What Role Should Students Play in Your Personalized Learning...

Opinion | Personalized Learning

What Role Should Students Play in Your Personalized Learning Implementation?

By Sam Peterson     Aug 29, 2018

What Role Should Students Play in Your Personalized Learning Implementation?

Recently, we discussed creating a common vision for a school model that meets the needs of the whole learner and mentioned that we'd be tackling this very problem at Fusion 2018 in October. With that hard work behind us, it’s now time to consider how best to implement your vision. Perhaps the most important consideration to be factored into a personalized learning plan is the amplification of student voice.

Through the stories we’ve gathered from educators and school leaders around the country working to implement effective personalized learning models in their schools and districts, we get a firsthand glimpse into what it takes to cultivate true student agency in the learning process. Handing over the reins presents a number of challenges for both teachers and their students, but an encouraging pattern emerges as more trust and responsibility are placed upon the shoulders of young learners. Consider how the following examples may work within your implementation plan.

Put your students in the driver’s seat:

When students drive learning, they can do much more than we may realize. That’s the premise of the Flex Program being piloted by Susannah Johnson in Honolulu, Hawaii, which seeks to leverage the intrinsic motivation of students to build the necessary skills for success in school and beyond. An amalgam of service-learning, project-based, inquiry-driven, problem-based, place-based, and culture-based learning, the program aims to boost the independence of the individual learner. With each student following a self-designed curriculum plan, there’s a palpable sense of ownership in the learning that takes place. As Johnson says, “My role in the classroom has evolved dramatically. I have let go of being a teacher in order to become a partner for each student on their personal learning journey."

Take a risk on the most challenging students:

Every educator knows that a one-size-fits-all instructional model can never adequately address the needs of all students, but this approach does a special disservice to those who are already struggling. Implementing a personalized learning plan for “at-risk” students requires overcoming significant hurdles; yet, as the following teachers can attest, this may be the best strategy for engaging an often overlooked student population and helping them to take control of their learning. Jennifer Bartell understood that the best way for her reading seminar students to overcome their academic struggles was by developing autonomy, but she feared relinquishing control of those already in danger of failing. Ultimately, she realized that it was this very fear that had hindered progress thus far and stunted her students’ self-confidence. “By letting my assumptions get in the way, I came close to becoming another adult who was giving up on them.” Trusting her students to direct their own learning proved a valuable lesson for her and them.

Special Education teacher Sean Arnold is serious about playful learning. In committing to the use of games for instruction, he’s not only found a unique way to capture his students’ attention but also to alter their incentives for learning while simultaneously redefining the concept of failure. There may be no better example of meeting students where they are than Arnold’s gamification of the learning process.

Amanda Lotz knows all too well how difficult it can be to engage middle school students in life sciences, especially those with emotional disorders, behavioral issues, or learning disabilities. Given the chance to be directly responsible for their own learning, however, her students displayed an inspiring will to achieve. “It has stopped being, ‘The teacher told me to,’ and moved toward, ‘I decided to.’ In my experience, that can make all the difference.”

Make space for new kinds of learning:

Of course, learning need not be confined to the classroom or even the course curriculum; TED-Ed Clubs offer an exceptional extracurricular supplement, building student voice by encouraging collaboration on creative solutions to real-world problems and providing a platform for sharing concerns and ideas broadly. As technology facilitator Marcos Navas discovered, allowing students the opportunity to be involved in such an experience not only helps to amplify their voices but can go so far as to change the culture and mindset of a whole school.

What role do students play in the implementation of your school or district’s learning strategies?

Addressing the needs of the whole learner demands that students be given a greater share of the responsibility for their own learning. Implementing a strategic plan that truly amplifies student voice requires a holistic view—taking into consideration learning sciences, community development, and social-emotional research. At Fusion 2018, we’ll be examining personalized learning for the whole learner through three distinct lenses:

  • Vision
  • Implementation
  • Research & Evidence

The implementation track will focus upon the mechanics of putting ideas into practice and discuss the best ways to help you create and execute an implementation plan that is both effective and feasible. Through a combination of spotlight talks, workshops, and collaborative lunches, we’ll be working to answer a number of essential questions that may be helpful in designing and carrying out the right plan for your school or district.

Join us at the EdSurge Fusion conference, October 2-4, 2018, to hear from an all-star cast of education thought leaders as we discuss putting into action an implementation plan for the whole learner.

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