Rosie’s Story and Personalized Learning

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:

  1. What type of motivational tools can you suggest for a reluctant participant?
  2. How do you manage 21 different projects as just one person?

25 thoughts on “Rosie’s Story and Personalized Learning”

  1. Rosie we never know where our influence lies. My students in the onsite literacy class are talking and referencing the word personalized learning as well as differentiation when discussing what they are noticing and seeing. They are excited about your work and what the children are doing. KUDOS to all.

  2. Rosie,
    You excited and inspired me!! I perform so much better when I am working on something I am interested in. I have heard the excitement in your room!! I want to bring it into the classrooms that I teach in. My students are so excited that they have choices about what they want to read. I would love to take that to the next level. From your experience, how is the best way to start? Tech people out there: What technology would really help my struggling readers and writers be more successful. I heard about co-writer and read and write by google. Any tips, suggestions??? I am worried about the internet research component and the struggle they might have to read it. I know Bookshare can read internet documents, but I tried to figure out how to use it and I couldn’t. I also tried to get the text-to-speech option on my computer to read the documents. No luck!!
    Thank you!!!!!

  3. I am sure the impact of this project on your students will be long lasting. The personalization project gave a voice to the students, allowed them to learn something in-depth and taught them the life long skill of goal setting. We always ask students to set goals for themselves, but have we explicitly taught them how to do it? It is clear that you and Mrs. Moonan have. This not only helped with this project, but can be carried over into so many different areas. It would be great to have the students complete a reflection piece at the end, to see what their takeaways are. Not just academically, but what they thought the challenges, hiccups and/or “aha” moments were. How did it help them grow as a learner? I look forward to having more conversations as we continue to move forward with personalization. GREAT WORK!!!

  4. Rosie,

    Your willingness to serve in the capacity of a trailblazer in search of the Holy Grail for Personalized Learning has been truly remarkable this year. Taking the risk as you have to permit your fifth grade students to self-direct and monitor their own course for learning about a passion they want to learn more and more about has been a motivator for all of us. Whether this sparks an idea to add on to an already existing project or task or serves as a guide from which individuals in supervisory roles can support others to take the plunge into what you have found to be the deep end of the Personalized Learning pool. The good fortune of you being a teacher at Brookside Place School has set a positive tone that other staff members have become curious about in its own right leaving others wondering what is going on in Room #20 during their personalized learning time. Having the good fortune of seeing the learning time in action along with being present at the Board Meeting presentation where the kids shared their insight has provided me with such a comprehensive view of all you and the students have accomplished with this incredible endeavor. Kudos to you and all the students for a job extremely well done. To borrow a phrase from the Danielson framework, highly effective with flying colors.

  5. Rosie, I know you were nervous when you first started this process. I can tell you that I go home after every PDS meeting and wish my own children had the experience to work in a classroom with this opportunity. My 4th grader, in particular, would really love the opportunity to explore a topic and create his own project.

    I agree with the support group suggestion. What about having students be ‘experts’ in a certain research tool or process? Such as Elizabeth Seton is our class ‘expert’ on how to use Google as a search engine? Robert Seton has a lot of experience in finding images?

    Or what about rotating 2 or 3 students into an ‘Assistant Teacher’ role where those students aren’t working on their own projects that week but supporting their peers as needed that week? Then you’d always have a few extra helpers and hands.

    If there was time at the end of each Friday session, maybe come up with a list of ‘hot topics’ or concerns for the following week. In discovering the needs the week ahead, you would have the week to solicit help, extra hands, etc. for the following week. I’m sure there are parents that would be willing (and knowledgeable) to come in, if and when their area of expertise was in need. The ability to think and plan ahead on the students’ part would be another great skill for them to develop.

    Hope some of that is helpful! Keep up the great work. It’s a joy to be a witness to the journey.

  6. Paul,
    I revised my debating unit plan for my Speech Arts class using Google Docs and Drive this year. It was a cooperative learning project that was very successful. The use of Google Docs in and out of the classroom encouraged the reluctant students to participate and complete the various assignments. I was amazed by the students’ eagerness.

    I was surprised how easy Google was to navigate. I was able to manage this unit by grouping students into teams. I believe that using student groups made my first attempt at Google Drive in the classroom easier and more manageable. I enjoyed viewing and commenting on the students’ progress as they completed the various tasks. Moreover, I enjoyed providing feedback to the students while they were completing their home work in “real time.” The students were surprised to find me “online” sharing ideas and suggestions for their projects. It created enthusiasm for the class the next day.
    I hope you enjoy the many options and choices that can be created by utilizing technology.

  7. I was so inspired by Rosie’s story and her willingness to pioneer incorporating true personalized learning in her classroom. The leaps in student learning associated with it are enormous.
    I wondered what a realistic vision for this type of learning might look like in a second grade classroom . Well, the answer arrived at my feet not long pondering. My class and I had just completed watching a snack time viewing of a Reading Rainbow episode on how money is made. As I was getting ready to move onto the next lesson and the students were cleaning up, one of my students, “Michael” came up to me and asked, “Mrs. Koellner, I want to know how money gets to us.” After getting more clarification on what he was asking, I realized that he wanted to find out how money travels from getting printed to here in Cranford at the local bank. We took out my book collection on money and found several books that might do the trick based upon their tittles. Michael spent a a day or so examining their table of contents and indexes before selecting one to read, “Follow the Dollar.” Finally, he came up to me and showed me a page that told him exactly the answer he was searching for. The page referred to Federal Reserve Banks and then showed a diagram of a twenty dollar bill where it pointed to the stamp showing the FRB stamp. I suggested that I take out the paper money from my wallet to examine it for the stamp and we found several different numbers. Michael went home that night and went through all of his parents bills and recorded the Federal Reserve Bank stamp information . He shared his self-driven learning experience with the class on a poster and his hand-written list of Federal Reserve Bank stamp numbers from home. As a result, the idea of student driven “mini-workshops” at recess was created. Three students wanted to learn more about China so they began thumbing through informational texts to create a poster about China. Michael, moved on to learning about Portugal, and one girl studied Zumba videos at home so she could instruct the class on her own made-up dance. Two girls studied simple artistic techniques using some “how-to-draw” books in my classroom and taught other students how to draw flamingos. (which seem to be the bird of the hour in my room) One boy, who had an interest in comic-strip drawing, studied simple panel and character construction and taught the class “comic strip vocabulary” and how to make easy but interesting characters.

    For second graders, interest ignites quickly but can loose momentum just as quickly. They don’t sustain interest in investigation for too long. I would have liked to have seen Michael take his interest further. He and I discussed bringing in a banker as a guest speaker or finding out how money gets from local banks to us and developing more questions, but he was clearly done and ready to try his hand at a new topic. When he moved on to his Portugal and China project, the interest gained more momentum because he worked with one or two other students. My other observation was having an exact date for the presentation on our “mini-workshop” calendar. Though I had some hesitation with putting an end date to the project, for my students, the date gave culmination and I realized that a “Part 2” could easily be added if that need arose.

    Where to go from here?
    I wonder how far do you push a student to more personal learning if they have stopped being curious? When does a simple interest move from “I wonder” to “work”.
    As the facilitator of learning for a 7 and 8 year old, is it enough to gently push, and push again but know when to stop and recognize that the student has taken this as far as their interest would carry them?
    Thoughts on doing more???

  8. Very inspirational especially for beginning/veteran teachers or for those entering the teaching profession. Personalized learning I believe is a great motivational tool which helps to enrich the learning experience for students at any age level.

  9. Reading this made me so excited to be coming back to Cranford! I plan on student teaching here in the fall and the only thing I kept thinking when I read your story was “I want to do this…now!” As soon as you said you wanted your “fifth graders to own and be responsible for their learning” I had an a-ha moment. It is hard making math, science, social studies, and language arts fun to the point where students want to actually do it; however, this personalized learning seems to take off in that exact direction. Over the past four internships I have been in and years of babysitting and tutoring, children always surprise me with how much they know or even topics that interest them. I’ll never forget babysitting a first grader and having her tell me about why James Polk was her favorite president. At times I think all teachers underestimate their students which is why so much lesson planning needs to be done last minute or even in the moment as you’re going along with the lesson. It’s great (and sometimes scary) when you’re clearly teaching something the students already know! Time to throw that old lesson away, move on, and try to hide your smile after being so proud at how much they already know.

    Although open ended assignments are very overwhelming for both teachers and students, I think that you created an environment that shows students it’s okay to try new things and also that there is so much information to learn that even all your 21 students could think of different topics and no two may even be related. I think it is also important for students to learn from one another; teaching someone about a topic or concept demonstrates the highest possible growth or learning. If one of your students writes about the Titanic and can teach your class, and even you, about it then that student has really mastered the information.

    I would love to come observe you on a Friday so I could see this in action. This is a direction I would love to go in with my own classroom. Thank you so much for taking the time to not only practice this personalized learning in your classroom but also for writing about it! Don’t worry if you’re overwhelmed — I’m sure you’re going to be one of these students’ favorite teachers. It’s teachers like you that we all remember.

  10. Rosie,

    I ‘ll soon be using Google Drive, Docs, etc. This is going to be an important part for a personalized plan I’m working on right now, (Perpetual textbook– More info. to come). Any advice would be appreciated.

  11. Hi Rosie,

    It is so great that you are so willing to try a new project and share about it in this public forum! Thank you!

    I would recommend using Google Drive to manage all of your students’ work at once. It will involve taking another risk, but in the end, I think you find it to be the perfect management tool for what you are facilitating in your classroom.

    The students can take notes in Google Docs, create presentations in Google Slides, conduct surveys through Google Forms, collect data in Google Sheets, create designs in Google Drawings, and more!

    All of this can be stored in student folders that can be accessible to you and any other staff that work in your classroom. If you organize the student work into folders, you can see all of their work while it is happening live, and you can offer immediate feedback through comments and suggestions. You can manage different projects by having them all open in tabs.

    In addition, you can have each student share their work with their support group members so that they can provide peer feedback. You can also have your students digitally share their work with the experts for their feedback as well!

    In addition to using Google Drive for interest-based projects in Technology Club (with Sandra Romano), Megan Junice and I have begun to use Google Drive in our co-taught literacy classroom as a tool for our writing instruction. We have experienced first-hand that this is an efficient way to manage the writing pieces of multiple students. The students have reported that their favorite parts of this experience are: receiving immediate feedback and providing peer feedback. We also found that students were more eager to continue their work at home, just because they wanted to. 🙂 It seems to be wonderful for student engagement!

    Furthermore, if the students log into Google Chrome accounts, they will have access to their bookmarks from any computer. In addition, there are also Google extensions (add-ons) that can be utilized by students who are struggling with the reading/writing process.

    Eventually, we will hopefully receive access to Google Classroom, which will make all of this management even easier.

    Please let me know if there is any way I can assist you with your wonderful project. I’d be thrilled to collaborate; maybe even our students could connect! I look forward to hearing more about it as the rest of the year progresses!

  12. It’s so true. The classroom culture is changing as we “blog.” It seems that the reluctant learners needed a little more help setting goals. According to Martino, 1993, setting goals builds students’ self efficacy, by helping them develop an internal sense of control and responsibility for their learning. These goals are specific and measurable in quantity of achievement. Something the student wants to learn or improve upon. Attainable and practical for a specific time period, and stated in terms of expected results, thus creating a “road map” that allows students to form a mental image of each goal. Interestingly enough, Rosie and I tried this even before I read this small bit of research. I guess having each other to bounce ideas off of as the “organized chaos” is occurring each week helps. We asked each student to write what their goal was for that particular PL block that Friday afternoon on a post-it. Although a bulletin board of Bloom’s Taxonomy lives on Rosie’s rear wall of her classroom, not one of the 21 students had used any specific term at the onset of that session. After quickly assessing that, we proceeded to create some post it’s like the students, very general. Some examples were,”I will read articles.” “I will work on Power Point.” ” I will view a video.” All of these examples were put in the NO column of a t-chart and models of YES examples of objectives were developed by thinking aloud and writing in front of the students while referencing the back bulletin board. Being sure to keep the modeled examples attainable for ten and eleven year olds in a 90 minute period the objectives were revised to “I will be able to read the first five paragraphs of an article and view a five minute video in order to gather important information about my topic, and summarize the information.” ” I will be able to design my third and fourth Power Point slides in order to create a better understanding of my topic for my audience using visuals.” After sharing our models, we cried, “Off you go.” Guess where they went? Success for all 21 students that day. Each had an objective that included a specific verb or verbs from Blooms to start and by the end had the evidence that matched their goal. I couldn’t have been more proud about the quick learning they demonstrated that afternoon, and how they continue to transfer that lesson each week during PL, and yes…. also during Reader’s Workshop as they work in book clubs. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to work and learn from these students and from all of you .

  13. Hi Mrs. Scholz,

    I am a junior at Seton Hall University right now and I found your blog to be incredibly interesting and inspired! I admire your ambition and ability to think outside the box. I am no expert at this, but maybe your reluctant learners could construct semantic webs during writers workshop about their interests and use those to drive their learning decisions. For instance if a student is interested in natural disasters he or she could create a web that encompasses various aspects of natural disasters, such as tidal patterns, tornadoes, global warming, destruction and repair of affected areas, etc. Then they could explore the different branches of their webs each week until they become experts on their topic or want to move into something new.

  14. Hi Ms. Scholz,

    After hearing your plan of action at the last meeting and reading it again, I absolutely love what you have started! Something I always needed and found “easy” was having a structured environment…almost like a “factory model” where I am told exactly what to do and exactly how to do it. The method you are using must be difficult for the students to adjust to because the freedom you are giving is something new and unfamiliar to them. But, on the other hand, it lets the students feel that you trust them and have confidence in them, too. I am curious to how your students have been doing now that they became more used to the set-up of this project…I expect that they have become better adjusted and more comfortable.

    I read your response below regarding how the project has evolved. I am so glad to hear that you have noticed a shift in your classroom culture. I was going to recommend that you set-up a calendar of expectations…but I see that you have decided to provide each student with a time line of expectations, which I’m sure has helped you with those who have had more difficulty getting started. This type of documented timeline always helps me as a student. I prefer when a professor provides me with a list of due dates because it always helps me get a jump start and helps me to realize I do not have “forever” to complete it!!

    I am so happy to hear it is going well and I hope this has provided you with even more insight about your students and their interests!

  15. Hi Ms. Scholz,
    I loved your idea when I first heard about it and I think you are doing a great job in running it. I think it’s hard at first for students because they are so used to being told what they need to do that when they are given the freedom they are in a bit of shock. I know from experience that in high school when we were asked to write it was so structured and more about what the teacher wanted us to write, that when I got into college and was expected to pick my own topic and write about what I wanted I felt a little lost. With time it became easier and I think that’s what will happen with your students. Once they become more comfortable with the idea that they are in charge of their writing it will run a lot smoother.

  16. Thank you to all of you that have given me advice in regards about how to proceed with my students. I greatly appreciate it. Things have evolved quite a bit since my story was posted. Thanks to Lori Moonan’s advice I have my students writing their own learning objectives and higher order thinking questions using Bloom’s Taxonomy. Coupling this with a timeline for their project has assisted me with my reluctant learners. Now that they have a clear vision in place they have hit the ground running. Support groups are working nicely and that has taken stress off of me as well because they are helping each other. I have noticed quite a shift in the culture of my classroom. My students are flourishing and eager to try new things. It is very exciting. On Monday night we were invited to present at the Cranford Board of Education meeting. The students created a power point presentation and ended with a movie which allowed the board members to have a peek inside our classroom. It was amazing to see how excited they were to share their experience with Dr. Carrick and the board. Keep the advice coming. I’m new to blogging but I’m working on getting better at responding in a timely fashion. Thank you for your support. It’s wonderful to be part of this learning community.

  17. Loudes I love your idea. During Writer’s Workshop today I will pose your question and see what my students come up with.

  18. Rosie you have added into this project many of the qualities of personalized learning that most students say they want: relevance, goal oriented, authenticity, ownership, autonomy, fun, and passion. I wonder if we should ask some of your students to explain what learning means to them. I am going to ask my university students, those wanting to be teachers, this week and maybe we can compare our answers.

    If you read this why don’t you try it also. Maybe we can get at what some of the reluctant learners think.

  19. Hi Rosie,
    As I read your story about developing lifelong learners through this personalized learning activity, I was so impressed at your courage to motivate your students in this way. I reflected about your reluctant participants question and it brought to mind an experience I had as a Fifth grade teacher of Gifted Students. My first homework assignment in September was for my students to design and complete their own homework assignment in any subject with a minimum of thirty minutes to complete the task at home. These bright students became so unsure of themselves. I assured them they had five years of experience having had a teacher assign the homework and asked them to talk to each other about former assignments. We discussed that it could be the subject they liked most and even an experience they had already completed in another grade. Then I would model as if it were my homework assignment. This helped the reluctant students by giving them confidence to express what they had already learned in another grade. However, this assignment also gave me so much more information about them academically. It gave me insight into their favorite subject, how they used their time, if they were willing to challenge themselves and who they were as learners. The most reluctant students asked for an extension of time to complete this assignment and I let them work with a partner who was less challenged by it. I learned that some students needed more scaffolding and that peer to peer partnerships worked very well for these reluctant students. Throughout the year I repeated this assignment and was amazed at the thinking that seemed to blossom as the students began to challenge themselves to be more creative and demanding of themselves. I think some students need more encouragement and acknowledgement that they are not “empty vessels” but have silent seeds that need to be nurtured and grown based on their life experience. I look forward to hearing about your most recent progress at our next Governance Meeting. Bravo to you and your students!

  20. I really like the idea of support groups, too. When I taught a senior capstone course, we placed students in study cohorts of related topics–similar idea. Also, we elicited outside help from mentors (professionals in a specific field) for each student. I am wondering if Barbara Narus’ students from CHS might be able to work with your students. For the reluctant risk-takers, I would continue to build trust; keep having those transparent conversations explaining that learning can be messy and uncomfortable at times. Thanks for letting me join the conversation!

  21. I wonder if asking students why they are reluctant to participate in this activity might offer some light into the issue. Then you can ask them what they think might work? Ownership is decision making but sometimes when given the freedom to choose it is perceived as not a choice at all. So many students have developed this response regardless of what the new role.

  22. I love your idea of support groups instead of always relying on the teacher. You idea sounds similar to Google and the creative time they allow employees to work. Awesome! It also sounds like you are managing the 21 different projects already. For the reluctant participants, I would help them search out what other students are doing around the country to make a difference in their world. I have seen some pretty cool things on that subject done solely by kids. Good luck, Rosie!

  23. @ Jen,
    Letter grades have not been used to score student work. Students self assess after each block period, and following the individual student’s presentation, feedback is provided by peers and the teacher.

  24. I enjoyed reading your story. It made me think of ways that I could personalized learning at the teacher preparation level by getting my students to own the learning.

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