Wednesday, December 23, 2015

PLP Pathways Year in Review

The PLP Pathways project was started as an effort to support the work being done on elements of Act 77 by teachers around the state of Vermont. With support from the Middle Grades Collaborative and the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education, we have focused on the implementation of personal learning plans with an emphasis on the middle level.

The premise of the website and supporting social media is that by developing a collaborative and cooperative workspace for teachers, the transition and implementation to personal learning plans will be more efficient. In particular, we hope to provide "real world" examples of teachers around the state who are leading their students and colleagues in these new initiatives.

Moreover, instead of providing stand alone professional development, we are trying to provide a continuous arc of instruction and resources that will be relevant throughout the personal learning plan implementation process.

What have we learned thus far?

  • There are teachers across the state doing amazing work  with personalized learning that demonstrates creativity, professionalism, and outstanding educational practice.

  • Using Google Blogger as a reflection tool with students can be a tremendous asset for developing student understanding of personal learning activities.

  • Time is extremely tight. Teachers are under a lot of pressure in the classroom and finding the time to participate in extra-curricular professional development can be tough.

  • Despite the time crunch, engaging in these professional development activities can have immediate and positive impacts in the classroom. Over the course of the past few months, suggestions from professional development activities and conversations have had a direct impact on our teaching practice and philosophy regarding the personal learning plans.

  • Google Hangouts and associated technologies, including Twitter and Google+ can be great ways of sharing, archiving, and curating excellent ideas for later classroom use.

  • As teachers roll out personal learning plans, collecting data regarding student attitudes and dispositions (using Google Forms) is critical.

  • Teachers should consider developing their own personal development plan. The practice of creating such a plan can provide invaluable insight into the student experience.

  • Developing effective communication strategies for families and the community is essential.

If you would like to learn more about these efforts, or just want to keep up to speed with personalized learning, please consider following us at PLP Pathways on Google+, through Twitter, or by subscribing to this blog. We'd love to hear about your experiences.  

As we head into 2016, we are excited about the continued evolution of personalized learning in Vermont, the challenge of supporting teachers with effective professional development, and mastering new technologies to facilitate collaboration, collegiality, and innovation.

A special thank you to Maura Kelly of People's Academy for her role as the PLP Pathways webinar and television co-host. Additionally, thanks and appreciation to Kevin Hunt of the Williston Central School, Megan Gagne of Colchester High School, Life Legeros of the Tarrant Institute, and Dr. James Nagle of St. Michael's College for their willingness to join our monthly webinars and share their expertise and support.

Finally, without Adam Blair's editing and ORCA Media's support, none of our video production would be possible. Thank you everyone and have a wonderful holiday break. We will see you at the Personalized Learning  in the Middle Grades Conference on January 9, 2016!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Using Data to Inform the PLP Process


With the ubiquity of easy-to-use data collection tools available online, educators implementing personal learning plan programs this fall may want to consider systematizing their data collection efforts. This nuts and bolts organization can help teachers and students evaluate the direction of the program, develop essential feedback loops, and help complete the communication loop created with parents and the community.

Tools and Techniques

In our program, we leverage the ease of Google Forms to gather regular feedback from students regarding the elements of their personal learning plans, effectiveness of the initiative, and student dispositions regarding the personalization of the learning experience.

Educators and teams should spend some time deciding what information they would like to capture and at what intervals they would like to collect data. By setting up regular, consistent calendar dates for collecting feedback, teachers can design a system that not only informs current practice, but provides feedback over time, thus guiding the overall direction of the program. Standardizing questions throughout this process can help teachers identify strengths and challenges in the program.

One note on collecting data (and perhaps an obvious one); make sure that you have an effective labeling system for your data collection. Once your data set becomes more robust, wading through similarly labeled files can create confusion and eat up large amounts of time. Additionally, if you are interested in studying specific cohorts over time, specific labels will help organize your work.

Feedback, Student Input and the Learning Community

A critical element of collecting data regarding implementation of personal learning programs is the discussion and analysis of that data with students. Sharing the collected data (scrubbed of confidential or personal information) can be a huge benefit to teachers and students.

First, it provides students with the broader classroom perspective of the initiative. This can help students understand their role in the classroom community and also how their opinion and input can help shape the direction of that community. Second, data analysis and reflection can be an excellent platform for utilizing and teaching the transferable skills, particularly in areas of communication, collaboration, and use of technology. Finally, communicating data and analysis back to community members and families (some of whom may have participated in data collection activities) can keep them informed about their student's progress and is an important piece of Act 77 and the personal learning plan initiative.


Finally, and crucially, collecting data in an organized manner is an essential element of student and teacher reflection. Collectively analyzing data can provide students with the evidence upon which they can begin reflecting on the personalization of their education. By thoughtfully considering not only their own responses, but also those of the learning community, students can be encouraged to reflect on their role in that community, their goals as a student and learning community member, and how they can participate in a more personalized educational future.

For teachers, reflecting on the data from personalization initiatives can be the stepping stone to transformative teaching practices. Students are our most valuable, most important, and most responsive constituents. By utilizing their feedback in an organized way, reflective teachers can leverage that information into real classroom change that engages, motivates, and inspires children through an effective personal learning experience.