How Do We Personalize Learning? Let’s Ask the Teachers

Personalized learning is perhaps the only way to help hard-to-reach students succeed academically. Approaches to instruction that match an individual student’s profile of strengths and weaknesses is the hallmark of a classroom that promotes metacognitive awareness. But successfully personalizing instruction is easier said than done.

Of course all teachers want every one of their students to succeed, but their ability to personalize may be constrained by curriculum standards, federal and state policy, mandated standardized testing, and administrative bureaucracy. So, in a world filled with rules and guidelines, how can a teacher successfully personalize instruction?

Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers, a report put out by Knowledge Works and NCTAF, attempts to answer this question. Based on interviews with teachers, coaches, and administrators, the report examines what motivates educators to personalize instruction as well as how schools have successfully scaled personalized learning beyond one or two classrooms. This free resource is a must read for any educator looking to deepen their knowledge on how to personalize their instruction.
The authors argue that truly personalized instruction meets the following criteria:
    • “Instruction is aligned to rigorous college- and career-ready standards and the social and emotional skills students need to be successful in college and career.
    • Instruction is customized, allowing each student to design learning experiences aligned to his or her interests.
    • The pace of instruction is varied based on individual student needs, allowing students to accelerate or take additional time based on their level of mastery.
    • Educators use data from formative assessments and student feedback in real-time to differentiate instruction and provide robust supports and interventions so that every student remains on track to graduation.
    • Students and parents have access to clear, transferable learning objectives and assessment results so they understand what is expected for mastery and advancement.”

Personalized learning is more than creative adaptation between a teacher and a student; instead, as this report argues, personalization can only succeed when it fits with the school culture. Nathalie Matthews, a teacher interviewed in the report, describes how:

“The classroom culture is important, but I found that sustained success with  personalized learning for my students stemmed from the condition of the school  culture.”

Building truly personalized approaches to learning, therefore, is an opportunity to engage the entire community in developing and supporting approaches to help all student succeed.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director