Personalized Learning is the New Reality in Delaware Classrooms
In recognition of Connected Educator Month, we are proud to feature this guest blog from Melissa Blair Tracy, National Board Certified Social Studies Teacher at Conrad Schools of Science in the Red Clay Consolidated School District, discussing how she has evolved her teaching practice to incorporate the use of technology to support student learning. Melissa is also a member of the Rodel Teacher Council, which will release their Blueprint for Personalized Learning on October 21, 2014.
As a first year history teacher eight years ago, I exclusively used a white board and my students were overly dependent on a textbook to learn about history. Fast forward eight years and my current classroom is much more engaging, democratic, and most importantly, highly personalized for all learners. Walk into my classroom and you will find a twelfth grade student taking an independent AP course on a laptop and a room full of tenth grade students all diligently working at their own pace on iPads. I know this approach to learning is working for my students because they tell me every day. They frequently comment that using iPads makes learning more enjoyable and engaging by enabling them to access different links and videos to satisfy their curiosity about a subject in history. Perhaps the best compliment I have received to date came from a student who shared “history has never clicked for me. It was always the most boring, overwhelming class. With iPads I can go at my own pace and learn in a way that works best for me. I finally feel accepted, like I no longer have to pretend to understand because I finally do.”
Throughout the state, teachers are adopting “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)” policies, allowing students to use their own mobile devices in the classroom to experience multiple modalities of learning, and using tools that provide students and teachers with constant feedback on what and how students are learning. Undoubtedly, these tools allow teachers to better differentiate instruction for their students, and enable students to advance to new material with teacher facilitation at a pace that works for them. Using new technology in the classroom makes sense, since it is already a fully-integrated aspect of students’ lives. The reality is that students will need to be comfortable with technology in order to be competitive in higher education and the job market.
In the Red Clay School Consolidated School District where I teach, the distance-learning program enables us to offer highly-specialized courses simultaneously at three high schools (McKean, A.I. DuPont, and Conrad Schools of Science). Such courses currently include Italian, Advanced Placement human geography, and military history. It would be impossible to provide the teaching staff to support all of these classes at each school separately, but this technology broadens the course selection availability for the student population at all three schools, and the individual schools “share” the excellent teachers as instructors for all of the students enrolled in the courses. Furthermore, distance-learning utilizes community-based teaching approaches including the use of GoogleDocs, blogs, and instant messaging programs to collaborate, which are transferable skills for career readiness.
We are currently experiencing an explosive growth in technology. As a society, we must ask ourselves the following: What will the future of learning look like? How can teachers utilize technology to personalize learning for each and every student? Effective implementation of technology has the opportunity to improve student-centered learning and to offer more students a more diverse course selection. Most importantly, technology has the capacity to create more equitable conditions in our schools by potentially enabling all students to have access to the same pool of resources, especially excellent teachers. Technology is breaking down barriers that existed when I first began teaching eight years ago. While technology cannot replace effective instruction in the classroom, it has the power to enable personalized learning in ways that were once unimaginable, and Delaware teachers are taking bold steps to change the delivery of instruction in meaningful and powerful ways for the benefit of their students.