Personalized Learning with a Project Path

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!

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