Recently, many educators have struggled with the conceit of personalized learning with reluctant readers, or students with low level reading fluency and comprehension. Instead of changing the students, perhaps teachers need to re-imagine the classroom model.
Reclassifying the Old Model
When teachers create personalized learning environments for their struggling readers, several questions must be asked: How can class time become more productive as student-centered? Is it possible with current classroom arrangement and management? How can I change my environment for one group of students, but have that environment model work for my other courses? I contend educators need to back away from the traditional classroom model of direct instruction, and embrace whole group instruction focused on student-centered discussion and facilitation. The shift in models should allow for higher student engagement for meaningful participation in activities and student-crafted interactions.
What is the biggest misconception of personalized learning for struggling readers? That lower-level reading groups need extreme structure and guidance in an environment with differentiation only. My personal vested interest in the topic developed because, in 2012, our district shifted it’s educational application and motivation towards personalized learning, and many teachers were stumped.
Learners as Experts
A student loves the feeling of being a know-it all. The personalized learning approach guides and mentors students own faculties to understanding their educational development. The context for this discussion developed from my own struggles with getting the lower reading ability students to become more engaged. Some of my students had small behavioral issues but they also scored below 40% on the reading fluency percentile. I was concerned with the upcoming fiction unit because students needed to become purposeful readers. My past demonstrations for this type of learners was broad, whole class read aloud and notation instruction. Each student had to follow along to the teacher’s directed voice, at the same time, taking the same exact notes, reading the material in the same exact way. However, after the call to change from our district’s Superintendent, I knew I had to try something different to hook my students. So, how can students who don’t read at home, care about a book in class without me reading it to them and without them doing everything the same time the same way? The obvious answer was that I could make class enriching and more valuable, by using self-pace and flexible seating.
It was terrifying, relinquishing control so that I knew exact pace of the reading. However, I was relieved at the thought that students could take ownership for their reading development. For example, I had one student that barely spoke and barely read words on the page. He would sit in class and wait for me or a classmate to provide answers. At first there was slight hesitation with this model because as students remarked, “I’m scared with reading in class because I’m a slow reader,” but after a week I created student buy-in. Students filled out reading surveys, I created blog post entries featuring the book selected for class, and asked them to make blog posts around the topic. I showed a book trailer to the class and made predictions based on the images. We spent an entire week on the structure of the unit. Rotating activities that are student selected—and students will work at their own pace until the assignment is finished. Soon students had no choice but to do the work, and they were learning and discussing in the process.
For more information of what personalized learning is visit http://barbarabray.net/2012/01/15/personalized-learning-is-not-differentiating-instruction/.
Even though my unit became personalized, it was heavily differentiated using older teaching strategies and models. For example, the fiction unit was formatted in literature circles. Students had choice between 4-different rotation activities that focused on the reading areas and skills concentrated on throughout the unit. I used students testing scores to determine how the flexible seating will work for them. One group was completely independent learners, high flyers—or fast readers who need little prompting from me to move forward. Their assignments were structured to start with the hardest assignment first, with the most flexibility. Another group of pairs and threes worked for students who need partners to discuss material, they had the easiest assignments to complete first, and even turn-in assignments together. Lastly, there was a circle group, of students the lowest reading level, they could do read aloud in their group and work on worksheets as a singular unit. Students had the option of which activities to complete, and they determined how to work with their peers groups to complete the task. Students even worked within the construct of a learning contract so they understood the external structure.
Another link to check out: http://www.edudemic.com/personalized-learning-for-teachers/
My questions for you:
- If you have already used personalized learning in your class, what was your biggest hurdle?
- If you haven’t used personalized learning strategies in your class, what do you think would be your biggest hurdle?
Blackboard, Inc. (August 12 2012). The Voice of the Active Learner. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZ5Vy9BgSeY
Spencer, John (June 9 2012). Personalized Learning Video. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKRV2lXx3dI