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Personalized learning – a perspective from New Jersey

Rebecca Thal is a 5th and 6th Grade Math/Science/Health teacher in New Jersey. She tells us why and how to introduce personalized learning to your classroom.

“Personalized learning” are two of the biggest buzzwords in teaching right now. But unlike other trends in education that seem to come and go, I believe this movement is here to stay. Why? Because experience alone tells me it makes perfect sense, and the research and data that supports it is just an added bonus.

Personalized learning allows teachers to meet students where they are, capitalize on their strengths, and help them improve their areas of weakness.  

But the fact is that everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are different, and with an average class size of 23 students, time is a huge challenge for teachers. So how can you help meet the needs of all of your learners?

Simply put, you need a combination of good classroom management techniques, various instructional strategies, and an arsenal of online and offline content and tools to assist you. 

Using the personalized learning model (which means different things to different people), the role of the teacher changes – we become more like facilitators of learning and managers of our classrooms.  Student roles also change – they are given greater responsibility, flexibility, and choice in their learning.

Gone are the days of teachers doing whole group lessons followed by a worksheet, all while students sit in nice neat rows, quietly working as the teacher circulates the room. This is not to say teachers will never give whole group lessons, or that students will never do worksheets – but it definitely won’t be the day-to-day routine that it has been in the past. 

There are many benefits to implementing personalized learning in your classroom. First and foremost, if done correctly, it can considerably help with behavior management. Students of all levels and abilities enjoy the sense of empowerment they get from being more in charge of their learning. They work at their own pace, and are more inclined to stay on task, with little opportunity to get bored. It also solves the problem of students who finish too quickly, or like to announce, “I’m done…what do I do next?,” as there is always something to move on to. This approach to instruction allows the teacher to form better relationships with students, as he/she is able to meet with them one-on-one or in small groups more often. 

The most intimidating part of embarking on a personalized learning approach in your classroom is getting started. It can definitely be overwhelming if you let it. The best advice I can give is to start with small changes and build from there, such as letting students pick a skill they’d like to improve on and allowing them to set a goal for themselves.

I like to think of my classroom as “organized chaos,” with different students working on different things at the same time, all while seeking to master a specific learning objective.  Does it take time and patience on everyone’s part to make this approach work successfully? Absolutely. Do the same things that work for one class work for all classes? Not necessarily. But eventually you and your students become increasingly comfortable with your new roles and you’ll quickly see how much the benefits outweigh the initial trial and error.

Take a chance on trying something new with your students – I guarantee you’ll be glad you did!

Sumdog supports personalized practice by making it simple for teachers to set, and engaging for students to complete.