Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Personalizing Deepens Any Learning Experience

This winter, my four-year-old son has participated in two identical learn-to-skate programs offered by the city. Despite having excellent instructors both times, his progress during the two programs has differed significantly.

When my son started the first session in October, he could only walk on the ice as if his skates were a pair of boots. However, by the time the course completed in December, he was gliding and could skate faster than he could run. After such a successful first session I was excited to see the results of the second program that began in January.

Interestingly, his progress to this point has been much slower. It could be that my son has simply reached a point where the skills needed to advance to the next level necessitate considerable practice, but it seems to me that there is another issue.

In the first session, almost all the participants in my son’s group were skating at the same level. As the program progressed, some students developed their skills more quickly than others, but even at the end of the course, the difference in skill between the students was still small. The uniformity of skill made the teacher’s lesson perfectly suited for all children. As a result, every child benefited from the drills provided by the instructor.

In the second session, the format of the program and the drills are very similar to the previous session. However, the participants in the second session have a much broader range of skating ability. Some students are still walking on their skates, while others are learning to stop and to turn using cross-overs. The one-size-fits-all approach has not been nearly as effective with this group of skaters, and the amount of time students spend waiting for the instructor or for other participants has increased significantly. As the amount of waiting increases, the amount of skating - and learning - decreases.

A big part of personalizing your classroom is awareness. It generally does not require much time to create a more personalized experience for your students, but it is essential for the teacher to notice when a student’s needs are not being met. Additionally, the teacher must be willing to alter their program in order to accommodate a variety of needs and not be intimidated by students completing different tasks simultaneously.

Consider my son’s skating class as an example. His class consists of 14 students of roughly three different ability groups. By simply dividing the group into three smaller groups, the needs of all students could be better met. The strongest group needs to skate longer distances and practice more complicated skills. It would be easy to arrange a course around the perimeter of the teaching area for these students. Because these students have mastered many basic skills, they can be given more independence and an opportunity to complete more difficult challenges compatible with their skill level.

The second group of students needs to work on their turning and could be asked to wind their way through a series of pylons. The last group was having issues with balance, and they simply need practice skating in a straight line, falling and getting back up. A simple modification like this engages more students and improves learning.

Despite having students doing several different things simultaneously, the class also becomes easier to manage as all students are engaged and active. With the one-size-fits-all approach some students end up spending a lot of time waiting. This quickly leads to boredom which - at least for my son - does not lead to the best behaviour.

Kyle Acres
Learning Technology Adviser

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