I spoke with Tony Costa, Physical Education and Social Studies Teacher, and Amanda Smith, Instructional Leader for Math, about their recent experiences with personalizing. Both teachers have looked at their courses and made efforts to personalize instruction in an intentional way - but what they also realized is that they already personalize informally day to day.
For example, Amanda will assign math problems and then instruct individual students on which questions they can skip, or which they should do, and who can use a calculator and who has to use mental math. She can do this in her small class of 11 students because she knows them and their readiness very well.
Tony planned a Grade 8 unit where students could work at their own pace and in whatever sequence they chose. To do this he had to have all activities and resources ready ahead of time. What Tony found was that when students worked at their own pace he could not really anticipate what would come up in each class, and so his role changed to one of adviser as he directed students towards resources to answer their questions. He could make those resources appropriate to each student’s skill level.Amanda created a culminating activity for her Grade 12 Data Management course that was very open ended. Students could go in any direction to examine any topic as long as they included statistical analysis. Her role changed to advising students on how to find resources, work independently and develop an in-depth statistical research paper.
Personalizing instruction requires a great deal of forward planning for teachers to ensure that the learning content, assignments, and assessments are all prepared ahead of time so that students really can be in control of their learning. It also requires a great deal of flexibility and agility to be able to respond to student needs so that all students are engaged and encouraged to reach their potential.
What remains an area for examination is assessment. Teachers must make sure that assessment is fair and equitable and skills-based so that students who may be looking at different content - with differing levels of complexity based on readiness - are, in fact, being assessed by criterion-referenced standards that address course expectations.