Traditional education offers a one-size-fits all model. Modern education recognizes that each student is unique, and each student will need slightly different approaches, supports, and timelines to learn. At first, this can seem pretty overwhelming. It’s easy to panic at the thought of personalizing for every single student, whether you are a teacher with 30 students in your class, a principal with 300 students in your school, or a superintendent with 30,000 students in your district. The way to break through this anxiety is to think about the systems you can put in place to make personalization doable.
- Multiple pathways. A first step is to think about different learning pathways. This can mean offering different pathways to get to graduation, incorporating high school options like career, work-based, and applied learning paths. This can also mean allowing students different ways to engage in and demonstrate their learning within any given course: different final products, different areas of focus, or different series of learning activities that result in the same learning outcomes. Designing these upfront makes it easier to manage personalizing.
- Universal design for learning. Traditional education teaches to the middle, which only serves a handful of students. Still, there is often a worry that if you stray from this model – if you personalize learning – it might mean giving more time or attention to students who are behind, disadvantaging those who are not. This is a myth! Research shows that when instructional strategies are designed for difference – in other words, when instruction is designed to accommodate and support a variety of different learning needs – all students benefit. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) offers a clear instructional framework for this practice. Using UDL or similar frameworks to design classroom environments, curricula, and instruction can result in better outcomes for all kids. AND, using such a framework makes the task of personalizing more manageable for teachers, because they come with clear guidelines, tools, and supports.
- Flexible resources. When you have multiple pathways and personalized instruction systems in place, it becomes critical to have flexible resources. This includes having a variety of learning materials and tools for students who are learning different ways. This also means having flexibility about people, time, and space. Teachers may need to take on different roles. Schedules may need to flex to make room for students who take more or less time to master a concept. Learning may not be constrained to the school building, so that students can take learning home or extend learning into the community. Making resources flexible can seem like an operational headache, but there are plenty of examples of schools that have done this well. If you make a gradual transition and adopt new management practices, flexible resources are entirely doable.
Questions to Consider
- Where is your school or district on the continuum between one-size-fits all and personalized learning? What strengths can you build on? What are your change or improvement priorities?
- What systems do you currently use to personalize learning pathways and instruction? What can you build on? What needs to be addressed?
- What will be the biggest changes for teachers in moving toward a personalized model? What support systems do you have in place?
- How can you navigate the shift to flexible resources? What examples or practices in your own practice can you build on? Where can you find examples or management frameworks to model?