Andrea Ferrero, Co-Founder, Pockets Change

Beyond the Buzzword: Personalised Learning in the Classroom


This week we have a guest blog post from Andrea Ferrero, the co-founder of Pockets Change, an organization that works with students, families, and teachers across the country to change the way finance is taught.

With over a decade of experience teaching Pre-K-12th grade, coaching educators, and designing award winning educational programs and products, we turned to Andrea to get her expertise on putting personalized learning into action.

If you're considering implementing personalized learning, you won't want to miss Andrea's 5 tips for designing a personalized learning environment in your classroom.


The Benefits of Personalized Learning

Take a moment to envision a time when you were inspired or exuberant about learning. It might be reading your first chapter book, creating a watercolor hammerhead shark, or building a lop-sided birdfeeder -- these are a few of mine. Now with that memory, think of the learning context -- what made it so powerful and overwhelmingly positive? For many of us, these top-of-mind learning moments tapped into our personal interests, they challenged us, and gave us the opportunity to rise to a new accomplishment or understanding. The many benefits of personalized learning are found in cultivating and supporting these kinds of moments, where learners’ needs, interests, and goals drive instruction.
 

5 Tips for Designing a Personalized Learning Environment in Your Classroom

1. Physical environment, create a space that you and your students love

The best libraries and cafes make us feel instantly welcome, they give us options, and provide us with the things we need. We can cultivate the same sense of belonging and joy in our classrooms with a few key considerations.
  • How can it be a more esthetically appealing space? Consider upcycling chairs or furniture for a fresh look, setting clear purposes for different areas of the room, installing decorations that evolve over the year to represent the class; these could be work samples, pictures from projects and class events, and even a calendar that highlights activities happening in the community to extend learning.
  • Are there flexible seating options available? I can’t handle sitting in a chair for more than 90 minutes. I wiggle like I’m back on the first day of kindergarten, I lose focus and glance around the room wondering about more comfortable spots. I’ve watched students across the grades struggle with this and the simple boredom of being rooted in place. Flexible seating helps solve both these problems while simultaneously building student responsibility and agency throughout the day.
  • Do students have easy access to materials they need? The beginning of the year is a crucial time to set routines that give students the ability to act when needed. It’s a chance to show students where materials are and how they can be accessed to support learning.


2. Learner profiles, get to know your students and help them know themselves as a learner

Learner profiles can take many forms, from gathered checklists to full fledged digital portfolios. No matter the format, they should capture a holistic view of the student as a learner, including their strengths, gap areas, motivation and goals, and personal preferences (learning styles, modalities, personal needs and any accommodations).

The power of learner profiles lies in their ability to:
  • support student metacognitive reflection and student-led progress monitoring
  • bring the student and parents in as partners in discussing the learner’s strengths, needs, and goals
  • serve as a living document for goal setting and action planning, by the student, teacher, and family


3. Differentiating learning experiences to engage all learners

Providing the tools, diverse activities and scaffolded content to meet each learner’s unique needs can feel daunting. It’s important to start small with one new practice or strategy. Personalizing instruction through differentiated learning experiences does not mean there is no longer a place for teacher-led instruction or whole group activities. It also doesn’t mean you need to spend 4 hours after school each day creating an individualized lesson for each student in class. It’s all about meeting students where they are and helping them grow by providing diverse ways for them to engage in learning, process content, and show understanding.

One of my favorite examples of differentiation was working with a third grade teacher as his coach. He loved whole group direct instruction, but his kids were laying on the desk struggling to engage and at the end of each math lesson he felt defeated. We decided to try station rotations three times a week for his math lesson - instead of his teacher-led instruction happening at the front of the room it happened at a small group table for 8 kids. His other three groups of 8 students spent time at a computer station working on individualized content, reading picture books infused with math history or practice, or solving independent problems they selected from the mild, medium or spicy math folders. Over the rest of the year he and his kids grew and the nuance of instructional differentiation grew with them.
 

4. Student-driven learning, empower students to take control of their goals and actions

Building students’ capacity to take charge of their learning sets them up for successes long into the future. Create more opportunities every day for students to express their voice and make informed choices by holding the following questions to planned lessons.
  • Who is making most of the decisions through the activity?
  • Are students managing their time, materials, or other resources?
  • Are there moments for students to grapple with challenges, learn through failure, and persist to reach goals?
  • Is technology being integrated in ways that provide students choice or personalized support?
  • Can students engage peers collaboratively as colleagues in the learning process?


5. Student-led conferences

Over the years, I found a few problems with student conferences. Some of my students were scared about what would be discussed, others were entirely apathetic about the process, and many saw it as a time to celebrate successes - but not learn or reflect on the process of learning.

Student-led conferences support students that face any of these challenges. For my kids that feared the bad grade reveal, leading the conference and the prep for it left them feeling equipped and ready to discuss next steps. My apathetic attendees became active participants when using a student conference checklist - they set the agenda and curated the items for discussion. Perhaps most exciting, all of my students began to see the conference not as a single isolated event but as a reflective meeting where resources, needs, and goals could be actively addressed as partners.
 

Personalized Learning in Action

Students delve into their personal interests while creating imaginative stories.


 

The Importance of Experimentation

Personalizing learning doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an ongoing practice of challenging yourself and your students to engage meaningfully with content and each other.

To inspire a year of ongoing experimentation try one or two new things at a time, troubleshooting with the questions below.
  • What is one thing you would like to try to personalize learning further in your classroom?
  • How might you engage students, explore the content, or have students show understanding differently?
  • What did you notice implementing the change? How can you build on this experience?


Start with Read&Write and EquatIO

Read&Write, our literacy support tool, and EquatIO, our digital STEM solution, both support personalized learning. Sign up for your FREE teacher accounts for both products to start personalizing learning in your classroom!


 

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