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Personalized Learning: What You Need to Know

Jessica Shaffer

Days of standing in front of the class and lecturing for 40 minutes are old news! As a teacher, you want to give each of your students the best learning experience possible. Creating personalized learning for the students is one way to best meet his/her needs.

Personalized Learning: Using Data to Drive Instruction

Using data to drive your instruction is an important tool for teachers. You can use formal assessments such as unit tests or quizzes to create small groups based on student needs. Looking at the data can help you tier small groups and see which students need a challenge and those who are struggling and need extra attention.

You can also use state and district testing to do this. For example, in New Jersey, the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment (NJSLA -- formerly known as PARCC) provides scores for the students and further breaks them down by skills. You can use evidence tables provided by the NJSLA to help direct not just your whole group instruction, but your small group instruction. These test scores can help to target areas of strengths and weakness.

In my district, we also utilize an assessment known as the NWEA MAP test. This test measures academic progress and the growth of each student. Students set goals throughout the year and work to achieve them. The assessment breaks the scores into subcategories. For instance, there is an overall math score, which is further broken down into subcategories such as “Numbers and Operations” and “Measurement and Data” for each student. These scores can help target areas of need for individual students, as well as areas the student is excelling in.

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Informal Assessments

Informal assessments can also be beneficial in personalizing learning. Observing students in the classroom, listening to discussions, and different questioning techniques can all help in gauging levels of student understanding. Informal assessments are many times more valuable than formal assessments, as you can address weaknesses immediately.

When you are walking around the classroom, you can listen in on group work and hear what students are discussing. You can address the group as a whole, or pull students individually when the time is right. Also, when students are excelling at certain concepts, you can encourage them to help their peers.

Simple ways to assess understanding can be “Thumbs up, Thumbs down” or to pull out a purple index card and place it on the desk. This is an easy way for the teacher to see who needs a little extra help. It also does not draw attention to a struggling student. Many times students will not ask for help due to feeling “embarrassed,” so it is great when you can provide options where students do not feel in the “Spotlight” asking for assistance.

Student Interest

As a teacher, it is also important to get to know your students and their interests. You can personalize lessons based on this. I love to rewrite problems from the textbook and include student names because it grabs the attention of the class and they think it’s cool when their names are included.

You can also base activities on their interests. When you assign projects, give the students choice. One project I like to assign is a “Wanted Project” which I give in the beginning of the school year. I found it on Pinterest and have made it my own. Students must make a number wanted for a “Math crime.” Students can create posters, Google Slides, animations, use a coding program such as “Scratch” to portray their “Wanted” number and all the components the project requires. I have gotten commercials, YouTube videos, you name it, the students have created it. It is awesome letting them use their own avenues and skills to create a cool project to help learn skills.

More personalized and individualized learning will help to create and maintain student interest, as well as increase student achievement. The more the teacher can reach students on an individual level, the more motivation can be created, and in turn, increase the overall success of that student. As Ignacio Estrada stated, “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

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