Sunday, March 24, 2019

Systems and Supports for Personalized Learning: Daily Flex Time

Our school has made huge strides in continuous improvement. When we reflect on how that growth occurred it has to do with two things: systems and supports. Systems that back effective and responsive teaching must be adopted and supports that remove barriers for professional growth (i.e. time, resources, strategies) must be in place. At South View Middle School in Edina, MN, one system we designed in order personalizing the learning process was initiating a school wide “daily flex” time.
Implementing a daily flex involved a three year evolution of rethinking instructional time for efficiency. The first stage of daily flex was replacing two days of advisory time weekly. Every other Wednesday and Thursday, learners would sign up to see a teacher of their choice. A follow up survey for learners about this change informed us that not only did learners value the time, they wanted more flexible time. Stage two involved creating space in the schedule for a daily “core content” flex time paired with a flex called “WIN (what I need) Time”. WIN involved all teachers and was at the same time every other week (in place of advisory). Daily core flex was a different time for each grade level and was offered every day, every week. Our leadership team determined they would restructure time in order to have a core flex by moving ten minutes of core classes to be a part of a daily flex time. This repurposing of time allowed learners to see core teachers daily, and select time with specialists, as needed, (during WIN) on an every other week basis. Stage two was a step in the right direction, but it created a different schedule for each grade level and the number of teachers available to run a flex was limited. The first two stages led us to where we are today with a daily flex at our middle school.

Current System for Personalized Learning: School Wide Daily Flex

After three years of trying out some variation of flexible time, we feel we have landed on a schedule that maximizes student learning. Each day begins with advisory followed by a 35 min daily flex time for all grade levels right after advisory. This forward thinking schedule encourages teachers to rethink how they use their instructional time, and invites learners to have ownership in identifying and meeting their individual learning needs.
Now, all teachers (core and specialists) offer a flex session that is a continuation of their class every day. Some learners need additional support, some need more time to process or work, and some are ready for rigor and enrichments. A teacher may offer all three pathways (support, extension, and enrichment) in one daily flex or one pathway per day. Teachers offer an instructional response based on daily formative work in order to determine what to offer. The result is relevant learning experiences that meet needs in real time. The key is the LEARNERS CHOOSE how they are going to use their flex time and sign up using our flex schedule. In order to help guide the learners in the process, our teachers all follow the same naming conventions and write a description for a flex offering.
Grade, Pathway, Teacher Name, Title
6, Support, Gardner, Close Reading Strategies
7, Extension, Dahl, Build It Project Work Time  
8, Enrichment, Pettis, Advertisement Tactics
Support - direct instruction on concepts previously taught in class
Extension - process time, next steps, additional application
Enrichment - expanding upon learning on a deeper level
Student view of the flex scheduler

All decisions around flex time are data informed. Teachers guide learners in knowing how to use their daily flex time by providing them with feedback. Formative work serves as FAST (fair, accurate, specific and timely) feedback, and teachers prompt learners to reflect on how the formative work informs them of the next steps needed in the learning process. Learners gather this feedback from their classroom teachers and merge that with the support offered by their advisor. Advisors oversee their advisees’ academic progress and help them navigate how they are using daily flex time.
Again, daily flex time is a system that allows for teachers and learners to be responsive to the learning in order to provide the supports, extensions, or enrichments learners need. After unit summatives or during the formative process, teachers no longer have to navigate finding time to meet learner needs before or after school. Rethinking the organization of time in a school day has allowed teachers to meet needs much more efficiently during the school day.

Benefits of Daily Flex Time
Research says, if a learner’s core instruction focuses below grade level outcomes, then the learner will learn well below grade level. Daily flex allows learners to receive targeted interventions without being pulled out of their grade level classes or electives. Additionally, daily flex provides further enrichment opportunities that invite inquiry and project based learning. For example, South View STREAM, is a daily enrichment option for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders offered during daily FLEX. Learners engage in a learning process where they can continue working on an enrichment for a specific class, or they can design a project based on exploring something of their own passion. Learners have taken advantage of STREAM to conduct a science fair project, continue delving into a History Day project or again, originate and enage in their own passion project.

                                            Another perk of daily flex is the built in opportunity to invite different guest speakers related to various careers and other learner interest areas. Recently, South View has welcomed a Minnehaha Creek expert, a documentary filmmaker, a sports journalist, a clothing designer/business owner, and chemical health counselor. The guest speakers have been well received, and there are plans for future guests. Other ways teachers use daily flex advantageously have been for music ensembles and combined rehearsals, grade level registrations, grade wide learner profile work, interdisciplinary units, student leadership groups and even swimming lessons. Our incredible student support staff also capitalize on daily flex time in order to run small groups around topics such as, stress and worry, new student experiences, high school 101, and organizational skills practice.  


We have had over 20 schools come to see personalized learning and daily flex in action. The most common questions about daily flex are outlined below. 

Question: What about the learners who need help in all their classes?
Answer: A teacher may “lock” (schedule in) a student into their flex and other teachers can see that on the flex scheduler. If a teacher sees a learner is 'locked' they know not to pull him or her. Due to the fact that flex is offered daily, learners have multiple opportunities to access time with a variety of different teachers. 

Question: What about the learners who don’t make good choices?
Answer: Teachers guide learners in the process, whether that is locking/scheduling them in or conferencing with them in class and or advisory.  All teachers have an advisory, and as advisors we oversee academic progress for our advisees. When an advisor notices that a learner is struggling, he or she helps the learner determine how to strategically plan out their use of the daily flex time.  

Question: What about learners who just sign up with their friends?
Answer: Learning is social and we don’t necessarily see working with friends as a negative. Still, if a teacher notices learners struggling to self-regulate and be productive in flex time, they intervene just like they do in their classrooms. For many learners it is an advantage to work with others during this time, and it fulfills the social needs and academic needs of learners.

Question: What about learners who don’t sign up at all or who sign up for the ‘wrong’ 
Answer: For the first month of the school year, we have a gradual release in order to train the learners how to sign up for daily flex. 6th grade has the slowest release, because they are new to it, and 8th grade has a faster release because they have been using the schedule in previous years. Grade levels use the first week of daily flex to schedule learners in to talk about the purpose of daily flex, as well as how to navigate the time and figure out the logistics of the scheduler.
As additional support, at the start of the year, we have a flex ‘intervention’ in place for teachers to send learners who sign up for the wrong class, show up without being on the roster, or are having any other complication with the system/process. For example, if a 6th grader signs up for an 8th grade basketball flex, the teacher of the 8th grade flex will send the learner to flex intervention. Once there, the learner can meet with a teacher to help him/her understand what happened and how to fix it moving forward. Flex intervention is for any teacher who has an issue with a learner in flex, therefore teachers don’t have to waste flex time helping a learner problem solve and find a new flex to go to. After a month, flex intervention becomes flex ‘detention’. The shift to detention is for learners to have a place to go when they are misusing flex time, not signing up, going to the wrong place, or using flex time to game or distract others. Flex detention is a device free zone and the learners lose a choice in where they want to go. Learners quickly understand that they are being held accountable for how they use daily flex and the teachers want them to take full advantage of this time.  

Data Collection          
In a recent survey, learners and staff were asked if they find daily flex to be beneficial. 50.7% of learners reported daily flex “always” beneficial, 29.5% said often, 14.3% said sometimes, and only 5.6% said rarely or never. The staff feedback around daily flex was also positive. 51.2% of staff reported they “strongly agree” that daily flex has had a significant positive impact on student learning, 41.5% said “agree”, and only 7.3% said “disagree”. Almost all grade levels saw improvements in MAP scores in reading and Math from December 2017 to December 2018. All grade levels saw growth against NWEA grade level targets. 
We believe the improvement in scores is in large part due to learners having the time to relearn, spend more time, or extend their learning during daily flex time. The system of daily flex has teachers thinking about how to give FAST feedback, what learning pathways are needed both in class and for flex time, how to use learner reflection (or learner profile) to guide instruction, and how to better support creating opportunities for rigor and enrichment. Daily flex time plays a vital role in forging multiple pathways and personalizing learning for all.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Feedback Speaks Louder than Points

Strategies for Giving Accurate, Specific and Timely Feedback.

Educators know how important feedback is for ensuring learning. The problem lies in how to actually make that happen when you teach hundreds of students. After repurposing formative work, being more intentional about teaching learners how to get feedback, and using single point rubrics, our feedback to all learners is more accurate, specific and timely.

This graphic from the Jim Smith @MrDataGuy illustrates how we have shifted our mindset around assessment. In the past our feedback consisted of points/grades on formative (daily) work with more thorough comments on a summative (final) test or project. We have reversed that order and now give more comments on the formative work and only a final score on a summative. Everything we ask learners to engage with for formative work is a lead up to a summative test or project. We call this formative work ‘feedback’, as it is used to inform learners what they know, as well as offer direction for an appropriate pathway to continue learning.

Before we begin a unit of study we create the final summative assessment (test, paper, or project). Then we create a single point rubric that lists the criteria that will be assessed.  The criteria for success is based on identified standards/competencies. A single point rubric is used to provide a final summative score. Also, the rubric is referenced and used to give feedback on the learning process throughout daily lessons. In other words, the same rubric is used for both formative practice and the summative assessment (test or project).

Rubric used for FORMATIVE assignment, learners then focus on growth areas as they proceed to the summative

Rubric for the SUMMATIVE, this rubric now includes points that will be added to the gradebook

We keep three things in mind when designing formative assessments.
1.) Formative work is always connected to the intended learning goal.
Because we begin by planning the summative assessment, we can link all formative assignment to the end goal. Also, in addition to feedback on understanding of content or task related goals, there are many times we give learners feedback on the process and the ability to self-regulate.
2.) Formative work must inform the learner of what they know and don’t know.
We no longer put points for a grade on formative assignments, we provide comments on a single point rubric. This gives learners specific feedback on what their next steps should be. The feedback helps a learner identify areas where more support is needed, areas for which they need just to have more processing time, and finally, areas where they are ready to go deeper and take advantage of an enrichment opportunity.  We no longer collect and comment on every class assignment. For example, when learners take Cornell Notes to learn new information, we do not collect and score these notes. If a learner asks, “Do we need to turn this in?” our response is, “Is it something you need feedback on?” This approach also allows learners to make mistakes without being docked points and focus on the learning rather than their compliance. In turn they can learn from mistakes without being penalized in the formative process.
3.) All formative work has the potential to elicit an instructional response.
Just as the formative work informs the learner of what their next steps should be, it also informs our plans for instruction. For example, when working on an essay, each learner turns in one body paragraph of a draft for feedback. The submission allows us to plan and offer targeted flex groups based on needs that the formative work presented. Some learners may need instruction on topic sentences, some on supporting evidence, and others revising their thesis. We plan accordingly and design multiple pathways for the next class, based on the learner needs the formative work presented.

Repurposing formative work with those the above criteria in mind, has made learning more purposeful and reporting against the standards in the form of a grade much more manageable. Timely feedback is critical. Knowing many teachers are responsible for hundreds of learners, this can feel overwhelming. It’s important to note that teacher feedback is just one way to keep learners informed of where they’re at in the learning. In our classes, we also teach learners how to use and give feedback from peers as well as themselves. Again, a single point rubric allows learners to give specific and accurate feedback to peers or becomes a self-reflection tool where one assesses her own understanding against the standard(s). Other strategies for peer feedback could be, turn and talk, coaching circles or interactive notebooks. 
Teachers can have learners assess themselves against an exemplary example of a final expression of learning. Consider the study of rhetoric. After engaging in understanding ethos appeal, learners are given a formative assignment to identify the ethos appeal. Once learners have done the formative work, the teacher shares the answers with the class. At this time learners check their own work and then reflect on what their next learning steps/pathways. Feedback to self is a critical skill. We end every class with reflection. We require learners to use what we have done in class as feedback. Reflection prompts might include, How does the study of ethos appeal connect to what we have already learned? How is it similar or different? What are the natural relationships and patterns? Whose point of view does it represent?  

In all of our work with personalized learning we are making the learning process more visible and accessible for all learners. We do this by establishing common language, being flexible, and engaging the learners. When learners understand formative work as feedback they are empowered and able to make data informed decisions for learning pathways. This ensures learning for all.   

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Problem With Retakes Policies

"As the leader in the classroom, the teacher creates the conditions for success and the foundation for confidence which allows unexpected students to achieve high levels of performance. Leaders within our system do the same for the adults they lead." -Tom Schimmer

Many schools have gone to or are working towards standards based grading. Assignments are broken down into two categories: formative and summative assessments. Formative is meant to be practice and worth a small percentage of a learners' grade, while summative assessments are evidence of learning and holds the most weight. For this reason, many teachers allow learners to re-assess or retake any summatives that learners do poorly on. Retakes can assure learners meet the required standards, but the problem lies in the retake policies. Many teachers have retake policies that involve additional work, coming in early or late for re-teaching, and evidence of review or studying of the content. Our question is, why is all of the required AFTER the test? Once a class takes a test the class proceeds to move on to the next unit. Now a learner that is already struggling, needs to do extra work to try and catch up while the class keeps moving onto more content. This is overwhelming, stressful and missing the point of retakes. 

Retakes are meant to ensure learning for all, and honors that some learners learn at different paces. Additional learning needs to happen before a learner can retake a summative otherwise the results will be the same. In a personalized learning framework, learners have access to different pathways so learners have opportunities to do all the things teachers require for retakes BEFORE the test. If formative work is used as feedback (see blog Why don’t we trust learners to make choices) then learners know what they know or don’t know before they get to the test. Throughout the unit they can take advantage of teacher seminars for direct instruction, flex time for re-teaching or extra help, and provide evidence they are ready to take the test. 

Multiple Pathways

In a personalized learning class, the teacher already knows who is struggling and is able to intervene through pathways. There are points during the unit where teachers can slow down for some, while letting others go deeper or pace faster (see blog Multiple Pathways). Teachers that are well into personalizing are even letting learners test early and move on to applying the content to new situations to enrich and extend the learning. 

The key is to give FEEDBACK to learners before they have to demonstrate mastery on a summative assignment, project or test. We have found using "one point" rubrics allows us to give timely and specific feedback to learners. We try and use the same rubric (or as similar as can be) on the formative work that will be used for the summative assignment. This way learners get feedback in the process of learning and not just in the end. This formative feedback also informs us as teachers which kids need more instruction or more support before getting to the summative. We invite these learners to extra teacher seminars, daily flex offerings or during lunch. Once again, the formative work is crucial for providing learners and teachers with the data needed to determine which pathways the learners need to take in their learning.  
Single Point Rubric Example

Test Qualifiers

In addition, learners must complete “test qualifiers” that prove learners are prepared to demonstrate their learning on the test. A test qualifier can take on many different forms, in our class it is a check list for review and reflection. Learners would work on and be assigned a test qualifier the class before the test, when we would have traditionally had a review day. If a learner comes in to take a test and they have not finished the test qualifier, that learner will spend the class completing what they didn't finish.The learner will be required to take the test within the week, so there is still an end date but the message is you need to be prepared and qualified to take this test. 
Test Qualifier Example


1.) Use formative work that is directly connected to the summatives as feedback for the learners.
2.) Create pathways for support, extension or enrichment informed by the formative assessments.
3.) Assign "Test Qualifiers" to help learners understand whether or not they are prepared to take the summative.

As Teachers we need to set learners up with winning streaks, so they continue to strive for achieving success. Determining a date for a test and holding all learners to mastery on that date without a retake option is not equitable, but neither is requiring additional work for retakes. Giving learners access to different pathways so they have more than one opportunity to learn the content, concepts or information is equity! Personalized learning is about equity….ensuring learning for all!   

Monday, September 10, 2018

Personalized Learning, Where do We Start?

In just one year it is amazing how far our school has gone with personalize learning.  As we begin year 2 as PL coaches, we reflect on how we got started and moved as a school towards personalizing the learning for our learners.  

Common Language
While there can be many learning pathways, our school landed on creating norms and common language around teacher seminar(direct instruction with the teacher), collaborative groups(2-4 people working together on a common goal), and independent flex.  Each grade level spent time discussing and practicing each pathway.  On the first day teachers guided the learners in a conversation about what a teacher seminar would look like, sound like, and feel like. After discussing the rationale for choose to learn from a teacher seminar, learners went on to learn content in a teacher seminar.  The most important part of the guided practice came at the end of lesson when learners reflected how effective the teacher seminar was for them.  They answered the questions, “Were you able to meet the learning goal? Did you feel engaged?  Were you able to stay focused?”  In the next day of class it was the same format but the class discussed, practiced, and reflected on collaborative groups.  On the third day of class the class was guided through discussing and practicing independent flex.  Finally, on the fourth day of class the learners chose to engage in the content through teacher seminar, collaborative groups or independant flex, and of course reflected on their experience and learning. Here is an example of how 8th grade modeled pathways with learners.  8th grade PL INTRO

Naming the learning process gives learners an opportunity to reflect upon and own their learning.  Even if learners do not have an opportunity for choosing their pathway, when the teacher names the method or strategy they are using to help the class meet the learning goals, the learners develop metacognition of the process.  

Pathways through Classroom Space
Learners sitting based on where there are in the research process 
How does your classroom space reflect the experience you want learners to have?  This simple question gets to the heart of how important it is to think strategically about how you design your classroom space. These are the four things we asked all teachers to consider:
  1. Design not decorate: most classrooms are cognitively distracting.
  2. Consider how the space creates multiple pathways: use flexible seating that is conducive to seminars, collaborative groups, flex groups, and independent learning.
  3. Use the walls as a canvas for learning: think of your class as vertical and not just horizontal.
  4. Leave room for learner input: they have ownership and can see themselves in the space.

The teachers in our school ran away with these ideas and transformed their classrooms, see what we mean from this presentation SV Space      

Learner Profile/Reflection
Our school has learners track their learning preferences, academic progress, and goal setting in advisory. Advisors use the schoology advisory page to assign documents that gather this information to the learners. Advisors check in with learners and conference with them about their learning profiles.  Academic Check In     Learning Preferences   Learner Success Journal    

One of the best entry points to personalizing the learning is by implementing ongoing reflection for the learners. Reflection is really processing the learning so it should happen at all points in the class.  Reflection requires learners to think about what they know, don’t know, and what their next steps should be.  Learners can reflect independently, in small groups or as a whole class.  Our class begins with a learning goal and ends with learners reflecting on their understanding and effort they put in to reach that understanding.  This allows learners to track their effort and self-regulation and then compared to how they do on the assessments. 
Example of learners reflecting on the daily goal with evaluating effort and understanding 

Data for the learner to reflect on, how their effort scores related to their test results

Here are other reflection prompts that can be used to help process the learning:

-How is this similar or different to ____________________________________?

-How does this part relate to the whole?

-What perspectives were represented?  What perspectives were left out?

-Explain the relationship between__________________ and ________________________.

-Tell a story that illustrates________________________________________.

-What does this new learning make you think of?

-What can you do with this information?          

Monday, August 27, 2018


Recently we were asked to present a 'Spark Session' at a Personalized Learning Conference in Chanhassen, MN. "Sure!" Was our response, shortly followed up with "What is that?" The response: "It's just a 5 min. inspirational speech. Just wow them with humor and inspiration. It's a pep talk!"
We were honored and also greatly challenged! Below is our original script for our 'Spark Session' (slightly over 5 min.), and the video of the end result. We loved this exercise and plan to implement something similar with learners this year! 

Spark Session
We are fellow educators who don’t take our careers for granted. Our relationship is unique because we are not only colleagues but sisters as well. Our journey to embrace and practice personalized learning has given us a new lease on careers we love.

We wish everyone had the opportunity to work with their sister because we feed off each other’s energy and creative ideas. More importantly, we give each other courage. Courage to take risks, be vulnerable...lead a ‘spark’ session. That’s one of the things we want to share with you today. In your work, you may not have the opportunity to work with your sister, but we encourage you to find your person that can be that inspiration to you.

Relationships, resources and relevance are three components of personalized learning we found to leverage the purpose of one’s learning.

Relationships and Resources
Scientists have found that our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for food and water. Our instinct for relationships and connections is why most of us became teachers. Our calling is to work with children and have a lasting impact on their lives. The research also says, that no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship. Every child that walks into our classrooms wants to be validated, and in the words of one of our favorite teachers, Oprah, every person wants to know, do you see me, do you hear me, does what I say matter to you?  

In our work we are reminded that it’s impossible to form connections with every learner if we are standing behind a desk or podium and talking at them for most of the class. Personalized learning invites us to establish deeper connections to our learners because it allows us to shine a light on their interests, talents and gifts. By inviting the learner to engage in the learning process, we have seen those quiet and reserved learners become passionate and excited to share their discoveries. For instance, we will never forget when we went away from our traditional summer reading essay and asked learners to answer the question, “How does reading create an experience for one to grow?”  At first they were hesitant in trying to respond to the teacher truly giving them creative permission. In the end, they each brought unique and creative ideas to express learning, and began to see one another in different lights. New connections were formed and they began to see one another as resources and experts.  It was apparent that the teacher was not their only learning partner in the room. Establishing meaningful relationships and honoring a learners’ voice with choice, has allowed learners to express understanding in ways we never imagined or frankly witnessed in the past.

Our mindshift brought some anxiety because often times as teacher we are afraid to “let go”. This mindset comes with positive intent. We care so much and carry a deep passion for youth and our content area. We want to ensure learners are getting everything we think they need to know. But as one teacher said, “Just because they are sitting in front of me, doesn't mean they are getting it.”  You see a learner may not have found one of our favorite quotes in Animal Farm to support her argument, but she still demonstrated creative and insightful thinking. She (like many of her fellow learners) actually exceeded our expectations. She brought things into the learning community that were out of our “how students show what they know-repertoire”. In letting go we have been able to see our learners as crucial resources in the classrooms. After all isn’t that why kids want to come to school, to collaborate and learn from others including their own peers? Once again when we shine a light as we seek them out as resources, shine a light SO BRIGHT on our learners strengths, we help build their agency to tackle some of their areas of growth. Relationships and resources are the bookends to providing relevance to a learner.  

An author once wrote, “Boredom is a sign one loses capacity for awe, wonder and delight.” Our experience as a learners was much about compliance. We were really good at “doing school”. We could fill out a worksheet like nobody’s business, we could neatly write our names and turn in a signed syllabus on time-even early on most occasions. We were masters of extra-credit and we tried hard to find relevance in what our teachers were teaching, not because we were inspired, but because we were compliant. Although we had some great teachers, most of our education lacked any relevance or connection to us. With that came a stifling of much of the creativity and insight we had to offer.

We see this same thing happening with learners today. Take Elise, a young lady who was working on demonstrating her ability to understand rhetoric by researching a debatable topic and crafting a persuasive speech. We gave her the parameters of the assignment which mostly involved the learning target, a list of resources and a timeline. That’s it, a one page google doc with easy to access links and clean cut language that was straight to the point. After a day of brainstorming Elise came up and said “Hey Mrs. Loo, I have my topic now.” “Oh great Elise, what is it?” “I am going to argue how school’s are getting worse.” Wow, if that isn’t a kick in the gut right? I replied “Tell me more about your thinking.” “Look, I just don’t like all this choice. I just want a packet okay? Just give me a packet so I can just do the work.” I was heartbroken, frustrated and exhausted for Elise in that moment and after a brief moment of silence while I went to grab her kleenex for the huge tears rolling down her cheeks, I said, “Elise, you want to move out to LA and design your own fashion line right?” “Yes.” “Elise, do you want someone to tell you the fabric and color choices you can use in your designs? Or do you want to someone to tell you the style of clothes you should produce?” “Head shake no.” “Well then me giving you a packet for this assignment isn’t going to help you get to LA.” Our conversation evolved into her talking about topics within the fashion industry that she could debate. She chose to write a speech about how she is 100% against plastic surgery. In the end she gave a fantastic speech and inspired others to consider the message plastic surgery sends to the consumer. Her speech was outstanding and her research well founded. On her way out the door after class I stopped her and said, “See what you can do without a packet Elise?” She smiled and those tears came back, but this time they meant something different. Elise’s creativity and wonder was overshadowed by her ability to be really good at completing packets. She struggled to find a relevant topic because she was relying too heavily on a packet as a crutch to aid her thinking. When she finally found her pathway and took control of the learning, she was able to build her own agency in ways she never thought possible before. Elise isn’t the only learner who traveled her own path during that unit, all of her classmates did as well. Together we learned a lot about the art of persuasion through a diverse set of controversial topics. What’s more is that together we learned about the unique individuals who were the fabric of our learning community.

We saw each other, we heard each other and what we shared mattered. This is the outcome of a community of learners being honored and empowered in the learning process.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Why Don’t We Trust Learners to Make Choices?

In a personalized learning model, learners are given choices in how they prefer to access, engage and express learning. How can we trust that kids will make the right choices for their learning, is the number one question we are asked by teachers and parents. That question and the concerns that come with it, exemplifies the a big disconnect in education today.  If we are not preparing and allowing learners to have choice in their learning we are doing our kids a great disservice.  How can learners develop independence, self-confidence, and ownership if we don’t allow them to have some say in the learning process? A teacher’s role is not any less evident than in a traditional setting.  The teacher is guiding, modeling, and monitoring the learners so that they understand what choices to make and how those choices impact the learning. When the purpose is clear (connected to standards/learning targets), formative assessments are used as feedback, and reflection is ongoing, the learners can be trusted with making informed choices alongside the teacher.

A Framework that Connects Learning to the Standards
With our personalized learning framework the learners can see how all content learned prepares them for meeting a standard. We outline the standards for an entire unit for the learners, and each day we give them a goal to reach or have them set their own goal for the class (sample unit guide). The daily goals are directly connected to standards and give learners measurable data to consistently track their effort and understanding. When the purpose is clear (the why/daily learning goals) the how can vary. Learners are given voice and choice in what pathways they take in meeting the goals(see Multiple Pathways). When the time comes to express learning in a summative (final test, project, paper, etc.), the results are a much more accurate reflection of what one knows against a standard.  

Formative work as Feedback
Many teachers have shifted their assessment practices into formative and summative assessments, but have not shifted how they USE these assessments. The point value or weight of the assessments have changed so that formative work is worth a fraction of a learner’s grade.  A common misperception is that learners have stopped caring about the formative work because it “doesn’t have much impact” on their grade.  To us, it’s clear that something was lost in the messaging both for teachers and learners. Formative work is not simply daily work or small assignments that lead up to a test, rather they are an avenue to provide feedback to learners. In order for formative work to be useful it must connect back to the intended learning (the standards), inform a learner of what they know or don’t know, and have the potential to elicit an instructional response from the teacher.  We rarely give a numerical score on a piece of formative work but prefer to give a symbol instead. The plus symbol(+) means one is on pace, (+/-) directs one to closely review teacher comments, and the minus symbol (-) signals one must attend the next teacher seminar for clarification and/or more support. Learners use any of their formative work to understand what pathway to take. Pathways in our class include teacher seminar(direct instruction/guidance from the teacher), collaborative groups(processing with a group working on the same goal), or personal flex(self pacing and working independently to achieve a learning target). Daily reflection on effort and understanding as well as the symbolic teacher feedback on formative work  (+, +/-, -) help a learner make informed choices when it comes time to access and engage with materials that support learning.

Reflection for Learning
Learners are asked to reflect on themselves as a learner when they receive feedback, have a choice in their learning, and at the end of each class.  Learners understand the only time we collect their work as teacher is if it gives us an opportunity to provide information about what they know or don’t know.  An example would be an exercise where they had to apply content or concepts learned.  If the formative work is additional practice or notes, we don’t collect it.  We don’t ever grade for compliance, only learning (see Grading in a Personalized Learning Model).
As we stated, each class begins with the learners writing down a goal for the class.  This goal is the learning target given to them by the teacher, but at some point in the unit the learners are setting their own goals.  At the end of each class learners rate their effort and understanding related to meeting their goal and plan out their next steps.  Learners are prompted to think about how the choices they made in class helped them or hurt them in reaching their goal for the day.  This allows learners to track their effort and choices and connect them to their final summative  grade. 

Choice allows for Autonomy
According to Daniel Pink’s motivation theory we are driven by autonomy, purpose and mastery.  When all learning is connected to standards or a learning target, the purpose is clear.  Allowing learners to have voice and choice in the pathway they take to achieve the learning target gives them autonomy and opportunities to achieve mastery.  Involving learners in setting daily learning goals, providing feedback to learners through formative work, and incorporating daily reflections provides learners with the information they need to make the right choices in their learning.  

Systems and Supports for Personalized Learning: Daily Flex Time

Our school has made huge strides in continuous improvement. When we reflect on how that growth occurred it has to do with two things: syst...