How our Cranford/ SHU partnership arrived at the work : Personalized Learning for All
More recently, at the request of the Superintendent of Schools , the PDS partners governance committee, consisting of in service and pre service teachers, school administrators and university faculty and administrators began a year- long investigation on Personalized Learning. The goal of the PDS governance inquiry into Personalized Learning is to assist all stakeholders, school and university, with implementing and sustaining a personalized learning agenda for all students.
After engaging in ongoing inquiry and research on this topic including what is personalized learning vs differentiated and/or individualized learning the partners decided to use the district’s mission statement and the work of Barbara Bran & Kathleen McClaskey’s on PERSONALIZATION as a starting point for the conversations and implementation of best practices.
Districts Mission Statement
“ …All students are provided with personalized learning experiences and critical thinking skills needed to become thoughtful, responsible and productive citizens making contributions in local and global contexts fostering respect and accountability in all of their actions.” Cranford Schools…”.
In the Fall of 2014, the PDS partners began to explore possibilities for communicating and examining the work across all segments of the learning community. Constructing a weblog was the tool of choice since it afforded educators the opportunity to advance the agenda across all segments of the university and school partners.
The web blog is designed to engage you in an ongoing conversation that allows for sharing best practices while giving and receiving feedback; to stimulate new thinking with new questions for self- assessment and reflection; and to encourage you to explore new insights into how you can personalize your classroom culture to support a more learner centered classroom. Developing a personalized school culture and mindset is a continuous transformative process requiring partners to engage in risk taking, exploration of best practices, dedication of time and effort while showing a willingness to change.
I began this journey thinking about what I could do in my classroom to enhance our personalizing the learning agenda. I was particularly interested in getting my fifth graders to own and be responsible for their learning. I wanted them to have a voice and choice on how and what they should learn. I designed a format where the children could brainstorm the top five topics that they were interested in exploring. I was anticipating puppies or polar bears, but instead I received inquiries about the construction of the Titanic and how it may have played into its sinking. One student shared with me her love of electronics and that she wanted to take apart a computer and examine its inner workings. Three students pitched developing a plan and constructing a hovercraft. Then I describe the idea of our personalized learning block. The children were thrilled. We quickly went to work on trying to create a profile for what our classroom would look like during personalized learning. We drafted many action plans (Revisions were made each week), set ground rules, and I stepped back and let my students explore their academic passions. Each week students create goals and objectives that are fueled by their higher order thinking questions that they developed on their topic. At the end of the work session each student self evaluates their work for the week (Many students continue to work at home and with their friends after school on their projects.) At that time they also reexamine their goals and this acts as the catalyst for their work the following week.
What I learned through this experience is that personalized learning is both gratifying and chaotic at the same time. As a teacher I have had to learn how to slide into that coaching position rather than the dominant obtainer of information for the classroom. This was initially quite difficult. I felt lost and unneeded at times, but I was proud of my ten year old students that were striving to work on their own to learn. I have learned to loosen my reins and let my students explore. At times there were failures, upset faces, and frustration, but through those experiences we learned how to commit to something, work through issues, and see it to the end.
I’ve learned that learning is messy and chaotic. If an outsider were to come into my classroom on Friday afternoons they may think the room is noisy, a bevy of movement, and question why I’m not standing in the front of the classroom presenting a traditional lesson. However, what I’m giving to my students each Friday afternoon is more than just one lesson. I’m there to guide them on how to navigate non-fiction, sort through websites, document information, power through frustration, build catapults, create Kahoot and Prezi presentations, and aide them in continuing to stay on track toward the goals that they set for themselves.
Traditionally teachers provide students with the answers for their questions, but this project has taught me that I need to think on my feet, use my knowledge to guide the student toward an answer, but not “give” the answer to them. This is where the frustration aspect comes into play. I’ve learned that some students thrive on learning and working hard to accomplish a goal that they have set for themselves, but others want that traditional teacher that provides all of the information and answers. This required a transformation to occur. Two of my students were uncomfortable and apprehensive with this type of learning. I let them observe for a bit and once other students started sharing their successes they some what got on board. This makes me realize that not every student is going to hit the ground running, but given enough patience, scaffolding, and encouragement they do eventually start.
I’ve also learned that assisting with twenty-one different projects as one person is very difficult. I need to budget my time wisely to get to each of my students during that block. I became aware very early on that I needed support groups in place so that if I was unable to assist a child with a question or problem that they could meet with their support group while they waited. This has helped me, but there are still many work sessions that I wish that I could replicate myself. Maybe not putting parameters on the topics that they choose was crazy on my part, but I wanted my students to have a voice and choose what they learned about. It makes me reflect back on my own sixth grade year and how my teacher pulled your stick out of an old, cracked, weathered coffee cup and assigned you the president that you needed to research; I received Harry Truman. What I really wanted to learn about was space exploration because the very first teacher was going up into space that year aboard the Challenger. I want to make learning fun and exciting. I want my students to look back on their fifth grade year in room 20 and say “Wow! Mrs.Scholz trusted us to choose what we learned and now I can do so many new things.” With state testing and all of the pressure put on children these days, it’s nice to give a block of time to the joy of learning. Rosie Scholz, 5th grade teacher, Brookside Place School
What questions I have are as follows:
- What type of motivational tools can you suggest for a reluctant participant?
- How do you manage 21 different projects as just one person?