Last month, I offered an on-ramp for understanding the concept of personalized learning -- the idea that personalized learning is about offering students a choice as they move through different pathways to mastery of skills and competencies. This month, let’s explore what that looks like in an academic class.
Let’s take a learning objective that lets us think of many pathways to create: understanding how a bill becomes a law in the United States.
OK. What would the typical process for meeting this objective look like? Probably something like this: in class, the teacher introduces the topic via a short “lecture.” Then, for homework, the students read pages 123-130 in their textbook and answer factual questions. In class the next day, the teacher kicks off the lesson by sharing the famous Schoolhouse Rock segment, "I'm Just a Bill" -- enjoy that flashback to 8th grade! After that, there are a couple of short activities in order to differentiate the instruction, and some opportunity for students to ask questions.
This is a good lesson. There is some differentiation. There are many entry points into the topic for students. But, was all of the learning meaningful for all students?
What if we approached the lesson from a learner-driven, personalized perspective? That might look something like this: When students arrive in the classroom, the teacher introduces the learning objective, and then offers students multiple pathways to reach the learning objective. Those pathways are simply the different parts of the previously explained linear lesson, but instead of students having to do each segment, they have choice on which pathway (or, likely, pathways) they need in order to meet the objective. Some students will start by reading the textbook, others will start with videos, others will gather with the teacher at the whiteboard for direct instruction, and so on.
We know that we sometimes need to take different pathways in order to learn a new skill. Think back to the headlight example -- we might start by using the manual as a pathway, and then realize that the visuals from YouTube are needed in order to complete our objective. So when designing for pathway choice, teachers also need to understand that some students will need to take multiple paths in order to reach the learning objective--just like we need to.
With summer approaching, I encourage every teacher to think about a lesson from this perspective. Start small, with just one class. Consider the learning objectives that you have for a day and work backwards to create pathways for your students to meet those objectives. This doesn’t have to be an arduous effort. In fact, it can be a fun afternoon activity. Start by working with what you have already, just organize it so that the students have choice rather than your making the choice for them.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)