial to meet each school where they were and to coach them to the creation of a plan that meets the uniqueness of their environment and their journey. With this approach, we were met with mostly enthusiastic involvement and a sense of ownership by the school leadership teams. We have organized our schools (scores of 1-3) based on their own School Self Reviews to determine how ready they are to begin personalizing learning; Due to the role that technology plays in the ability to deliver personalization, schools that are farthest behind are grouped as 1’s. These schools need basic technology upgrades and professional development and lack resources at this time. Schools that have better resources but lack effective utilization are grouped as 2’s, and the schools that are resource rich and just need better understanding and more focused professional development are 3’s. By identifying where schools are in a journey towards personalization, we can then plan accordingly and meet the needs they have to move up a continuum of progress. We utilize Hooper and Rieber’s model of technology adoption in the classroom as a guide to progress.
Hooper, S., & Rieber, L. P. (1995). Teaching with technology. In A. C. Ornstein (Ed.), Teaching: Theory into practice, (pp. 154-170). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Given 52 schools one can only imagine the diversity of paths that exist and progress is measured by ensuring small steps are taken each quarter, this is truly a case of eating the elephant one bite at a time. Projects that are in progress now include 1:1 pilots, establishment of standardized teacher tool kits, experimentation with learning platforms, bring your own device initiatives, flipped classrooms, international student to student collaboration, distance learning courses, and a group of Personalized Learning Lead Educators with representation from every school. As a district, we are creating student and teacher skills ladders for the use of technology, a teacher self review, baseline teacher expectations, online professional development, standardized collaborative tools, and a robotic partridge in a pear tree.
Q. How are you preparing and training teachers to move to a learner-centric personalized learning environment?
Everything we do is tied back to our Personalized Learning Vision which states that professional development across the District will be a key element in transforming education. As we promote a personalized approach to our students’ education, we will create a system that delivers the same for our teachers. At the center of the system will be integrated self-appraisal. We are in the process of creating an online self review for teachers which they can take as often as they like. This will enable teachers to assess their knowledge and skills online and then link directly through to interactive training and development resources that can be accessed anywhere anytime, as often as needed. Our online professional development system will provide the most effective resources from the highest quality providers, many of whom will be District 11 educators.
The District will develop a Personalized Learning Lead Educator Group that will continuously investigate and promote personalized learning and the integration of the best educational technologies into our classrooms. The areas chosen for development through leading educators will be informed by the needs of the District and individual school’s planning. The Personalized Learning Lead Educator Group will be instrumental in the development of exemplar lessons, demonstration classrooms and ultimately demonstration schools which will be specific to leveled tiers ensuring appropriate differentiation.
The Personalized Learning Lead Educator Group will:
- Share research.
- Develop learning resources around their area of expertise.
- Deliver exemplar lessons that can be viewed by other teachers (live and/or recorded).
- Explore new and existing technologies.
- Produce and/or find guidance notes (podcasts, video etc.) in their area of expertise.
- Develop resources that promote an ‘on demand’ approach to professional development.
- Use technology to increase the flexibility of professional development e.g., webinars.
There are many smaller projects that will support teacher growth throughout the district. Skills ladders for the use of technology are being created for students and teachers. We will shine the spotlight and camera upon exemplar lessons and learning environments and share them via our online professional development system. We are also working hard to provide an equitable teacher tool kit for every learning space while we continue to refine digital collaborative tools for all learners.
Personalized Learning CoordinatorColorado Springs SD 11Email: email@example.comTwitter: @gwilbornLinkedIN: Greg Wilborn
“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.
Nicole 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?
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:
- The assessment as a whole could be too difficult; and
- important information about student learning along the achievement continuum would be lost.
- 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
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 http://bokcenter.harvard.edu
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.
Kathleen 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.
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?
- 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
- 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:
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.
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 www.offtheclockeducation.com for more information.
“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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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