Sunday, February 18, 2024

Unlocking the Spectrum of Learning: The Multi-Faceted Magic of Personalization

We live in exciting times as unprecedented access to knowledge, research, and effective strategies at our fingertips can assist educators in creating meaningful experiences for students that align with both needs and strengths. One thing is for certain: learning is not linear. While a one-size-fits-all approach either worked for us or we just managed to get by, our connected world has shined a light on shifts that can be made to maximize students' time in class. Herein lies the power of personalization. 

Now, let me clarify a few things. Personalization is all learners getting what they need, when and where they need it, to succeed. It’s not all students doing the same thing at the same time, the same way. It is also important to point out the following:

  1. You don’t need technology to personalize learning.
  2. Putting all kids on a device simultaneously and having them watch a video or work on an adaptive learning tool is not personalization.
  3. There is not one best or right way to personalize.

There are pathways that genuinely personalize learning for all students and there are uniform approaches that only focus on one aspect of high-agency practices. The latter is a common position of many vendors in the space. Herein lies why I outlined the three main points above. For personalization to fully flourish in ways that meet the needs of all, there should be a multi-faceted approach that strategically embeds voice, choice, path, pace, and place throughout lesson design and facilitation. This means looking at key practices such as Tier 1 instruction, pedagogy, assessment, feedback, differentiation, RTI, real co-teaching, and professional learning to see where there is an opportunity to grow.  

The above paragraph sets Quest Junior High School apart from many other, if not all, schools across the country and the world. It starts at the top with leadership. Principal Nicki Slaugh has engaged with her staff to create a shared vision and works tirelessly to provide support through feedback and professional learning. The consistent use of high-agency strategies and data has resulted in a myriad of ways to help address the needs of learners. In her words, there are no “cookie-cutter” ways to personalize. Keep this point in mind if and when you are looking to grow personalized practices in your district, school, or classroom. 

While competency-based approaches buoyed by standards-aligned rubrics in the form of proficiency scales are the gold standard for path and pace, you will also see so much more. This includes using tech and whiteboard spaces for voice during Tier 1 instruction, choice activities, playlists, flipped lessons, stations determined by data, one-on-one conferencing, and maximizing flexible spaces. However, one aspect that sticks out is a consistent focus to impart high levels of cognition and relevance in all questions, tasks, and assessments. This is a testament to the staff at Quest, who see the value in personalization and not just another thing added to their plates.  

Case in point. During a recent coaching visit, I had the opportunity to visit numerous classrooms with an emphasis on feedback for new teachers and growth in co-teaching practices, which has been a primary focus in year two of the work I have been facilitating. Before I highlight one teacher in particular, I must say that we saw exceptional personalized practices occurring throughout the school. This is yet another testament to the culture of learning that has been established. I was particularly impressed by first-year teacher Brylee Nelson’s English class. From my lens, you see clarity in the form of a standards-aligned learning target, a real-world application involving choice, high-level thinking in the form of a scaffolded rubric, and a closure task using technology that amplifies students' voices. While the students worked, Brylee was seen conducting individual conferences as a Tier 3 support.

Another standout for me was to see firsthand how much progress has been made with effective co-teaching strategies. Nicki and her teachers have worked so hard to grow in their area, and their accomplishments can serve as a model for other districts and schools. When you look at the image below, can you identify the four adults? It wasn't very easy for me at first. Data was used to establish the groups that were staffed by two teachers (math, SPED) and two teaching assistants. You would be hard-pressed to figure out their roles as they were all immersed in targeted support. MTSS, RTI, differentiation, and co-teaching are all established pathways to personalized learning when good data is available and leveraged effectively.   

Supporting Quest and Nicki these past two years has been an absolute honor. You can see a snapshot of all they have accomplished HERE. When I created Aspire Change EDU, the main goal I set forth for the company was to ensure that all of our practice areas and solutions were tailored and customized to meet the needs of those I would serve. What this translates into is that there is no one way to personalize. While Quest had the best competency-based learning at scale I have ever seen in practice, which they established independently, Nicki saw opportunities to grow in other areas. The rest is now history.

To effectively personalize, we need to embrace a multi-faceted approach. Be wary of any solution, program, or professional development that doesn’t address all aspects of student agency while making connections to established practices that are known to be effective. 

If you would like to learn more about how Aspire Change EDU can support your district, organization, or school or provide you with 1:1 coaching, feel free to reach out –

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