When we talk to fellow educators about “personalized learning”, they often express that they don’t understand the term. So, back in November 2014, the Rodel Teacher Council hit upon a radical idea for sharing with other educators their Blueprint for Personalized Learning in Delaware : What if teachers from across the state came together to take the lead in defining personalized learning for Delaware? What resulted was the Personalized Learning Workshop--created by teachers, for teachers.
But a “blueprint” doesn’t necessarily lead to action.
If we, as educators, are going to drive personalization across Delaware and the country, we need to own the term and work together to move from definition to action. After publishing the Blueprint, it became especially clear that Delaware teachers needed help to understand the power of personalized learning, and how it could change their classrooms.
A Day By Teachers, For Teachers
In February, the Council hosted a Personalized Learning Workshop, where teachers from all across the state came together to learn how personalized learning can transform education in Delaware. Attendees represented teachers from a cross-section of grade levels and schools, with more than 100 educators in attendance sharing best practices, lesson plans, strategies, and tools that tie into the tenets of personalized learning.
The power of this day came from educators sharing with educators. Let’s consider some of the examples.
In one session, educators played a game-based educational response system called Kahoot. As participants gripped their electronic devices and tapped in their answers, they received immediate feedback and where they ranked on the leaderboard. The facilitator discussed the program’s perks such as the real-time learning feature, increased student engagement, and the the fact that students can create their own individual Kahoot quizzes to demonstrate learning.
Down the hall, middle school teachers talked about the impact of competency-based learning and the best ways for students to track their own understanding, exploring a variety of support programs such as Newsela, Kahn Academy, Learnzillion, ixl.com, and ST Math.
Witnessing the fun factor of playing a round of Kahoot combined with its power as a formative assessment opened teachers minds to why personalized learning is powerful. Learning about the specific programs that can be easily used by any teacher (often free of cost) demystified the personalized learning concept. Teachers left the sessions feeling excited about the possibilities for using the ideas with their own students the next week.
Sharing Definitions of “Personalized Learning”
There were also sessions to solidify the definition of personalized learning and the changes necessary to implement it. Elementary teachers sketched their ideas and contemplated how their ideas related to the next person’s sketch. Another session featured an interactive discussion to introduce the major policy recommendations of the Blueprint. Both sessions encouraged teachers to develop a concrete understanding of the term personalized learning instead of it being an abstract idea. Most importantly, attendees learned how classroom teachers can drive the shift to personalized learning by speaking out about its power to provide every Delaware student with greater academic success.
Giving teachers a place and time to engage in a professional discussion about the future of education was a unique element of the day. Teachers are usually left out of creating a vision for the future of education policy. The goal of these sessions was to involve teachers and give them the tools to continue to be involved as the classroom experts.
Sharing Implementation Strategies
In my space, I (Jen) shared how learning stations have transformed my outlook on teaching, revealing how liberating teaching can be when one looks around at the ordered desks and decides to “let go of the row” in favor of more meaningful groupings. These groupings include students composing essays on computers, teams completing activities, partners checking responses, and one-on-one student meetings to discuss ideas and progress. All of this occurs in unison in an active area, buzzing with busy learners. When I allow students to drive their own learning with a variety of choices, no two final projects ever look alike.
Hearing from a teacher currently practicing personalized learning in the classroom allowed educators to imagine what it could look like in their own classrooms. The session provided an opportunity to ask specific questions about the nuts and bolts of creating personalized learning experiences for students.
As we talked to teachers throughout the day, they had many questions about how to make this transition. Would it be more work for them? Would students be harder to control? Would grades go down as students adjusted to the change? In reality, the workload is the same with much of the preparation occurring at the start. As for student outcomes, we’ve found that students who actively make choices based on their own ideas and interests tend to ignore life’s distractions better and perform higher. We consistently urged these teachers to consider personalized learning a trade-up, not a trade-off.
The adoption of personalized learning across the state will only be possible if it comes as much from the ground up as from top down. Hopefully, the Personalized Learning Workshop was the first of many teacher-driven events in Delaware.
Transforming our antiquated education system into one that will prepare all of our students for success in the future will not be easy, but it will be impossible without teacher leaders stepping up to work together and participate in every stage of the process. The Blueprint for Personalized Learning and the Personalized Learning Workshop that grew out of it are examples of how teacher leaders can play a critical role in reshaping education for the 21st century.