A best practice of personalized learning is pretesting. With pretesting, we can track progress and build on prior knowledge. When I pretest, one thing I generally learn is that most of my students need to learn the content I'm supposed to teach. But what about the students who don't? What if they already know the basic content of the unit? Click through to see what I do for them.

This is the fourth part of my series, Baby Steps to Personalized Learning. I'm using this series to discuss small ways to bring personalized learning into our standardized classrooms. The first week, we discussed An Easy Way to Personalize Learning with Student Choice. Then we discussed Assessment and Personalized Learning in a Standardized Classroom. Last week was about unit design and Creating Transparent Goals for Personalized Learning. This week, we're discussing alternate learning paths.

A best practice of personalized learning is pretesting. With pretesting, we can track progress and build on prior knowledge. When I pretest, one thing I generally learn is that most of my students need to learn the content I'm supposed to teach. But what about the students who don't? What if they already know the basic content of the unit? How do I personalize for them?

A best practice of personalized learning is pretesting. With pretesting, we can track progress and build on prior knowledge. When I pretest, one thing I generally learn is that most of my students need to learn the content I'm supposed to teach. But what about the students who don't? What if they already know the basic content of the unit? Click through to see what I do for them.
In these cases, I've borrowed from Project Based Learning to help students expand their knowledge while expressing their creativity and building research skills.

But there are some obstacles to overcome when implementing this:

1. How will I ensure that student work is standards-based? I need to be able to justify this choice to parents and administration.
2. How will I hold students accountable for independent research? I have a common grade book.
3. How will I keep this from being extra work on me? My plate is already overflowing.

I'll attempt to address each of these concerns.

Obstacle 1: The Standards Factor

The last "Baby Step" was about planning units for transparency. Students read and summarize the standards in order to create learning targets. It's no different on the project path--students will do the same thing. They will add to that a driving question that is standards based. This question should guide their research. 

A best practice of personalized learning is pretesting. With pretesting, we can track progress and build on prior knowledge. When I pretest, one thing I generally learn is that most of my students need to learn the content I'm supposed to teach. But what about the students who don't? What if they already know the basic content of the unit? Click through to see what I do for them.

Obstacle 2: The Accountability Factor

When my students do this, they typically spend a lot of time in the media center out of my view. This makes accountability imperative to ensure they are not wasting time. If they wait until the last minute, the project probably will not have as much value in terms of learning outcomes and quality. 

I find it helpful to confer with students to break the project into components. For example, one component may be research. Another may be an annotated bibliography. Those would address all standards and targets. If the student is creating a website, the final components may be content of various web pages. Have students identify the standards and targets each component will cover and devise a plan for addressing them.

A best practice of personalized learning is pretesting. With pretesting, we can track progress and build on prior knowledge. When I pretest, one thing I generally learn is that most of my students need to learn the content I'm supposed to teach. But what about the students who don't? What if they already know the basic content of the unit? Click through to see what I do for them.

Then with the help of the teacher, students should create a timeline for each component. Teachers should clarify which class assignments each component will replace. A basic rubric for each component makes the grading part of each component faster and easier to explain.

A best practice of personalized learning is pretesting. With pretesting, we can track progress and build on prior knowledge. When I pretest, one thing I generally learn is that most of my students need to learn the content I'm supposed to teach. But what about the students who don't? What if they already know the basic content of the unit? Click through to see what I do for them.

Finally, there should be a rubric for the product. This rubric should be more descriptive and provide a space for student reflection--a vital component of personalized learning.

A best practice of personalized learning is pretesting. With pretesting, we can track progress and build on prior knowledge. When I pretest, one thing I generally learn is that most of my students need to learn the content I'm supposed to teach. But what about the students who don't? What if they already know the basic content of the unit? Click through to see what I do for them.


Obstacle 3: The Practicality Factor

In order to be practical, this process must not add extra work for us. It helps to reflect on your goals ahead of time and to create templates that are general enough to be used again and again. The onus of understanding the standards, creating the learning targets and driving questions, and of completing all components of the project should be placed firmly on the students. I would also recommend keeping parents in the loop by providing a short explanation of what their student is doing and why. Be sure to have a space for parents to sign to ensure that they have looked at the project plan and due dates. 

I sent the templates I've made for this to my email list in editable format:

A best practice of personalized learning is pretesting. With pretesting, we can track progress and build on prior knowledge. When I pretest, one thing I generally learn is that most of my students need to learn the content I'm supposed to teach. But what about the students who don't? What if they already know the basic content of the unit? Click through to see what I do for them.

How do you handle alternate paths in your classroom? Leave a comment and let me know. And be sure to come back in the new year--I'll have more Baby Steps to Personalized Learning in 2020!


And be sure to check out the entire series, Baby Steps to Personalized Learning.

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Technology has made information readily available and has also transformed our economy. Knowing how to learn has replaced what to learn as the priority. Part of guiding students through this process is making our learning targets completely transparent. Click through to see how I do it.

This is the third part of my series, Baby Steps to Personalized Learning. I'm using this series to discuss small ways to bring personalized learning into our standardized classrooms. The first week, we discussed An Easy Way to Personalize Learning with Student Choice. Then we discussed Assessment and Personalized Learning in a Standardized Classroom. This week is about creating transparent goals.

Technology has made information readily available and has also transformed our economy. Knowing how to learn has replaced what to learn (this will constantly change for our students in the marketplace) as the priority.

The most beneficial way to bring personalized learning to our standardized classrooms is by completely removing the mystery from our content. If our students are unclear about what they are supposed to learn and what they are supposed to do with it, then they cannot set goals and take ownership of their learning. They cannot reflect on methods that work and don't work for them. A hallmark of personalized learning is transparency--learning targets should be clear and students should use them to set clear goals.

I began using a Unit Organizer to plan my units and help students (and myself) stay focused and know what to expect a long time ago. They have evolved over the years and will probably continue to do so, but they have always included the same basic components:

1. Standards Addressed
2. Essential Questions/ Learning Targets/ Topics Covered
3. Unit Vocabulary/ Terms to Know

Here's the evolution:

1. I began as an English teacher but no longer have any of my ELA Unit Organizers (sad day--I went looking for them, but during all the computer changes over the years, I apparently didn't think they were worth saving, so I'm using world history for this one. They were designed the same way).

Technology has made information readily available and has also transformed our economy. Knowing how to learn has replaced what to learn as the priority. Part of guiding students through this process is making our learning targets completely transparent. Click through to see how I do it.

There's nothing wrong with this organizer, and I like using the essential questions as formative assessment at the end of each lesson, but I wanted to incorporate some type of student interaction with the standards. So a colleague and I came up with this:

Technology has made information readily available and has also transformed our economy. Knowing how to learn has replaced what to learn as the priority. Part of guiding students through this process is making our learning targets completely transparent. Click through to see how I do it.

I think this is better because students are summarizing the standards, but they summarized and then did nothing else with them. So I'm moving to this:

Technology has made information readily available and has also transformed our economy. Knowing how to learn has replaced what to learn as the priority. Part of guiding students through this process is making our learning targets completely transparent. Click through to see how I do it.

With this format, students summarize the standards and then use them to create learning targets. They use the verbs in the standards to understand the action they need to take with each standard. Do they need to explore, explain, evaluate, or describe? For example, if they have to compare and contrast, we talk about what that means and formulate learning targets around that. Students are basically unpacking the standards.

This is the rubric they use to rate their progress on each Learning Target:

Technology has made information readily available and has also transformed our economy. Knowing how to learn has replaced what to learn as the priority. Part of guiding students through this process is making our learning targets completely transparent. Click through to see how I do it.

Finally, students should know where to locate all information for a unit, the purpose behind each assignment (learning targets addressed), and to check off assignments completed or to reflect on why they did not complete a particular assignment.

Technology has made information readily available and has also transformed our economy. Knowing how to learn has replaced what to learn as the priority. Part of guiding students through this process is making our learning targets completely transparent. Click through to see how I do it.

A note on completing assignments: Sometimes students don't do something because they already know it. If they can prove that through assessment, I don't see a reason to penalize their grade for lack of activity (I have to admit, I clenched my teeth when I typed that). In a personalized learning environment, we are grading for knowledge, not activity. But if students haven't fully bought in (and, realistically, not everyone will), this can create a classroom management nightmare. Students think they understand a concept and elect not to do the work. There are other ways to hold them accountable.
Technology has made information readily available and has also transformed our economy. Knowing how to learn has replaced what to learn as the priority. Part of guiding students through this process is making our learning targets completely transparent. Click through to see how I do it.

1. If your school doesn't have a work ethic grade, then gamification is a good option. My students earn XP (experience points) and move up levels for some of the work ethic behaviors that I shouldn't apply to their grades.

2. Alternate demonstrations of knowledge, such as a bonus quiz. My colleague and I offer them weekly. We each have 140 plus students and at the end of the day, not having strict deadlines is unfair to us. Chasing down late work and grading it takes time that we don't have. Boundaries are vital. So we offer a weekly bonus quiz. Students can prove that they know the previous week's content and earn back points. Read about it here.

3. Having students tie each assignment to a learning target and requiring students to check off completion and to reflect on why they didn't do something is a powerful tool. When students reflect on a unit, if they perform poorly on a particular learning target, going back and seeing that they did not complete assignments attached to that target takes the mystery out of assessment and studying for them.

The goal of personalized learning is ultimately to make students responsible for their own learning. In order to do this, transparency is vital. I do this by carefully shaping how I structure each unit and making students a part of the process.

How do you increase transparency in your classroom? Leave a comment and let me know. And be sure to come back next week for more Baby Steps to Personalized Learning.

With each post, I'm sending my email list a resource for their toolbox to help in the journey. Here's what they received this week:

Technology has made information readily available and has also transformed our economy. Knowing how to learn has replaced what to learn as the priority. Part of guiding students through this process is making our learning targets completely transparent. Click through to see how I do it.

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And be sure to check out the entire series, Baby Steps to Personalized Learning.

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