5 Ways to Incorporate Personalized Learning into Your Classroom Next Year
This year I read the first “textbook” I truly enjoyed. It’s a professional development book called Learning Personalized: The Evolution of the Contemporary Classroom by Allison Zmuda, Greg Curtis and Diane Ullman. It’s really, really great. Trust me… I’m an English teacher!
Have I sold you on it yet? No, of course I didn’t. Why would you trust a book recommendation from someone you just met? You don’t know me like that.
Since we are probably only acquaintances at best, here are some things you should know about me: though I am passionate about English and it’s limitless opportunity for art and inspiration, I am the queen of falling asleep with my nose inside of a textbook. Before this book, I’d yet to meet a professional development book that I liked.
I stayed awake for this one, though. And I’m glad I did because this book is packed with useful resources, lesson plans and ideas that readers can transfer easily into their current curriculum. Everything I’m about to tell you is only from the first 40 pages of the near 200 page book.
Here are 5 suggestions that I picked up from Learning Personalized. They can help you ease into incorporating personalized learning into your classroom next year.
1) Revisit the Standards
Standards clarify and focus our work. Learning Personalized recommends that teachers do these two things “to develop long-term disciplinary outcomes to shape curriculum paths based on students’ talents, aspirations and ideas:
- Unpack the standards to describe the broader aims of the subject.
- Make the language accessible to students and families” (30).
Classroom Ready Resource: Go to http://wiki-teacher.com/ and create a free account. Then, click “Unwrapped Standards” in the top right corner. The website breaks down each standard into learning targets, student-friendly learning targets, key vocabulary, essential questions/big ideas, vertical alignment and so much more. This resource was a lifesaver as I navigated the initial development of a reading skills class for 9th graders. There are ELA standards for grades K-12 and math standards for grades K-8, Algebra I/II and Geometry.
2) Keep This Essential Question in Mind
“How can we create and sustain an environment where students believe they have a substantial role in the development of their own learning?” (19).
Classroom Ready Resource: This one isn’t much of a resource, but something to be constantly considering. (It’s the ABCs of personalized learning. Always Be Considering.) That said, here’s how I’ll incorporate this big idea into my classroom next year: I’m going to write this question on a Post-It note (the world’s greatest invention) and stick it to my computer. I’m going to read it every now and then. I’m going to reflect in an ongoing Google Doc how this question is or isn’t shaping my day to day lessons. Then, at the end of the year I’ll read over my notes and have a solid jumping off point for the following year.
3) Embrace the Struggle
When incorporating personalized learning into our curriculum, “we are creating the roadmap as we go. This often creates conflict and uncertainty, but also can be the source of new and transformative solutions” (149-150).
Personalized learning is like that video of an elephant painting. It’s uncoordinated and a little messy, but the result is somehow an incredible piece of art.
Classroom Ready Resource: So, I suggest having a motto that echoes this sentiment. Last year I constantly found myself saying “embrace the struggle” to students and to myself (as I downed a 3rd cup of coffee). I wanted student to “embrace the struggle” of really difficult texts. While reading Federalist Paper No. 10 (written by Alexander Hamilton), I repeated this motto aloud as my students tried to wrangle the text in order to make sense of it all. They struggled, grappled and battled through the text until at long last they were able to succeed in creating clever and intelligent memes that synthesized Hamilton’s complex ideas in a humorous, relatable way.
Learning Personalized recommends repurposing information in new and exciting ways: “by remixing texts, teens recreate and redefine them to share with others. Repurpose or remix content through copying, transforming, and combining to design, produce, and/or communicate a perspective, idea, relationship, or narrative” (34). If teachers are encouraged to “beg, borrow and steal,” why not ask the same of our students?
Classroom Ready Resource: “Common Sense Media offers lesson materials to create an original text through remixing and reusing other texts” (34). The link above takes you to a lesson plan for grades 6-8 where students learn about fair use and create a work of their own using fair use guidelines. Another example of remixing content comes from Michelle Bruewer, English 11 teacher at MHS. She uses this remix-mentality and has students remix the novel Of Mice and Men into an illustrated, postmodern-style children’s book.
5) Rethink Their Audience
One of my biggest revelations while reading this book came after reading this suggestion: “use mode(s) of communication to share information and ideas for a specific purpose, task and audience” (40). Why am I, me, the teacher, always my students’ audience? That’s not authentic. Why should they care about doing their best work for me? We know that some students are successful with the teacher-as-audience-style essay or project, but I’d venture to say that nearly all students need real-world, real-life problems to solve in order to bring out their best work.
I think the MHS AP Physics classes do this best with their cardboard boat project. Students design, build then race boats made of cardboard and duct tape in the natatorium. An audience of peers, parents, and teachers fill the bleachers to marvel at the design choices, costumes and floatability of the AP student boats. Being one of these spectators, I saw first hand how this authentic audience clearly motivated and inspired students to do their best work.
Classroom Ready Resource: Learning Personalized describes another way to change up who is the students’ audience. “The Journal of Emerging Investigators (http://www.emerginginvestegators.org) is run by a nonprofit group established by graduate students of Harvard University to inspire middle and high school students to conduct research, submit scientific papers…and receive critical feedback from Harvard-trained scientists” (39).
One such paper received attention from national news organizations, as it detailed how the government could save hundreds of millions of dollars simply by switching the font they use on all printed materials.
I hope by now we are more than just acquaintances. You now know about my bad reading habits, what inspires me and what some of my ideas are for next year. So, now that you know me, I’ll tell you again. Read. This. Book. It’s good, trust me!