Reluctant Readers Tripping on Personalized Learning

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.

(YouTube 2012)

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.

(YouTube 2012)

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


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:

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

Spencer, John (June 9 2012). Personalized Learning Video. Retrieved from


4 thoughts on “Reluctant Readers Tripping on Personalized Learning”

  1. The biggest hurdle for me this week is using differentiation for personalized learning needs effectively. I switched up my stations and had students take a pre-test, they used the pre-test to determine their learning activities for the week. My struggling readers are doing the basic activities first, taking the test to determine which area they will need to re-do.

  2. Great post, Adrienne!

    I’d like to tackle your question: If you have already used personalized learning in your class, what was your biggest hurdle?

    Like you, I structured students based on need. Groups like “high-flyers”, students needing partner discussion, and teacher led. The problem I faced was the personal feelings students developed by being placed in their appropriate groups. This was most noticeable in my inclusion classes, where students are already sensitive about needing unique help. In these situations, I had students who would demand not being placed in the group which would best serve their needs. This was so as they sought to avoid being identified by the rest of the students in the class as having a deficiency in a particular area. While we know it is not a deficiency, but a learning style, students minds are programmed differently.

    I find that in my advanced level courses, where students are confident, such grouping is seamless. Yet, in classes where students are sensitive, even the slightest bit of identifiable differentiation can be humiliating.

    It’s a tough position.

  3. I’ve had success with ability grouping before. Most groups will buy-in if you give them choices. it is helpful, sometimes, to pair lows with highs, but it’s also important to pair highs with highs so that they don’t experience burn-out. I think mixing it up is the key.

    1. I think the most difficult thing for me would be helping students to make good, appropriate choices and not just take the easy way out. Some students are better at reflecting on their learing than others, so it is essential that we help some learners grow in that skill and realize that it is a developmental process. Prodviding lots of descriptive feedback to each student is time-consuming, but very valuable in this process.

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