Building Blocks of Personalized Learning

March 17th, 2016

Category: Policy and Practice

paul-legos

Personalizing learning can take many forms. And not every form has to involve a tablet or screen.

Technology is transforming classroom practice rapidly, but maybe not in the way you think. In many classrooms, technology allows for personalized learning to blossom through richer discussions, closer relationships between students and teachers, and access to real-world experiences.

To truly bring personalized learning to scale, technology is basically a requirement. But with appropriate professional development and support—plus strategy, creativity, and drive—teachers can utilize a variety of methods and tools to empower students to take control of their learning. After all, personalized learning is an extension of what great teachers already do.

They could even use LEGOs to get there.

Last month at the Second Annual Personalized Learning Workshop, members of the Rodel Teacher Council (RTC) convened to share their practical expertise with fellow teachers. Close to 150 Delaware educators dedicated a chilly Saturday morning to learning more about engaging students where they are, and personalizing lessons to meet student needs.

After some amazing French toast prepared by the culinary students at St. Georges Technical High School, I sat in on a session led by Michele Johnson. Michelle is library specialist at Towne Point Elementary School. She’s fantastic with young kids, and she helped me and the other participants get in touch with our inner-child.

My kids and I have always loved LEGO, but we never thought to use the colorful blocks as model molecules for chemistry class, or to depict our favorite passage from a book. Within an hour, Michele made us consider personalized learning from a new, tactile, and engaging approach.

Nineteen sessions were available in all—from modernizing the Socratic Seminar to personalizing the culinary classroom. There were sessions dedicated to Schoology, BRINC model lessons, learning technology apps like Socrative, Kahoot, and Plickers, and “Data Days” that allow students to track, analyze, and reflect on their own performance. The Council shared all of the resources they presented at the workshop using a Padlet page, available here.

I’m continuously impressed by the breadth and leadership of RTC members. This group, representing all three counties plus a variety of grade levels and subject areas, speaks to the value of a teacher’s voice. Teachers are often presented with a few cookie cutter approaches to growing within their own craft. Professional development frequently leaves little room for customization and choice. The Personalized Learning Workshop allowed teachers to follow their own interests and create their own playlist.

Participants were given a voice. The RTC members, as they have since the start, flourished in their leadership roles. In less than three years, the Council has grown into a respected vehicle for personalized learning, and, with the workshop, they help fellow teachers take risks and explore the concepts through their own lens by learning from—and with—each other.

They’ve facilitated a rising tide, and as technology continues to integrate into our daily lives, personalized learning will increasingly become part of the education landscape. In classrooms all over Delaware, teachers are trying new and creative things to meet student needs. The RTC is helping navigate that landscape, for their peers and for policymakers.

As we enter the ESSA era, individual states will inherit the ability to define their own educational destiny. And with that should come a growing opportunity for teachers to have a voice in shaping state policy. The Rodel Teacher Council is doing just that. Their next stop after the workshop: Legislative Hall in Dover, where they’ll share their expertise with Delaware lawmakers.

It was inspiring and energizing to be with so many teachers energized about the work they do every day and sharing with their peers. I’ll never look at a LEGO block the same way again.

Author:
Paul Herdman

pherdman@rodelde.org

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