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5 Concrete Steps To Personalizing Your Classroom

by Talia Arbit and Amy Klazkin, Front Row Education

This past December, Mark Zuckerburg incited seismic level waves of excitement with his internet announcement that he and his wife Priscilla will together donate 99% of his Facebook shares.

In his inspiration letter to his daughter Max explaining his decision, Zuckerburg spends a notable portion — a full 7 paragraphs — hailing personalized learning as a way “to give all children a better education and more equal opportunity.”

It’s not just Zuckerberg; personalized learning has become a buzzword everywhere. But what does ‘personalized learning’ really mean? More importantly, what does it mean for the audience who care most about this term: the teachers who want to implement this pedagogical strategy in their classrooms?

After speaking with teachers every single day about the benefits and challenges of additional technology in their classrooms, we’ve noticed that the concept of personalized learning has not only eluded many educators, but had also instilled fear and, worse, resentment. Though it’s written about everywhere, we’ve been hard-pressed to find the true tangibles for teachers willing and excited to make this happen in their classrooms. So, teachers, this guide is for you.

Tip 1: Assess Early

Before you even begin the process of personalization, it’s important to know where each student stands and identify the major gaps in the class as a whole. Give students a diagnostic, ideally as early as you can in the year. Some EdTech tools (like Front Row Education) come equipped with diagnostic tests for both math and reading built into the program, saving teachers a considerable amount of time and energy when it comes to assessment.

Tip 2: Be More Intentional With Grouping

With the diagnostic results in hand, you can make informed decisions about grouping by identifying common needs among your students. Grouping is a great personalization strategy: it’s efficient and targets students’ common needs, while also allowing you to cut down on your workload.

If a group of students is all struggling with same concept, you can create remediation tools for them all together instead of having to individualize the reinforcement. You can also choose your own grouping adventure: you can group students at the beginning of a unit, at the beginning of the week, or at the beginning of a lesson.

Tip 3: Monitor progress

Personalizing your instruction for students inevitably means relinquishing some control in the classroom. If you truly want to have students working at their level, you won’t be able to watch what all students are doing at every given moment. And that’s okay! But, to ensure your students stay on top of their learning, you should administer formative assessments throughout the personalization process.

Formative assessments can help you update and change your instruction depending on what your students need, and it will further inform your grouping strategy. Student needs change over time, so groupings can and should be flexible as well.

Tip 4: Solidify your personalized strategy

Personalized learning may feel hard to tackle because you can implement it at many different levels in your classroom. Before starting to personalize your classroom, pick which level you want to start with and which level you aspire to reach. That will make the work feel more tangible.

At its most basic level, personalized learning can be achieved through grouping. As an extension, teachers can have students rotate through stations so they can tackle different skills with different sets of students. If you’re more comfortable and have access to a good amount of technology, you can have kids working independently and practicing on their own device. Programs like Front Row Education provide adaptive math and ELA practice where students are always working on engaging and challenging content at their level.

Thinking about personalized learning in chunks like this can help you tackle it piece by piece. Start with one chunk — say, grouping! — and add on to it as you wish.

Tip 5: Provide opportunities for student choice

Personalized learning is, in it’s essence, student-centered. And thankfully so, because studies show that students are more motivated and learn better when they have autonomy and choice. You can make your classroom more student-centered by providing students with diverse opportunities to demonstrate their learning. This can be done on a smaller scale, like giving students a choice of what they practice (ex: on Front Row, students can work on any math domain they choose).

It can also be done on a larger scale, spanning longer periods and involving more student autonomy. Using project-based learning (PBL), allowing students to choose their own driving questions for a unit, or giving them choices around project format (i.e. poster, prezi, padlet, smore, etc.) ensures that learning is student-led.

No matter what level you’re at in this personalization process, remember that you are making strides to meet the needs of your students and make learning more meaningful. “Personalized learning” can often seem synonymous with “time-consuming” and “overwhelming,” but it doesn’t have to be that way! These concrete tips can help you get started with personalizing your classroom instruction.

Please share what personalization strategies are working in your classrooms below!