Personalized learning is not a new term in the field of education, and it is happening everyday in Klein ISD. Teachers work countless hours to make sure that they are meeting the needs of their vastly diverse classrooms. But, as educators we all know that no matter how hard we try there are obstacles that get in our way. We also however know that reaching students on a truly personalized level is what’s best for kids. By sharing our attempt at personalizing learning for all kids, we hope to give you the courage and confidence to take this risk despite the obstacles in your way.
One of the reasons we started this journey was because we knew there was a better way to help kids learn and grow. While we are constantly differentiating for our students, they still did not own their learning, the teacher controlled what they would learn and when. We wanted to release some of this control to the students, in hopes that they would embrace the learning opportunities we were providing them.
We created learning paths for the students to work through at their own pace, based on the standards they had not mastered on a pretest. Once they reviewed their scores they were able to see which standards they had already mastered and which they still needed to learn. By using technology, mainly Schoology, we were able to manage each student’s mastery level based on the standards they were learning. We created instructional videos for the students to reference, a number of practice activities for the students to apply the knowledge from the initial instruction, and mastery tasks that offered choice in “showing what they know”.
One non-negotiable through this process was face to face time with the teacher. Even though the students worked independently through their paths, at their own pace, the teacher was still actively involved. Some days she pulled small groups of students who were struggling through the path and needed some guided help. Some days she did whole group lessons based on non-essential standards that are in the curriculum. The most powerful time was spent one-on-one conferencing with students about how to progress in their learning. The rubrics we created for mastery were such that she could tell the student very specifically what they needed to improve upon, and give them guidance to do so. The students were fully engaged in their paths, so the teacher was able to have these conferences more frequently than in the traditional classroom learning environment. If you ask the teachers involved in this process, they will tell you this was their favorite part.
Another positive in this experience was the students truly knew where they stood. In the past our grades have been cluttered with compliance tasks, so they didn’t really know what they didn’t know. With this mastery based system the students and parents could clearly see where they stood, and we could have meaningful conversations about how we were helping the students succeed.
What we found was a much larger percentage of students engaged in their learning. We found students working on their paths not only in class, but at other times as well. Many students were constantly advocating for themselves, telling the teacher they needed help or were ready to move on. When students were allowed to work through a path at their own pace, we saw growth. The most rewarding thing we saw was students empowered to become better because they wanted it, not because the teacher told them to.
Was this a lot of work? Yes. Was it a controlled chaos? Sometimes. Did it take a while for the students to buy in? Yes. Was it a lot of checking and grading? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely yes! Is this what is best for kids? Without a doubt! Can you do it too? Just jump in, you’ve got this!
~Written by Carrie Raiyawa