5 Simple Personalized Learning Strategies For Your Classroom
Personalized learning has become a major focus in schools and classrooms, and there are a ton of strategies you can use as introductory steps for student-centered learning, and to amplify the student-centered learning you’re already focusing on in your classroom.
Personalized learning is also more accessible now -- there are apps that empower students to document their learning, and tangible strategies you can use to transform your classroom into an environment that’s versatile and flexible -- which gives students the freedom to create their own learning pathway, each and every day.
Transforming your classroom into a personalized learning environment will take time; however, you can start introducing a student-centered learning approach today.
Let’s get started, shall we? We’ll start with the most comprehensive point because personalized learning starts with student-centered knowledge discovery -- knowing your learner.
1.) Start With Student Discovery Activities
Transition Into Personalized Learning With The Basics
Personalized learning begins and ends with the student, and you won’t be able to develop strategies that are centered on your students unless you take the time to know them first.
Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to bring activities to your classroom that are focused on discovering more about your students.
Use a student’s family as a resource
Start by taking time to learn from your student’s family, as families can be the best resource for getting to know more about an individual. Home visits at the beginning of the year are a good start, and provide you an opportunity to get to know a student’s parents/guardians while also learning more about the student.
Ask parents/guardians about their kid(s) -- how they learn best, what they enjoy learning about and what obstacles and challenges seem to get in their way. Developing this rapport is important, and surveying a child’s talents and skills will help you design learning that is catered to their needs.
Reimagine your role as the teacher
Your students are at school -- and in your classroom -- to learn, and the ultimate goal of teaching is to educate students for the futures that await them. As the teacher, your role is to facilitate that learning; however, that does not mean that all learning must be channeled through you. You may instead consider discovering learning topics, objectives, tasks and outcomes together as a class.
What is interesting about a certain topic for specific students? Facilitate the investigation of that interest by giving individual students the license to research it, learn about it and eventually present their findings. In other words, individuals like to learn, and they like to learn in their own way. If you give students the freedom to discover a particular interest on their own terms, you’re giving them the freedom of personalized learning.
Take the “about me” poster to the next level with student interviews
We all know the “about me” poster -- it’s been a staple of classrooms for quite some time, and has served its purpose well. The “about me” poster is a great way to break the ice and create a space where students share who they are with their classmates and their teacher. However, it can be used for so much more, particularly if student interviews become a part of the equation.
Have students conduct interviews with their classmates, so they can learn about one another, and share the results with the class. Cover topics that challenge students to think critically about how they learn, what they like to learn about and what challenges that learning.
For example, you can have them ask each other questions that tackle experiential learning versus visual learning, how distractions dictate their time, what motivates them to learn and what doesn’t, what environments they like to learn in and what their favorite topics are.
These posters will of course take other aspects of your students into account, but have a section of the poster dedicated to learning styles. Then, use these posters as points of reference throughout the entire year. If nothing else, they can be living documents that inform your instruction and interactions with your students throughout the year.
2.) Flexible Seating
Give Your Students Options For How They Choose To Learn
Redesigning your classroom is another way to provide an environment that suits the eclectic needs and learning styles of the individuals that inhabit that classroom.
Maybe you have an exceptionally jittery student who finds sitting in a chair extremely difficult. Giving them the option to stand while they work could be liberating for them, and give them the opportunity to focus in a way that wasn't possible for them while sitting.
Alternatively, you could have a student who enjoys spending a lot of time on the floor, for whatever particular reason. A bean bag chair may work for them so they can roll to the ground and work easier than if they were in a desk, and also not draw as much attention when they do so.
The point is, not all students are able to work by sitting in a chair with a desk in front of it. Adults struggle with this as well, and it’s why a lot of offices are now offering many different seating options for their employees, and also desks that can be used while sitting or standing.
Students will benefit from similar options in their learning environment, and will be more apt to learn when they can find a seating arrangement that is suitable to their current state of mind.
3.) Assessment Is Not About The Destination
Reframe The Way You And Your Students Think About Assessment
By stressing the importance of what you learn along the way, rather than only what you walk away with at the end, you’re teaching students to understand the value of process, and how process impacts the end result.
Consider how much we learn over the course of our lives, or just during the time between our first day of high school and our last day of college. The ultimate goal is to move from a high school diploma into a college degree, but -- most times -- the experiences we accumulate along the way are more influential to who we become as individuals.
Sure, the degrees and diplomas end up playing big roles in our careers, but the experiences play an even bigger role in how we interact with those around us, and life is a relational pursuit.
Taking the time to co-create assessment methods with your students, and particularly what they want to be assessed on, is a great way to emphasize the importance of journeying through learning.
Work with your students to design assessment plans that not only take note of the end result, but that also reflect on how they reached that end result. What worked for them while they were searching for a particular answer? What did they enjoy about the process of discovery? What was it that they did not enjoy? How can they make learning a process that they enjoy? How important is the process to ensuring that the final product is up to their standards?
The answers to these questions will be valuable in their future learning environments, but, more importantly, in their lives as well.
4.) Let Students Choose Their Own Adventure
Empower Students To Discover, Research And Showcase Their Interests
First of all, there are clearly subjects that education standards mandate must be covered. That does not mean said subjects can’t be covered in unique and innovative ways. By giving your students autonomy over what aspect of a subject they investigate, you will empower them to find creative and innovative ways to interact with that subject.
Our “Ten Free Resources For Teachers” blog is a great place to start with some tools that can help to facilitate this student-centered action in your classroom.
Anyway, if there is a certain subject that you need to cover as a classroom, try introducing the subject and tasking your students with researching it and making note of what intrigues them. You can even introduce vocabulary associated with the subject, as possible topic clusters for research, to give your students a framework with which to work.
The point is, you’re putting the power in the hands of your students to find what interests them about a certain subject, do research according to that interest and present their findings. Generally, these subjects are broad but the topics your students choose to investigate can deal with certain aspects of the subject.
For example, maybe the subject is ecology, but as a class you could choose to investigate sustainability in environments, and one student, or a group of a few students, could choose to delve deeper into symbiotic relationships.
It boils down to this: giving your students autonomy over what aspect of a subject they learn about gives them the initiative to learn about that topic cluster in a way that works for them, and to discover interests in the wide sea of school subjects they will encounter.
5.) Student Portfolios
Empower Students To Showcase Their Learning, Their Way
Students learning how to showcase their work so that it points to their talents, and an ability to disseminate information appropriately, will be key as they move into high school and college, and obviously when they move into a career.
Many don’t ever create portfolios to showcase their work, but they create resumes, websites, landing pages, powerpoints, etc. all in the service of displaying their talents. It’s natural.
Asking your students to take time and find a suitable means -- one that speaks to them -- for sharing their findings, is an important part of life. It’s also a sure-fire way to wrap up all the learning you did throughout the year, and put it into one easily understandable “document” of sorts.
The best part? You’re giving your students the initiative to be creative with how they present their portfolio. There are great digital resources available to students who want to go that route, and they can also choose to do something tangible, like a classic portfolio. Our “Ten Free Resources For Teachers” blog has some great options for digital portfolios, as well.
Learning how to showcase one’s work in a productive and engaging way is important. Giving your students autonomy over how they present their work is a creative bonus to the process.
The bottom line -- by focusing on personalized learning, you’re teaching a student how to become a self-directed learner; instead of being a passive consumer of knowledge, they learn to actively create their own access to knowledge.
Personalized learning is the opposite of control, it puts much of the control in the hands of your students, and this kind of transition can be difficult for teachers. We don’t want to have a class full of mutinous kids who spend all day devising intricate and creative spit-wad and paper-airplane assembly lines; at the same time, we also don’t want a class full of monotonous repeaters of information who don’t think for themselves. Where’s the balance?
The balance is in challenging your students to seek their passion, not their desire. It’s a fine line of difference, but there is a difference. Don’t ask your students to investigate what they desire to investigate, ask them to discover aspects of a subject that they are passionate to understand.
Relinquish control of the learning -- not entirely -- by being the facilitator of passion, of wonder and of discovery for the sake of discovery.
Quite simply, let imagination run free, but manage that imagination with personalized learning geared toward leveraging the passion of imagination.
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