In my first year of teaching I had the opportunity to teach in a school that was piloting personalized learning. As I got more comfortable with teaching and as I saw how diverse my classroom was, I began to adopt personalized learning into my instruction. I quickly realized the benefits of this implementation.
I got my feet wet with personalized learning by starting out small. During my readers workshop I would create worksheets, tasks and activities that would go with any book that a student was reading. The students had the opportunity to use books that matched their level, interest and a book that challenged them. During math, I realized that students have multiple levels of background and schema related to whatever standard I taught. I had to quickly find misconceptions and worked hard to take informal assessment data to create/find assignments and worksheets that helped to remediate some students and challenge others. While teaching science and social studies, I learned quickly that me standing up in front of students and going over PowerPoints the entire time was not going to work. I decided to create varying activities that match my students’ backgrounds and interest.
Learning to Guide from the Side Wasn’t Easy
After working hard to find ways to meet students where they are, I found that I needed to step more into a facilitator role while teaching, allowing students to take ownership of their own learning. This was not an easy thing for me to do! I aimed to do mini-lessons that lasted 10-15 minutes and allowed students the rest of the time to engage in learning in a way that matches their style, ability and comfortability. I was fortunate enough to have 1-to-1 technology in my classroom, which allowed me to use education technological platforms like
Google Classroom and
Blendspace to assist me in creating multiple assignments, projects and activities. As I began to get comfortable with teaching and with personalized learning, I began to adopt this style of instruction into my teaching philosophy. Students had multiple activities, assignments and ways of showing mastery of standards that match who they are and their learning interest/multiple intelligence. I was able to create these activities by creating choice boards, pathways and playlist and Google Classroom personalized assignments I created and assigned. During my subject workshops, students were engaged in their activities and assignments and I was eventually able to move away from a one-size-fits all approach to learning. I was able to teach an entire class, pull small groups for remediation and enrichment and still keep each student on task and engaged in their assignments.
Eventually My Workshops Became an Educational Starbucks
As I continued to develop my teacher identity by working hard to reach
all students, I began to give students even more freedom within the classroom. My classroom workshops became an educational Starbucks. Students had their choice and voice in their way of learning on personalized menus that I had created and they also had opportunities to take their work and sit wherever they wanted and work collaboratively or independently. A one-size-fits-all approach to learning is unnecessary. Teachers have diverse classrooms and teachers must meet the needs of all of their students. As a beginner teacher I was skeptical about allowing my students to take ownership of their learning, but as I kept an innovative mindset with a strong desire to meet the needs of
all of my students, my students and I saw the benefits of personalized learning within the classroom. I have used personalized learning as a tool to provide equity within my classrooms I have taught and the teachers I now lead.
Jeffrey Foster is a school administrator at a K-8 school in Charlotte, North Carolina. Prior to school leadership, he gained experience as a general education teacher, instructional technology facilitator and diversity coordinator. Jeffrey is working on his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Urban education at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte.