Today’s post is brought to you by Don Taylor, language arts and social studies teacher at Main Street Middle School in Montpelier and co-director of PLP Pathways.
Personalized learning can be a nebulous term with all sorts of connotations. Teachers, schools, and learning communities often have different ideas regarding the concepts, implementation, and desired outcomes for personalization and personalized learning.
For the sake of today’s post, let’s adopt the Vermont Agency of Education’s definition: “Personalization is “a learning process in which schools help students assess their own talents and aspirations, plan a pathway toward their own purposes, work cooperatively with others in challenging tasks, maintain a record of explorations, and demonstrate their learning against clear standards in a wide variety of media, all with the close support of adult mentors and guides.” (National Association of Secondary School Principals)¹
As with so many initiatives, personalized learning can be overwhelming for today’s educator. How can teachers start with small, manageable, activities that build personalized learning into their learning environment? Here are four suggestions that are easy to implement, relatively low-risk, and can build student engagement and self-direction.
Students Assess Their Own Talents = Regular Reflection
Incorporating regular student-reflection into existing curriculum activities can be an invaluable source of student feedback, curriculum development, and an essential building block for developing strong relationships in the classroom.
By employing Google Forms, Blogger, Kahoot surveys, or simply asking for student feedback on exit tickets, teachers can monitor student growth and learning. More importantly, through the development of thoughtful reflection prompts and activities, teachers can help students develop the skills necessary to monitor and evaluate their own learning.
Including reflection activities as a regular classroom feature can also help teachers monitor the learning dispositions of individual students and the learning community as a whole. To take reflection one step further, teachers can use reflection or feedback data as discussion points for curriculum modification, to build classroom norms, and to promote democratic decision making.
Plan A Pathway Forward = Setting Goals
Whether they be single class session, weekly, or quarterly, encouraging students to set, monitor, and achieve goals is another straightforward strategy that adds personalization to the learning environment. Setting goals can be simple: ask students to make a list of the things they want to accomplish during the class period. Setting goals can also be complex: ask students to review their principles and values, the transferable skills, and their aspirations and set specific goals for the semester. Regardless of the scope, encouraging students to set goals on a regular basis can help students develop this valuable skill.
What’s most important about goals, according to students themselves, is that the goals be revisited regularly and that they be based on what’s important to the student. Intrinsic goals are the most powerful and when students see that those can be practiced in the classroom, they tend to be more engaged. Furthermore, as students are enabled and allowed to set goals independently, their learning experience, within the context of the classroom, becomes more personal.
Maintain A Record of Explorations = Personal Learning Plans
As Act 77 has matured, schools and districts have implemented personal learning plans into their programs. While these have taken a variety of forms and formats, the basic personal learning plan platform provides a golden opportunity for personalization. In order to keep track of student growth and learning, teachers and students can collaborate on the accumulation of evidence in the personal learning plan. This evidence can be used to set goals, self-assess progress, and as material for the development of reflective and metacognitive thinking. Depending on the platform, students can also begin designing and formatting their learning plan using concepts of graphic design and presentation that fits their aesthetic values. Again, the insertion of evidence into the personal learning plan or regularly scheduled time to work on the plan, can provide the opportunity for increased personalization in the classroom.
Demonstrate Their Learning in A Wide Variety of Media = Multiple Modes of Expression
With the infusion of technology into 21st century classrooms, teachers and students have access to a wide range of methods, applications, and platforms to demonstrate student learning. Giving students a choice of standards-based options to express their understanding can be another opportunity for personalization in the classroom. Podcasts, slideshows, screencasts, and online storyboard programs are all examples of media that students can use to demonstrate their understanding of class and curriculum concepts. These options can also foster the innovation, creativity, and skill-building that lead to a dynamic learning environment.
Integrating concepts of personalized learning into the classroom can be a progression that occurs incrementally. It’s important for teachers to understand that incorporating concepts of personalization does not mean the complete overhaul of educational programming. Instead, using these four activities, teachers can begin building a step-by-step foundation for personalized learning.
1. Personalized Learning | Agency of Education. (2017). Education.vermont.gov. Retrieved 15 November 2017,