Building a Foundation for Blended and Personalized Learning
With many schools and districts beginning to explore blended and personalized learning as a solution for improving outcomes for students, how do you imagine classrooms will change in the next five to ten years? What technology will students use to learn? How will classrooms look different? What skills will students need to be successful in the classrooms of tomorrow?
These are the questions I have been grappling with over the past eight months as a 2014 Education Innovation Fellow. Through the Fellowship, I’ve learned that blended learning and technology are not the answer alone—the real power to improve learning and outcomes for students today is personalized learning. Blended learning is just one tool to make learning more personalized for our students.
After realizing this, I began to think about the learners I want my five- and six-year-old students to be. How can I lay a foundation in kindergarten that will support them as they move into blended and personalized learning environments later in elementary, middle, and high school? How can I ensure that Sharon, my advanced writer, is not stunted by her classmates? What kind of opportunities can I give to Jai’Lynn, my high-energy scholar? How can I ensure that Edward, my struggling reader, is getting the support that he needs?
If each of these students is to be successful in the flipped classrooms or mastery-based courses of the future, they will need to do be able to do the following three things:
1. Get Creative
In the classrooms of the future, learning will (fingers crossed) not involve students just reading texts and completing worksheets Instead, students will be challenged to work with others, apply their learning, and create. With this in mind, I have found that project-based learning allows students to build a foundation for these skills, even in kindergarten.
2. Self-Pace and Monitor Progress
In order to access the online content of the future and successfully move through mastery-based courses, my students will also need experience regulating themselves and their time, making choices about what to work on, and keeping track of their progress. I have created opportunities to develop these skills through biweekly independent learning goals and weekly one-on-one meetings.
Every two weeks, students are presented with four to six goals that they work through at their own pace, with some guidance and support from teachers. Then, each student meets with me to discuss his or her progress toward these goals and show me how he or she has achieved them through their weekly meetings. The goals are posted in the room and on student folders so students can track their own progress.
3. Discuss and Share Learning
Blended and mastery-based learning often requires students to show evidence of their learning in non-traditional ways, such as meetings, class presentations, and portfolios. This means that students need to be able to describe what they are learning (goals), present how they met the goal (evidence), and co-assess the level at which they have met the goal (mastery). To begin to build this skill in my students, we have developed a common language of learning to discuss goals, evidence, and mastery and have created opportunities for students to share their learning with others.
Every other Friday, students present evidence of their learning (for example, reading a book they wrote or talking through their “bug habitat” project) to their peers, teachers, and even parents. This helps to make learning meaningful and ensures that students are aware of what they are learning. It also helps to build confidence in their presentation skills, which they will need in the future.
While I am still exploring and learning how to apply blended and personalized learning in an early childhood classroom, I have begun to see how project-based learning opportunities, allowing students to choose when and how they work, and creating a common language around our learning has impacted my students. With these practices in place, I know that my advanced writer, Sharon, is able to move as far as she is able without being held back by her peers. My struggling reader, Edward, is able to get the one-on-one support he needs to be successful. And Jai’Lynn, my high-energy scholar, is able to channel her excitement into working on as many different things as she would like at her own pace, without being restricted by my schedule and preferences.
It’s exciting and reassuring to know that each of these students will leave my classroom more prepared to participate in the changing classrooms that await them across the next decade. How will you prepare your students for 21st century learning?