May 16, 2022

Personalizing “Need to Know” Content

It’s day two of a unit on cellular mutations in Mrs. Coleman’s biology class. There are terms and concepts students need to know, like nondisjunction.

Rather than seeing personalized learning as an overhaul, Mrs. Coleman sees it as a series of small shifts that add up over time. Some of these shifts are present while introducing new content. 

Take a look at each of these quotes and notice how Mrs.Coleman shifts learning ownership to students.

“Take some time to read through the learning targets to be clear on where we are headed.”

  • Students clarify the goals alongside the teacher.  This sets students up to co-create learning opportunities.

“Turn to your neighbor and tell them your thoughts.”

  • Throughout the lesson students were encouraged to stop and process their understanding by sharing their voice.

“Try working on these challenging questions together.”

  • Students are encouraged to build meaning through social construction by discussing questions that require complex reasoning.

“To help us understand this deeper, we are going to become chromosomes.”

  • Self-discovery is fostered as students interact with the content in a creative way.

Other shifts that set students up to take ownership of their learning:

  • Giving time for students to preview the new content prior to instruction
  • Giving space for students to process the new information
  • Asking students to summarize the new content
  • Giving opportunity for students to represent the new content in multiple ways
  • Asking students to make a connection to past learning
  • Giving space for students to brainstorm how this content relates to something they are interested in: a hobby, professional interests, and extracurriculars
  • Encouraging students to generate questions about the new content
  • Asking students to reflect on the level of their understanding and set goals for future learning
  • Creating room for students to make connections between the new content and other classes                                                                                                                                                  (Marzano, 2011)

What are some moves you make that might already be shifting ownership to students? Which of these seems most natural to you to bring into your instruction today?



Marzano, R. J. , Frontier, T., & Livingston, D. (2011). Effective supervision: Supporting the art and science of teaching. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Joe Muhlberg

Joe Muhlberg is a Learning Experience Designer at Mason High School.

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