Many things are personal to us, and how we learn is one of them. When learning becomes strengthened by a relevant connection between the task and the learner, that's truly personal.
It also means using the endless possibilities—those "teachable moments"—that appear in front of us every day for creating informal learning opportunities.
The personalization of learning is one of the 10 Shifts of Practice of Future-Focused Learning that we speak about in our travels. It remains one of the most compelling methods we have in our classrooms for ensuring meaningful learning takes place. If you want to know how to apply it in your own practice, here are some approaches you can't go wrong with.
Give Students Some Choices
Allowing students some choice in how they approach a task or tackle an assignment is an excellent exercise in personal responsibility, time management, and independent thinking. One example would be providing an activities list for the day and allowing students to choose the order in which the tasks are completed. Another example of this would be beginning class with a round-table discussion that encourages the students to clarify what they want to learn most from the day's or week's content.
Begin your class by asking the question, "What do you want to learn today and how?"
Whatever the lesson content, your learners feel valued and gain a real sense of connection to what is being taught when they can share their opinions about what learning pathways to take.
This can also move into a valuable exploration of learners' assumptions about the material.
Use Express Assessment
If there was ever only one assessment method to choose when working with modern learners, formative assessment would take home the gold medal.
Formative assessment is an assessment as learning, which can be offered to students throughout the entire learning process in many different ways.
You can make use of simple tools like formative feedback, discussion threads, peer-led quizzes, exit tickets, think-pair-share exercises, opinion charts, and many more.
Any assessments we give should be goal-oriented, actionable, and geared mindfully toward developing higher-order thinking skills. Choose one or two simple formative assessment tools to use for a few days with your classroom and carefully monitor the results. Better yet, let your students use these approaches to assess themselves and their peers, which is a great way to shift learning responsibility to them.
When learning becomes strengthened by a relevant connection between the task and the learner, that's truly personal.
Mine Their Experiences
Like us, our learners are complex and unique individuals. Every day they bring the potential to make relevant personal learning connections to any lesson or subject. So why not ask them? There may be any number of ways they can bring personal insights to any discussion that will make content more meaningful to them and to others.
For example, say you're teaching Design and Technology, and the subject arises of how quickly our technology becomes obsolete. It can seem like our personal tech is out of date (or fashion) not long after we receive it. Have any of your learners ever wished for a way that we could breathe new life into an old product? What frustrates them about the technology they love? Maybe they have some ideas on how a device could be improved that haven't been thought of yet.
Encourage them to share these ideas openly and toss them around the room for discussion.
Try Inquiry-Based Learning
There's nothing more effective than crafting challenges that require learners to take on exciting knowledge quests and engineer real solutions to real problems. In that sense, inquiry-based learning was made for personalization.
That's because it actively involves students in the discovery phase of learning by placing responsibility for learning directly into their hands.
Rather than the teacher simply telling students what they need to know and asking them to repeat it, the inquiry-based learning approach taps into a learner's curious nature. It encourages them to explore content in their own way by asking well-formulated questions and sharing ideas and opinions. In that sense, inquiry-based learning works well in group settings where collaboration lets them assemble knowledge through lively and meaningful discussion.
Let the Students Teach
It sounds crazy, but it works, and students love it. Besides fostering valuable communication, leadership, and instructive skills, this is a tremendous ongoing formative assessment tool for gauging understanding. If a learner can teach the content to others in a way that makes others not only comprehend it but benefit from it, then the student has it down.
Giving your natural instructors a chance to reinforce the concepts in themselves and in others by teaching them can be an inspirational moment in any classroom.
Quite often you'll find learners who excel in certain subjects. This can provide an excellent pathway for them to share their connections and interests in that subject to engage their peers. (Besides, you'll get a break for a period or two—wouldn't that be nice?)
Choose one or two students to teach a small portion of the material for the next few classes. Have them plan the progressions, activities, and even the assessments for the rest of the students. Be on hand to guide them throughout the process and answer any questions.
Personalized learning is not necessarily always supported by the inclusion of technology, but it can certainly be helpful. In as much as teachers have high expectations of our learners in any instructional arena, the fact is that the learners also have high expectations of us. Inevitably, in any classroom setting, our learners will fully expect to be able to use the technology they love. It is, after all, so central to their lives both in and out of school.
Personal technology offers our learners the chance to connect to instruction through the tools and networks they find familiar and reassuring.
Technology can also provide teachers with fast and effective ways to tailor instructional content and delivery methods for a wide range of learners, quickly locate resources for instruction, and build stronger relationships with their students.
Try incorporating technology into one or two classroom activities. You can, for example, use a social networking tool like Twitter to do an in-class poll or host a quick quiz that learners tweet responses for.
If a learner can teach the content to others in a way that makes others not only comprehend it but benefit from it, then the student has it down.
Teach Digital Literacy
Today's learners require advanced skills that include collaboration with both physical and virtual partners, Media Fluency, and digital citizenship. Our children will benefit from the knowledge that allows them to effectively navigate, analyze, utilize, and create information in a technology-driven world.
Have students create their choice of multimedia project to answer a practical challenge. Give them lots of room to be their creative selves and use media that speak to their interests and abilities. For example, they could create a webpage, develop a podcast episode, build a blog or a wiki page, film a video, produce an animation, or design a presentation.
Collaborate With Others
Reach out to some colleagues or other teachers you know of who have had experience with personalizing learning and ask them about their own experiences.