Sunday, 11 December 2011

Our Teachers Grow with Personalized Learning

Personalizing the classroom requires a shift in the teacher’s role. This shift can feel unnatural as traditional education aims to meet the needs of students performing at the middle of the class. At Greenwood College School, our goal is to have personalized learning occur in all of our classrooms. We recognize that meeting this goal requires teacher training, so we have dedicated a series of professional development sessions to the growth of our teachers in this area.

We want our teachers to use their classrooms as laboratories. We encourage them to test personalized learning approaches with their students. Last week during a PD session, we had the opportunity to share the many successes and obstacles encountered as we try to personalize our classrooms. I believe both the successes and obstacles are important to discuss - perhaps the obstacles more so at this stage. Discussing these challenges helps teachers grow further and pushes us to think creatively as professionals. I will outline a couple of the conversations that the teachers had in this session.

The Grade 8 Social Studies teacher is nearing the end of a water unit which combined traditional lessons and technology-based resources so that students could complete the unit at their own pace. He found that self-pacing worked well for students who are self-motivated, but many other students did not complete the unit in the time allotted. This led us to discuss the management of a self-paced personalized approach.

We saw that students need:
  • firm intermediary deadlines
  • to be assessed or involved in individual conferences with the teacher at regular intervals
  • to be provided with a timeline indicating the slowest acceptable pace

About a quarter of the class completed the unit early. The teacher initially saw this as an obstacle, but we discussed how self-pacing will leave time for enrichment and further study for some students.

With the help of his colleagues, the teacher came up with a plan for these students. As they complete the unit, students finishing early will be given above grade-level texts on the topic and asked to run a seminar with the rest of the class.

The Grade 10 French teacher used blended learning tools to help personalize her grammar units. She began the unit with a pre-assessment and moved students into a program based on their individual needs.

Students who achieved over 80 per cent on the pre-assessment began a video lesson covering new material. The concepts learned from the video were then applied to reading, writing and oral dialogue. Some students mastered the new content very quickly.

To challenge them further, they investigated pronoun use in an authentic Francophone scenario of interest to them (article, television, movie). These students then shared their findings orally and in writing with the rest of the class.

By setting up her classroom to allow faster students to progress independently, the teacher had more time to work with students who scored below 80 per cent on the pre-assessment. She retaught and reassessed this content in various ways until each student showed a strong enough understanding of the base concepts to be able to succeed with the new content.

When this understanding was demonstrated, the student proceeded to the concept video lesson and application activities. The French teacher shared some of the things she learned through the development and implementation of this unit:
  • creating a personalized experience requires a lot of front loading and pre-planning
  • the pathways need to be structured and clear enough for students to easily follow
  • allowing for self-pacing gave the teacher time to work with each student until she was sure that they had the foundation needed to be successful with the new material

The personalized learning PD session last week is one of the many ways that the teachers at Greenwood College School are growing to further meet the varying needs of their students.

Many teachers are still exploring what personalized learning means and how it will work in their classrooms. This session gave them a chance to ask questions and help each other push further into personalizing the classroom experience of their students.

Heather Rigby
Director of Personalized Learning

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