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Implementing Personalized Learning in Primary School
The purpose of this paper and analysis is to make appropriate changes to the budget of a school. These changes need to come from the leadership position of the school and is designed to provide perspective to students on difficult decisions from a leader’s point of view.
Implementation of Personalized Learning in an Elementary School
Personalization means to make individual, as it relates to one’s own character, conduct, and motives. Personalization is available to consumers through a variety of services from music and movie streaming services, weight loss programs, and clothing. Consumers now have the ability to personalize almost anything. Education has followed this trend and is now attempting to personalize based on the needs of individual learners.
My school recently attempted to take on the challenge of personalized learning. We began the process about five years ago. My administrator at the time was really enthusiastic about the idea and was really pushing for all the teachers in my building to get on board. We are a small one section school grades K-4 in a district that has three other elementary schools so she had a vision for the school to become a personalized learning center for our district. This was an opportunity for us to find a unique niche in the district, although she made it clear to the teachers that district-level administration was not supportive of the idea.
From the introduction of the idea there was resistance from some teachers. Some embraced the idea of change and volunteered to receive training and attend conferences. Others were reluctant to the idea of such a pedagogical shift in teaching. It was still very much the “my kids, my class” mentality. In a school with only five classroom teacher having even two teachers that are opposed is significant.
During the first year, time was spent on teachers receiving training through CESA 1, doing book studies, going on site visits, and attending the Personalized Learning Convening. As a staff we concentrated on just trying to understand the idea of personalized learning and what it might look like in our classrooms. A lot of the study was done during PLC time so that teachers could have discussions about what they were learning and any concerns they had for moving forward. It was decided by the team that the next step would be to look at the standards and identify the essential skills and subskills so that common rubrics could be created to assess students on a continuum. A few months were spent on this.
A couple of the teachers began to use other strategies associated with personalized learning such as learner inventories that would help students identify their learning styles, and the creation of learning plans. As the push became more urgent from the principal, teachers became more resistant. By the end of the second year a couple of the lower grade teachers were requesting in-district transfers because they did not want to do personalized learning.
This led to the principal taking a step back and allowing some teachers to not take part and others to continue to pursue strategies through personalized learning. Soon after this all teachers in the building were no longer attempting personalized learning strategies. By the end of year three we were no longer considering implementing personalized learning. We had spent three years studying personalized learning, making rubrics, and aligning assessments. All that time at the end seemed wasted.The problem is that our school was unable to implement personalized learning. There are many factors that led to the implementation failure. We did not take into consideration the challenges that would come with a whole school implementation.
This has led to my question of “How to implement personalized learning in an elementary school?” What we did as a school completely failed. The teachers could agree with most of the concepts we were learning about personalized learning yet still remained resistant to the change to implement it.
What is Personalized Learning?
There are many ways in which personalized learning. Connected learning, blended learning, competency learning, and open classrooms are some of the ways that can describe personalized learning.There is not one shared definition of personalized learning. Many of the definitions look to include the following: systems and approaches that accelerate and deepen student learning by tailoring instruction to each student’s needs, a variety of learning experiences that prepare students for success in college and career, and the teachers’ role in student learning. This includes designing and managing the learning environment, leading instruction, and providing students with guidance in taking ownership of their own learning The Gates Foundation defines personalized learning as “systems and approaches that accelerate and deepen student learning by tailoring instruction to each student’s individual needs, skills, and interests” (The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014, p.2). The Institute for Personalized Learning defines personalized learning as: “An approach to learning and instruction that is designed around individual learner readiness, strengths, needs, and interests. Learners are active participants in setting goals, planning learning paths, tracking progress and determining how learning will be demonstrated. At any point in time, learning objectives, content, method and pacing are likely to vary from learner to learner. A fully personalized environment moves beyond both differentiation and individualization” (Institute for Personalized Learning, 2015). These definitions help to identify personalized learning and both definitions center the focus on the student and the student’s needs.
Personalized learning involves students in their learning that allows them a level of control that is lacking in traditional teaching. It allows them to help (with guidance from a teacher) direct what, how and when they learn while still focusing on the standards. Personalized learning is also closely connected with technology. Personalized learning involves individualizing and differentiating learning for every student and technology a way for teachers and students to adapt to the student’s needs. The instruction is paced to the learning needs of the students and the instruction is tailored to the student’s interests. Personalization ensues from the relationships among teachers and students and the teacher’s ability to deliver instruction that enhances every aspect of the student’s learning and development (Redding, 2013, p.126). The role of the learner and the practices of the teacher play significant roles in creating a personalized learning environment, but the goals of the school are key to implementing personalized learning successfully. Each school should begin with a general definition or understanding of the term (Spencer, 2014 p.72)
The Honeycomb is also referenced in personalized learning and acts as a guide. The honeycomb is a tool that the teacher and the student are able to reference to as a visual when assessing the stages of implementation. The center of the Honeycomb is the core of personalized learning as it is centered on the student. The three components at the center are Learner Profiles, Customized Learning Paths, and Proficiency Based Progress (Institute for Personalized Learning, 2015). Below is the Honeycomb as found on the Personalized Learning Institute’s page:
Personalized Learning Honeycomb
Challenges to Implementation
There are many aspects that impact successful school-wide implementation of personalized learning. Some common challenges include: teacher buy-in, scheduling, access to technology, implementation consistency, physical space, and parental involvement (“Best Practices in Personalized Learning Implementation”). As a school leader, it is imperative that each of these potential challenges are taken into consideration throughout the implementation process. As I mentioned in the beginning of this paper, my school was not successful and it was due to many of these challenges.
One of the most critical components of personalized learning is the component of teacher buy-in. Teacher buy-in is an important determinant of the success of personalized learning programs (Best Practices in Personalized Learning Implementation, 2013 p. 11). Personalized learning forces teachers to depart from traditional practices and gives students a voice in regards to their own learning. In order to do this teachers need to learn new ways to manage academic and growth outcomes, attend to individual interests and needs, connect students to authentic audiences and opportunities, and track individual progress (Zmuda, Ullman, & Curtis, 2015, p. 150).
Scheduling, access to technology, and physical space are factors that may pose a challenge to implementing personalized learning. Teachers will need more time to collaborate, plan, and time to receive training. There will also need to be time in which groups are able to meet. This may require a shift in how classes are organized in order to allow more time for students to collaborate in groups. Students will need access to technology on a regular basis. The school will need to ensure that internet service and devices being used by students are reliable (Bingham, Pane, Steiner, & Hamilton, 2018 p. 469). Physical space is significant for personalized learning because in personalized learning, instruction is focused on group learning (Basham, Hall, Carter, & Stahl, W. M. 2016, p. 127). Groups must have the space in order to gather which can be challenging for schools.
Parental involvement and support is another factor that may pose a challenge to the implementation of personalized learning. Parental involvement and support are crucial to success. There are three ways that families can support and be involved in their student’s education; teaching at school, in the community, and at home Ferguson, 2001, p.48). Teaching at school refers to a parent’s involvement in the classroom such as coming in to assist. Teaching in the community refers to parents creating opportunities for children to learn outside the classroom and to bring the community into the classroom. Teaching at home refers to the level of involvement at home. Teaching at home becomes relevant when communication between school and home is successful and the homework being sent home is meaningful. It is important to educate families about the value of personalized learning in order to gain and maintain support and is a continuous process.
When thinking of the challenges that implementing personalized learning may pose it is hard not to think of the political frame as presented by Bolman and Deal. It is important to be aware of the different groups and their interests, and to manage the interests of those groups in order to meet the goals of the school. When implementing personalized learning administration must make decisions that involve allocating resources that will best help the school achieve their goal. There are various stakeholders to consider when making those decisions and how they will be impacted. Parents want the most for their children, teachers want more resources for their classrooms, district administration and school board want successful test scores.
After reviewing the articles, books, papers, and websites related to personalized learning, I have found a definition of personalized learning that encompasses all the many aspects that each definition has. This definition is by Lisa Spencer (2014), she states that:
Personalized learning is centered on and directed by students. The educator plays an integral role of being the facilitator. Personalized learning is tailored to student interest and aptitudes. It is responsive to the learning needs, interests, and readiness of the learner. Personalized learning is flexible, both in its location and pacing. It is anytime, anywhere learning and allows for the construction and demonstration of new knowledge and skill sets. Personalized learning is an environment that incorporates standards and provides for college and career readiness.
By personalizing learning for each student, we create a circumstance where teachers can address learning needs as they occur rather than having to remediate later through intervention. When teachers have a deeper understanding of each learner, they can use the individual strengths of the student to determine the best strategies to ensure the student’s success. Teachers will become facilitators of learning, working collaboratively with students to ensure understanding and mastery of content. Personalized learning allows for a greater focus on small group or individualized instruction.
Lisa Spencer (2014) also presented a personalized learning integration systems approach that included six steps:
- Strategic Planning
- Organizational Culture
Spencer identified these steps by analyzing the approaches of schools that have successfully implemented personalized learning.
Personalized learning has many definitions. Searching online, having discussions with educators, parents, students, or other community members each will have their own definition of personalized learning. Regardless of the definitions, if we are to consider strategic planning, it is necessary that each school define personalized learning for themselves and establish the parameters around what it is. The definition and parameters should reflect any limitations that the school may have including limitations with buildings and technology. This should be the first step of the school leader. This establishes the “why.” As a leader trying to initiate the change to personalized learning.
Much like the principal in the opening of the paper it is beneficial to reach out to schools that have already developed a personalized learning program so that they may serve as a model. If school visits are not possible, watching other schools and districts via teacher videos and YouTube is also another option to help direct conversations about how the school will proceed implementing its own program.
It will be important to have a clearly articulated vision that helps establish the “why” behind this level of change for teachers. If the teachers understand the “why” they will be more disposed to invest the time and effort that is needed to learn the content and undergo the pedagogical shifts that personalized learning demands (Zmuda, Ullman, & Curtis, 2015, p. 150). Establishing this will enable teachers to where the school is headed and why it is headed in that direction.
In order to successfully implement personalized learning, it will be necessary for leadership to have resolution. It will not be easy to bring about change school wide, and it will be especially difficult to shift thinking from the traditional view of school to the approach of personalized learning. Leadership will need to support teachers, especially when it seems that the system approach is not working.
Flexibility is another piece to implementing personalized learning. Much as personalized learning is adaptive so must be the school, teachers, students, and leadership. Flexibility with the curriculum, pacing, and grading are some examples. Flexible seating, and use of space to enhance student learning are other ways that schools have begun to use.
Communication should be thought of in terms of how to include stakeholders in the process of implementation. Parents and family members help influence student perspectives of work and postsecondary education experiences. By communicating these perceptions of work, parents help contribute to students’ development (A Guide for Implementing Personalized Student Learning, 2014).
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014). Early progress: Interim report on
- personalized learning.
- The Institute for Personalized Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://institute4pl.org/.
- Best Practices in Personalized Learning Implementation. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.hanoverresearch.com/media/Best-Practices-in-Personalized-Learning-Implementation.pdf.
- Rutledge, J. (n.d.). institute4pl.org. Retrieved May 22, 2019, from http://institute4pl.org/index.php/what-we-do/research/.
- Spencer, L. (2014). Transforming schools from traditional to personalized (Order No. 3682046). Available from Education Database. (1656492380). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.csu.ezproxy.switchinc.org/docview/1656492380?accountid=9367
- Basham, J. D., Hall, T. E., Carter Jr., R. A., & Stahl, W. M. (2016). An Operationalized Understanding of Personalized Learning. Journal of Special Education Technology, 31(3), 126–136. https://doi-org.csu.ezproxy.switchinc.org/10.1177/0162643416660835
- Strategies for implementing personalized learning in rural schools. (2017, 11). The Education Digest, 83, 40-50. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.csu.ezproxy.switchinc.org/docview/1949505147?accountid=9367
- Bingham, A. J., Pane, J. F., Steiner, E. D., & Hamilton, L. S. (2018). Ahead of the curve: Implementation challenges in personalized learning school models. Educational Policy, 32(3), 454-489. doi:http://dx.doi.org.csu.ezproxy.switchinc.org/10.1177/0895904816637688
- Zmuda, A., Ullman, D., & Curtis, G. (2015). Learning personalized: the evolution of the contemporary classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley brand.
- Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2017). Reframing organizations: artistry, choice and leadership. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer Imprints, Wiley.
- Redding, S. (2013). Getting Personal: The Promise of Personalized Learning. Retrieved May 5, 2019, from http://centeril.org/handbook/resources/fullchapter/Getting_Personal_SA.pdf.
- A Guide for Implementing Personalized Student Learning … (2014). Retrieved May 10, 2019, from http://www.state.nj.us/education/cte/pslp/PSLPGuide.pdf.
- Personalization in Practice: Observations from the Field. (n.d.). Retrieved June 1, 2019, from https://wcer.wisc.edu/docs/working-papers/Working_Paper_No_2015_08.pdf.
- F., J. (2018, October 2). Strategies for Implementing Personalized Learning While Evidence and Resources Are Underdeveloped. Retrieved June 2019, from https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE314.html.
- Ferguson, D. L. (2001). Designing personalized learning for every student. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
- Powell, W., & Kusuma-Powell, O. (2011). How to teach now: five keys to personalized learning in the global classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
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