Let’s Get Personal

Each year, teachers at my school are asked to work with our Head of School, Dr. Jon Mitzmacher, to develop a PGP (Professional Growth Plan) based around a competency area and objective. After (very little) reflection, I knew I wanted to use my PGP to develop my skills and confidence in teaching Mathematics. Jon and I talked through the different options, competency areas, and what would benefit my professional growth and my students’ learning the most. We landed on personalized learning (and more specifically; to develop a unit of Math in Grade 2 that includes a personalized learning track for both remedial and enriched learners).

The first step was to research personalized learning approaches. My deep dive into personalized learning this fall can be broken down into 3 phases;

  1. Excited and Nervous – I was extremely unsure of what was going to come of my research and a better understanding of what personalized learning is.
  2. Confusion and Frustration – As the dive into my research started, I was questioning what the difference was between personalized learning and differentiation. I was convinced that my Head of School was wrong (sorry Jon) and that what he actually wanted me to do in my PGP was differentiation; not personalization at all.
  3. Relief, Excitement, and Drive – After reading Students at the Center by Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda I had a much better understanding of what personalized learning is and isn’t. Reading that book is what helped me define what I believe to be true about personalized learning (specifically to a Grade 2 class). With this better understanding came great excitement. I am eager to try this with my students.  I think personalizing learning with help all of my students reach (and exceed) their full potential… it’s like there’s a floor but no ceiling (#NorthStarSpotting).

At this point in time (I say this with flexibility – as I continue to learn and grow as an educator, my theory of personalized learning will evolve too), I have gathered all of my research to develop a theory of what I believe to be true about personalized learning in Grade 2.

Personalized learning puts the students in control of their learning.

…What does that mean?

Something I learned through my struggles of understanding the difference between differentiating and personalizing is that differentiating is having instruction that is tailored by the teacher, while in personalizing learning, the teacher facilitates and guides learning based on goals that have been set by the students (Kallick and Zmuda, 2017).

…How does that look and feel in a Grade 2 classroom?

I will be working with my students, one-on-one, to co-create specific learning goals for the personalized math unit. We will discuss the plan of action and resources needed. The student will then go on their way and work through their plan to reach the goal(s) they have set with my support and guidance along the way. As I am typing this out, I am having a major ah-ha moment… our teacher Professional Growth Plans are a perfect example of personalized learning. Meeting to co-create the plan and set goals, check-ins and feedback from the administrator, and a final product to show evidence of growth and learning. Similarly to the way that I have collaborated with educators on my PGP, the students will still have opportunities to collaborate and work with their peers even though they are working on their own set of personalized goals.

…So what else?

Some people believe that technology is necessary for personalization while others believe that it may take away personalized learning. I believe that technology can play a role in personalized learning as a tool to use, but simply adding technology into the mix doesn’t make the learning personalized. I do not want my classroom to have students plugged into iPads in individual silos. I will investigate potential tools or apps that I can use to effectively enhance the learning (and collaborating) in my classroom (stay tuned).

The students need to learn about themselves. I am fortunate enough to be with my group of students for the third year in a row, so I know them very well (academically, emotionally, behaviourally). However, I am not sure that they know themselves (as learners). I will have to work with my students so they can explore their learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses. This will help them set goals for themselves and reflect on their work.

I want to excite my students to the point where they are reaching for more! I want them to be inspired to own their own learning (#NorthStarSpotting). This is where they will be able to add their own interests and passions into their learning and goals (…how? Not exactly sure yet…stay tuned..).

I encourage you to follow me on my journey through investigating (and trying out) personalized learning in a Grade 2 Math class. If primary grades aren’t your passion, I recommend following my colleague Chelsea Cleveland. She has been diving into personalized learning through a Middle School Math lens. While I am focusing on setting up the foundational skills (i.e. goal setting, self-discovery) to ensure that personalized learning is effective in my classroom, Chelsea has taken the same principles of personalized learning to build a framework for middle school that will involve targeted instruction, data driven decisions, flexible content. The overlap of our frameworks is clear with the emphasis on reflection and student ownership. I am looking forward to my continued collaboration with Chelsea as we explore and implement personalized learning in Grade 2 and Grade 7 Mathematics at the OJCS.

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