Monday, July 24, 2017

"Grading" Personalized Learning

In May, a group of high school teachers from another district came to observe our class. While they appreciated how our class was conducted, they kept coming back to the question, how do we grade the learners? This blog will outline how we assess learners’ proficiencies and report scores, in a personalized learning environment, within a traditional reporting system.  

Fortunately, our school district has already taken steps towards bridging the personalized learning approach and reporting out. Departments are unpacking the standards and identifying power standards. The power standards are the learning targets. The content becomes the vehicle to reach those standards. Thus providing a nice framework for us to plan out a curriculum map for our course.
To begin, we design formative and summative assignments around power standards for each unit (related blogs 3 pillars, the how and they why, why we stopped giving reading quizzes, learning vs doing).  

The formative work(daily learning targets or assignments) serves as daily FEEDBACK in order to determine if/when one is ready for a summative assessment. While the summative assignments or assessments serves as VERIFICATION that the standard is met. In the end we are measuring proficiency, not compliance or behavior. The marking or grade is reflective of a learner’s current proficiency (what they know and can do). The amount of time they take to reach the standard due to where they are at, doesn't count against them in an arbitrary, unfair way. As the learners strive to reach standards, they are deeply involved in the process. In turn, they take ownership, build confidence, and become more motivated.

Research shows that the likelihood of success is measured by past successes. Failure and success are not episodes, they are trajectories. Performance is shaped by what happened the last time, so our goal is to set up learners with winning streaks (Schimmer, “Grading from the Inside Out” 2016). We do this by offering different pathways in the formative work so that all learners gain confidence before they approach a summative assessment. Having multiple opportunities to get feedback and learn from mistakes, engages the learners and ensures one is learning vs doing. Research also shows using grades to punish or reward decreases motivation and damages the process of learning (Moss 2013).

Assessments can feel overwhelming to teachers. Many teachers assign a point value to every single task/assignment. Through personalization we have learned that everything one does in the learning process DOES NOT need to be marked or scored. The formative work is the practice, where learners can take risks, experiment, even fail. Formative work supports learning, and is the avenue to provide feedback. Then learners know what the next steps are to prepare for a summative. Currently, we do not use a standards based reporting system, so we do give credit and points for formative work, but it is only 10% of a learner’s grade and very few formative assignments are worth points.
        This practice makes learners more aware of their “LEARNING” vs their point accumulation. In many current reporting systems, parents and learners become grade obsessed and lose sight of the learning. The results show learners seeking what will get them the most points. Many individuals attempt to complete work only for the external motivation of points rather than thinking about their learning. Again, learners don’t need a grade or score on formative work, more importantly it is used for them to gauge their understandings and plan for the next step. Eventually, leaners stop asking "how can I get an A?" and begin asking questions like, "how can I craft a more powerful thesis?" or "what can I do to be a stronger critical reader?"

Additionally, we do not take off late points or deduct credit, ever.  Doing this would be assessing one's compliance vs proficiency. We teach accountability by incorporating internally motivating strategies. Learners assess their mindsets, they reflect and they learner reflections and they set goals. When these types of punitive deductions are calculated into a final grade, the grade does not accurately reflect a learner’s proficiencies.  

For example, if a learner turns in an assignment that is beyond the suggested completion parameters, we ask them to answer the following questions:

1.) Why are you off pace in your learning?  
2.) What steps are you taking to get back on pace?   
3.)  How can I support you in getting back on pace?                                                            
We incorporate building on skills that help lead to success in any environment. Skills such as responsibility, work ethic and organization. All of these interactions and feedback are not a part of a learner’s final grade, but are an integral part of the learning process. At the end of the day, we believe in giving learners full credit for what they know, regardless of how long it took them to show it. This created an environment that was focused on learning and growth, vs points and grades.   
All summative assessments verify meeting standards. If a learner does not meet the standards, they have a chance to reassess (attempt the summative again which for our course usually involves, revising their essay/writing or project). Learners who do not meet standards are given an “I” (incomplete) or an "IP" (in progress) until they can demonstrate meeting the standard. This ensures learning for all and sets a high expectation that a standard must genuinely be met. 
Being that we do not have a standards based reporting system, we use rubrics to generate a score/grade to put into our gradebook. We were part of a committee for the Edina school system that created a scoring rubric for each power standard for English Classes, at our district level. This allows for consistency and alignment between teachers and also allows for learners to have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.  
For each summative we create a rubric that includes key parts with language specific to the standards we are addressing.  For example, learners write a persuasive essay on a character after reading Lord of the Flies or Of Mice and Men. We created a rubric for the essay that identifies the standards they need to meet when composing the essay. We copied parts of the district standards rubric that pertained to character analysis, writing arguments and providing evidence. In preparation all formative work was in regards to analyzing the characters in their chosen novels.  
Learners used the rubrics in the drafting process to make sure they understood what would be assessed. We looked at how a learner did against the rubric and generated a grade to put into the gradebook. This is how we broke it down:
If a learner "exceeded the standards" in two or more areas and "met" all other standards she earned an “A”.
If a learner "exceeded one standard" and "met" the rest she earned a “B”.
If a learner "met all the standards" she earned a “C”.    
If a learner was "below/approaching the standard" she needed to continue working toward "meeting" the standard.                                                                                                                       Of course reporting will vary some. There is still room for subjectivity depending on teacher discretion. There is no perfect system but we found this way the best way for us to fit standard based grading into a percentage/letter grading system. Identifying the standards and having a rubric provides clarity to individuals. In turn they can partake in creating individual pathways to meet the standards. For the persuasive essay learners read different books, but were still assessed on the same standards.   
   Rubric ex.png  Here is another example of a rubric from our Shakespeare Unit...shakespeare rubic pic.png   
Every step of the way the learners are involved in the process.  It begins with them setting goals for meeting the standards and knowing exactly what is expected of them.  Rubrics are shared with learners so they reflect on their proficiencies and determine where to go. At times they also help draft summative rubrics.  One instance where individuals draft their own rubric in our course is with a choice writing piece. Once a learner chooses a choice piece to write, they craft a rubric that outlines the requirements they will meet. Each learner rubric is unique to their chosen writing genre.  
Having learners create the rubric has many benefits. First, they are given choices on what they want to focus on as a writer. Second, they investigate what is essential and appropriate for their choice of writing genre.  Third, they are aware of the expectations and are more motivated to meet the learning targets. As teachers, we conference with the learners to help guide them in drafting rubrics. We make sure they are challenging themselves and are accurate in comprehending and meeting the learning targets.
 Regardless of how the rubric was created, learners always reflect and self-score before we offer our "final" assessment. In the end, learners are given a grade based on how proficiency. Because personalized learning focuses on proficiency over letter grades/points, individuals are immersed in a culture that promotes learning.
          Recently a fellow colleague asked, "How do you know a kid is ready for 10th grade?" The response was: "We don't think in those terms anymore. We ask, what skills and competencies does this learner now have, as they approach another school year?" 

Final thoughts to consider:
~How much of grading reflects the speed of learning?
~How much a learner knows and how hard they worked are two different things.
~Punitive grading is more of an issue of inaccuracy vs accountability.
~How can one set up winning streaks for learners to give them confidence and motivation?

Highly recommended resource:
-Grading from the Inside Out,Bringing Accuracy to Student Grading, by Tom Schimmer

Friday, May 26, 2017

Collaboration in Personlized Learning

If we ask ourselves what we want learners to be able to do when they leave our classrooms, what would be on the list?  Ideally, we strive to develop learners to be innovative and critical thinkers, competent in reading, writing and technology skills, and being able to communicate effectively with others.  Personalized learning can take on many forms to build on these skills, but it is not just learners working in isolation.  Although we allow for voice and choice the majority of the time, we still take advantage of the collective environment and foster collaboration.  We are intentional with learners practicing and reflecting on how they communicate with others.  For some learners this means we are pushing them out of their comfort zones.  Great teachable moments always arise when learners are out of their comfort zones.     
tracking speaking.jpg
Tracking Sheet: Offers an Idea, Asks a Question, Refers to Text...
One of the ways learners collaborate and practice communication skills is through different discussions protocols to broaden their perspectives and deepen their understandings.   In our “Identity Unit” learners meet the following standard [ Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, including those by and about Minnesota American Indians, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively].   Learners use a tracking sheet to assess and monitor how they are contributing to a conversation. Just like in anything we do in our class, learners reflect on the collaboration experiences to grow as learners. Learners participate in a series of discussions before having a fishbowl paidia to demonstrate meeting the standard.  In the “Snowball” discussion learners begin to analyze a topic in groups of 2, then move into groups of 4, and end in groups of 8.  As the groups expand in numbers, learners go further into analysis.  We strategically groups learners using colored cards, that included shapes, so each round it was seamless to move into new groups (they start by finding the person who has the same number and color, then it is all the same color forming groups of 4, finally they gather with all the same shapes and create groups of 8). Learners also participated in rotating stations, where they rotated to different discussion prompt stations and added on to what the groups before them had discussed and noted.  Finally, learners participated in fishbowl paideias where one group was in the middle and all other classmates were surrounding them in a circle and observing their discussion. (for more discussion protocol ideas see blog “Letting Go”)
Used For Snowball Groupings
Rotating Stations Example

Groups Of Two in Snowball
Groups of Three and Four in Snowball
Group so eight for Snowball

At the end of each class, learners reflected on each discussion formats and how effective they were in each setting.  This reflection allows them to be more aware of what types of study groups to seek out in the future.  Of course, each learner had different preferences and it was interesting to read their rationales for why some preferred smaller groups and others enjoyed the larger groups.  A few learners even voiced concern over not having a “choice” to participate in the fishbowl.  Learners are used to being able to choose how they learn, this was a great teachable moment about “comfort zones”.  We reminded learners that too often we want to stick with what we are used to but the times we stretch ourselves out of our comfort zones, is usually where we grow the most.   
dicussion reflection.png
Our role as teachers has changed to guide on the side, but as guides we still challenge learners to try new things, collaborate with others, and reflect on each learning experience.  We have found that because have so many opportunities for voice and choice in their learning, there is more overall by in with the class.  The times they are not allowed a choice, they are still engaged and willing to try new things.     



Monday, May 8, 2017

Learning vs Doing

One’s freshman year of college is quite a transition.  In retrospect, both of us feel we weren’t anywhere near ready to be independent learners.   After listening to lectures, reading and attending class it was still hard to come up with a written analysis, where one articulates in a formal academic essay his or her understanding of the intent behind an author’s work.  The effort to highlight important parts of an article or chapter turned entire pages yellow.  We didn’t learn how to think, rather we learned to do what our teachers asked us to do.  We did well because we could “do school”.  As teachers, how many times are learners simply doing what they are asked to do, versus inquiring, analyzing, synthesizing, thinking critically, problem solving or creating original work?

As we head into the home stretch of the school year it is so validating to see how our learners are more prepared.  They now demonstrate the ability to articulate how they learn and what they need to grow in their skillsets.  Without doubt, our learners are more confident in their abilities to create their own learning paths.  With our learners growth has come our own abilities to broaden our lens around personalized learning.  

We are constantly reflecting upon our work and how we are helping to engage individuals in their learning process.  Our last unit consisted of learners making a choice between two books, Lord of the Flies or Of Mice and Men.  

The standards focused on analyzing characters and persuasive writing.  We gave book talks on each book and advised the learners to consider several things when making a selection including.  We took the time to ask them to consider personal interest, reading level, and amount of assigned reading.  We asked them to also consider their schedules outside of class in order to seek a balance that would set them up to do well.

Once choices were made, we shared the format of the unit.  Just like previous units we did the following:

Introduced the essential question(s)
Pointed out the standards
Asked learners to set goals (they had to create a reading, writing, and “growth” goal)  
Reinforced what formative work days would look like (see below).

During formative work time we shared some strategies to analyze characters, but learners had choices in how they wanted to engage in the work.  When planning we made sure to think about the skills behind the standards.  In turn, we provided strategies that called for learners to continue refining their skills as they discussed, wrote, debated, analyzed and created.EXAMPLE OF FORMATIVE WORK LINK

As mentioned before, we reflect on our work too.  Our learners told us they wanted a format where there could be some structured and ongoing “debate”.  They weren’t sure what it could look like, but they were sure they wanted it.  They expressed a desire to have more opportunity stepping out of their comfort zone to consider, challenge and discuss a perspective outside their own.  We were thrilled!  Our response was to offer yet another choice for formative work.  So, in addition to other formative activities, we wrote debate topics on a wall and encouraged learners to try out this additional way to engage.  One group even led their own discussions the entire time and shared their learning through written reflections and recordings of part of their discussions. The learners asked for the time, and we trusted they could handle it.   Check out one of their discussions:

The juggling of more than one book can seem overwhelming.  As in the past we would begin and end the class as a whole group.  However, because of the standard we decided tweak one component of the daily voice and choice.  That component was the teacher seminars.  In past units learners had a choice to participate in a teacher seminar, but for this unit, all learners were ‘required’ to attend the teacher seminar.  The teacher seminars feel a bit more traditions where a small group discussion is lead by the teacher to illustrate important parts of the content that allow for deeper analysis for each novel.  In past units learners had a choice in teacher seminar, but for this unit, all learners were asked to join teacher seminar.  This change shows how there are times where voice and choice varies and the lecture is not lost in this work.  Because a good part of the class allowed for a choice in how they analyzed the characters, learners attended seminars without hesitation and with a true curiosity to engage.

In this way, our learners do experience expectations that are laid out for them that they must meet regardless of their preferences or their most effective learning style. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be prepared for real world expectations. They could also become stuck in learning styles or patterns that could be improved if they explored options outside their comfort zones.  But keep in mind that personalized learning is about helping learners to find effective ways to learn for their own advancement and future success. One size fits all education does not do this.  We believe that by using personalized learning techniques we are living up to our mandate to teach and reach as many students as we can.

The goal of every work day was for learners to experience both guided instruction, but also time to generate their own critical thinking around the characters.  The most important piece of our unit plans happens near the end of class.  

Daily as a wrap up, learners  had to reflect on the choice they made and how productive they were.  Also, one was asked to document a possible thesis to pursue in their persuasive essay.  We intentionally asked learners to reflect not only on the process but also the content.  This marriage is important as it allows one to reflect on skills AND how they are interacting with the content in order to meet the learning target.   We asked, “Did you take steps towards meeting your goals today?” or “In your choice today what went well?  What could you improve next time?”  Finally, we asked, “What are you considering as a writing topic for your persuasive essay?” STUDENT EXAMPLE LINK
shinbee reflection.png

The mentality to “do” is eliminated when learners are given the chance to come to their OWN CONCLUSIONS instead of just doing what the teacher tells them to do.  Furthermore, the reflection was individual as opposed to listening to the same 3 or 4 learners share out in a whole class discussion the learning that occurred for just them. As teachers we read through their reflections daily.  This is where we monitor where they are in their learning, if they are using their time well and if they need more specific help outside of what is incorporated in class.  If we see a learner struggling, not reflecting, not meeting goals, showing signs of disengagement or lacking anything necessary to meet the standards, we prioritize a conference with them and help them get back on track.         

Once again the emphasis in this unit is developing critical thinking skills through character analysis.  By letting go, and allowing for learners to help design a plan for their learning, come to their own conclusions through reading, writing, discussing or debating makes the learning more meaningful and authentic.

In the beginning of the year we illustrated growth vs fixed mindset with learners and continued to refer to the language throughout the year.(See blog “Setting the Foundation”)  We say things like, “A growth mindset person will experience the discomfort, and doesn’t disengage when they get stuck or challenged…”.  We also make the analogy to push-ups, and ask why anyone does more than one push-up?  The answer is to get stronger, and this is the same with learning.  Learners have to work on their endurance as thinkers and don’t just do something to be “done”, but continue to think deeper.  We give them time frames to work on something versus a set number and challenge them to think/work the entire time.  We use the phrase, “We are getting stronger, keep doing push ups!”  


In what ways can you let go and allow for voice and choice?  Are your learners “learning” or are they “doing”?    

In what ways can you let go and allow for voice and choice?  Are your learners “learning” or are they “doing”?  

Do you make time for learners to individually reflect, not just on the content but the process as well?   

Saturday, March 18, 2017

No "Blueprint"

How Learner Goal Setting Dictates Instruction

One of the most intimidating factors for teachers transitioning to a personalized approach is the idea that the planning process is organic.  In other words, one isn’t able to make copies of an assignment four weeks in advance because he or she doesn’t know if that assignment will be the best fit down the road.  Teachers are planners by nature and there is some comfort in knowing one can plan a couple weeks out.  For us, the most important thing we do to help in the planning is make time for student self-reflection and goal setting meetings.  If the focus of our instruction becomes building a capacity to learn where individuals have growing learner independence, allowing time for reflection easily becomes a priority.  

Our learners reflect at the end of every unit.  They carefully recall their recent learning processes and contemplate how they added to their personal toolbox.  Learners reflect independently, in groups and one on one with teachers.  We started asking learners to reflect on the process and what they discovered about themselves as a learner at the beginning of the year (Sept. 16’).  At that time, we had to offer quite a bit of help pinpointing skills that were addressed in a particular unit, lesson or activity.  We would ask questions like; What is your reading process?; How did you access the vocabulary you needed to know for that project?; Did you have any distractions as you worked on your technology piece?; Is it easier for you to listen to a lecture or talk with a few peers?  Modeling the language of reflection for individuals was necessary.  At one point in our quest to seek more training around personalization we were told teaching learners to reflect is as important as teaching them how to read and write.  Our hope was for learners to be able to be more articulate and specific in their reflections later in the year.

Here we are later in the year, having just wrapped up another round of goal setting and reflecting and the growth around the ability to self-reflect is incredible.  Here are some examples of learner goals around writing:

“I want to be more effective at annotating in order to improve my outlining and organization.”

“I want to include more strategic transitions so my argument is clear.”

“I want to further define my voice with more unique word choice and transitions.”

“I want to work on aligning my claims without so much redundancy.”

“I want to take more time to process what I can write in order to make for a stronger argument.”

“I want to be able to transition someone else’s ideas to my own.”

“I want to adapt my claims to my analysis more consistently.  I want my argument to be clear to myself and in turn my audience.”

“I want to express a point deeper with less bias, consider multiple perspectives and reach a broader audience.”

“I want to spend more time committing to the editing process.”

“I need to practice more patience when tackling a writing assignment.  Writing is hard for me and I need time to process.”

“I want to find meaning in the work.  I don’t want to write just to write.”

“I am going to make more time to read outside of school in order to be exposed to various writing styles.”

During this time of reflection learners were working through literary terms necessary for our upcoming unit.  We asked learners to consider the dedication it takes to build their learning capacity by engaging in the work for the day.  In the end we asked learners to choose three literary terms they feel most interested in understanding at a deeper level.  See a list of the terms here!  We told them to be prepared to share these terms with us during reflections.  Every single learner worked through 95% of the terms even though we only asked them to choose three.  Most learners did all of the terms.  

Now let’s go back to where we started, the organic planning.  When we met with each learner to reflect and set learning goals we also had them share the terms they want to “specialize” in (see example list of terms here).  Our next lesson will include plans that allow individuals multiple ways to access their chosen terms and study them on a deeper level.  Throughout the unit each learner will be exposed to a variety of AP Essays (they choose the pieces they want to read).  The goal is for each learner to identify where their understanding of the terms is evident in the essay as well as the impact that device has on the reader and the overall message of the piece.  

We couldn’t plan this a month ago. We had no idea the students would be advanced to this point so early.  In fact, we can’t imagine planning more than a day in advance because when the lessons are planned in “real-time”, meeting learners where they are at the self efficacy is off the charts.  

The two of us have done much reflection ourselves.  When thinking about our former learners we know the experiences our current learners are having is much different and more meaningful.  In the past, we have had learners showcase incredible growth through summative (final) assignments.  However, in truth, we believe they could not have grasped and articulated their learning process in the way our learners can right now.  Former learner reflections were more scripted and less authentic, because they didn’t quite understand their role in their learning.  At this point, that difference in one’s ability to describe his/her learning is what we believe demonstrates the value of personalized learning.  Even with our roadblocks and obstacles (we all have them), our time with learners just keeps getting better.     

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Personalized Learning vs Differentiation

Moving Beyond Differentiation into Personalized Learning

Teachers are constantly asked to take on more and more as professionals.  With class sizes ranging from 30-40 learners, there is always more to do to meet the needs of all their learners; implement and plan for instructional strategies, interventions, enrichments, technology, collaboration, etc., etc.  And yet, there are still those learners who, regardless, never really engage either for lack of effort or ability to do so.  It’s no wonder teacher burnout is so high and many are reluctant to take on “one more thing”.  So when Barbara Bray pointed out at a training on personalized learning that teachers are doing too much of the work she intrigued our interest in learning more about personalized learning vs differentiation.  

Six years ago leveled courses for 9th grade English in our school district were eliminated.  The new course was titled, Pre-AP English 9, with the intent that all learners would have access to rigor and be exposed to skills needed to take an AP class as a junior or senior.  This was an exciting change for us as we saw it as an active step to make student’s learning opportunities more equitable.  In order to meet the needs of a wide range of abilities, we became “master differentiators”.  Differentiation is a well-known practice in education where the teacher tailors instruction to meet individual needs.  While this instructional strategy is useful, we find personalized learning to be so much more effective.  We will illustrate by explaining three differences.

#1 Differentiation
Personalized Learning
Teacher designs different learning experiences and assigns them to the learners.
Learners have voice and choice in how they access, engage, and express information.

  • What resources can I provide to support learner's learning paths?
  • What are the different ways learners can access (get), engage (do), and express (show) information?

We used to create 3 different tiers for all assignments that would get more in depth with each level.  All assignments related back to the same standard but offered 3 different entry points into working toward a standard.  One of the downsides of this approach was all learners were asked to do the same thing at the same time (work on their chosen tier while we as teachers tried to make it around to as many learners as possible), which was too slow for some and too fast for others.     

Personalized Learning:
Now our approach has changed.  Learners are now asked to apply skills to open ended topics that address the standards, and learners choose how they engage in that topic.  Our in class work time used to be all learners working on their chosen tiers. Now learners choose from an array of options for engaging in the work.  Typical choices are teacher seminar (working with teacher), collaborative groups (working in a small group) or independent work.  Depending on the standard and topic we may provide additional choices such as a Socratic Seminar (group discussion based on a text), or other exploration opportunities. The work looks different depending on the choice a learner makes.  We still help learners generate ideas as to how to tackle the topic/theme/concept of the day, but in the end they have an incredible amount of choice.  We take on the role of the “guide on the side” as opposed to the “director at the center”. As mentioned in earlier blog posts, this voice and choice time has increased student engagement tremendously.  Learners feel empowered by the choice and have more buy in.  Also, we find the learners that need extra guidance almost always choose teacher seminar, so we now have 7-8 learners who may have been off task because they don’t know how to begin sitting with us all at once.

Besides giving them choice in how to learn, we give them choice in how they want to meet the standards.   That brings us to our second difference between differentiation and personalized learning.    
#2 Differentiation
Personalized Learning
Teacher creates different assignments for learners to choose from.
Learning connects to interests, passions and/or skills.  

  • How can I create flexibility and choice in content, skill, and knowledge development in order to meet leaners where they are and spark their desire to learn?

When it comes to assessing learning, traditionally teachers create projects or tests for learners to complete.  With differentiation a teacher may create a menu of assignments from which learners choose.  Teachers put ample amount of time and creative thought into designing the assignments and then learners complete them.  While we still have assignments that all learners complete, such as essays (literary analysis, expository, and narrative), we also allow for learners to dictate how they will demonstrate meeting a standard.  This allows the learner to express original thought, refine critical thinking skills, problem solve, and grow in learning independence.  Most importantly, this also allows for learners to tie into their passions and interests.  We have seen learners more excited, engaged and motivated when they get to design their own summatives (assignments that measure mastery of a standard).  We have witnessed individuals stretching themselves further than they imagine, thus enhancing their self efficacy.

In a typical unit we begin with the “why” and show the standards that learners will work toward meeting.  As Jim Rickbaugh says, “If one starts and stays with the why, this opens the flexibility for the how.”  To form the foundation of the ‘why” for learners, we develop an essential question based on the standards that are being addressed.  Next, we map out the summatives (“final “ assessments that measure competency), that will be required for all learners to complete.  We also make sure to incorporate voice and choice in meeting standards (as demonstrated in our previous blog “3 Pillars of Personalized Learning”).  For us, the voice and choice come into play with regards to answering the essential question.  

Consider the following example, used for a novel unit where To Kill a Mockingbird serves as the vehicle for the learning.  For one standard, we have learners complete a literary analysis around the evolution of theme (learners chose the theme).  This is a staple and it’s a common summative each learner needs to complete. Learners were also asked to meet the standard of: As an individual or in collaboration, create a multimedia work, a remix of original work and the work of others, or a piece of digital communication for a specific purpose.  Learners needed to answer the question, “How is one inspired, influenced, or impacted by their community?” (Also known as the “why”).  Learners were able to express their understanding through choice.  We encouraged them to consider their personal passions around elements of a community be it volunteering, sports, environment, literacy, music, and art just to name a few.  Their projects were authentic, meaningful and inspiring-all because we tapped into one of the most underutilized resources in classrooms today, learners themselves.  

#3 Differentiation
Personalized Learning
Teacher passes out and directs learning
Learner setting goals, self monitoring, and directing learning with guidance from the teacher.

  • Based on what I know about my individual learners, what actions can I take to increase their learning success?
  • What instruction will my students need to support the next stage of learning?

The gap for some learners gets bigger and bigger because they cannot keep up with the pace of a class.  A teacher introduces content or skills and if a learner does not understand the materials or is unable to complete the task, the class keeps moving on.  The approach assumes kids can effectively be taught in “batches”.  Should a learner “fall behind” he or she would be expected to get extra help before or after school, and for some kids that is simply not an option.  Those kids miss out, lose interest and begin to lack confidence.  
There are many external factors that keep teachers moving at a certain pace, the standardized tests, the large amount of standards to cover and content a teacher is expected to get through in a school year.  Differentiation typically does not allow for different pacing, but different choices in how a learner may show their learning.  Personalized learning is achieved by learners setting goals, monitoring, and directing their own learning, so pacing can vary.  We have found this experience to be about equity, all learners are being met where they are at and allowed to slow down or speed ahead based on their readiness.  With the ratio of our classes (the number of learners to teacher) this can be challenging, but we have found ways to allow for multiple paces in our 9th grade Pre-Ap English class.  We accomplish this in a few different ways, and in each unit it works differently, but we plan out “pacing parameters” for an entire unit and learners can then navigate their way through the unit.  We demonstrate this in other blogs, but here are some different unit maps, the pacing calendars are in the middle of the documents. TKMB Personalized   The Other Side of the Sky Personalized  

Correspondingly, we ask learners to goal set at the beginning and end of each unit to guide learners through the process.  We still offer direct instruction (teacher seminar) and still have large and small group discussions based on various topics that all learners can participate in regardless of where they are at in the pacing calendar.  Learners have reflected that they like the independence, flexibility, and extra time this method allows for them to process and truly gather not only what they learn but how.  The learners who move through at a faster pace, have time to go on to a challenge, extend their thinking, or have more time to process and go deeper into the content. Our class is organically evolving based on learners’ needs, interests, and relevancy.