Personalized Learning for All Students

This week’s post is by Jean Garrity, Assistant Director at the Institute. 

A school ought to be a magical place where you are queen or king, and where what you get to do is focus on your intellect, and on what you can accomplish as a human being, and you come to understand what your life can be.  That’s what school should be for children.  Not a place where you go to study for a standardized test. Not a place where you go where you hear every day about the problems that you are. Not a place where you go where people tell you that you are under-performing. Not a place where you go where people tell you that you are part of some pathology (Ruth Simmons, Inaugural Address, Brown University, 2001).

No one would argue that we all want the best for each of our students. We all want school to be a positive, productive place, where every child can do their best. For the struggling or disengaged student, however, school isn’t always this kind of place. Think of the student who often sits back and tries to blend in. Think of the student who finds classwork too easy or too difficult, or simply is not interested in what’s being taught. Think of the student whose learning style doesn’t align with the teaching style, causing further disengagement.  Personalized learning can re-energize and re-engage these students by fostering choice and active learning. Personalized learning has been found to be especially effective for at-risk or struggling students. Many of our districts in the CESA #1 region have shown remarkable gains for kids who used to struggle in math, for example; many of whom had behavioral challenges related to their dislike for the subject, and their feelings of powerlessness over their inability to find success in the class.

Struggling students require significant amounts of time and attention, and relying on a century-old approach to education will not help these students move forward and find success. When learning is personalized, teachers use assessment data to identify the starting point in the curriculum where students can be successful, creating learning paths that engage students in their own development. Personalized learning also makes learning relevant by engaging students in real-world problem solving connected to academic content.   Progress is based on proficiency of learning, not on seat time or standardized tests.

For these reasons and many others, it is imperative that we offer personalized learning opportunities to all students, not only those who are already achieving at high levels. Personalizing learning will promote achievement, engagement and ultimately ownership for all students, and if we give our kids who struggle a chance, they just might surprise us.

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