Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Taking Personalized Learning Personal

When I think about personalized learning I see two faces- my own girls. One daughter is a junior in college and the other is a senior in high school. They will both be graduates at the school I have been an educator at for the last 13 years. All through their k-12 educational experience they struggled with math. On and off (more on than off) I hired tutors to help them to feel more confident in the math classes they took. With tutors in their life studying for exams became less tearful. I couldn’t help but ask myself “how is the current system of math instruction not working for my girls and other students like them?” “Why do my girls not understand concepts in class?” When I think of personalized learning, I see my girls and what it could have done for them to make them feel like more confident learners.

As an instructional technologist for my school system I am constantly looking for innovative ways to enhance learning and help teachers become more effective. An opportunity was placed before me that has caused me to become a champion for personalized learning like never before. Three schools across the United States were coming together to look for ways to lower the cost of education through a blended learning math prototype. I was asked to be a part of this pilot as technology support. Our school, in Chattanooga, Tennessee would be a trailblazer.

It started simply with a below average 5th grade math class. The teacher felt overwhelmed by their lack of progress. We turned it into a blended learning station rotation class with the use of technology to fill gaps. The increase in test scores were phenomenal but what stuck with me was the confidence building I saw. I wanted to baby step into blended learning- this is what transpired:

In 2015 those three schools came together to prototype blended learning math using the model of a lead teacher and paraprofessionals in the classroom. Each school looked at it a bit differently due to individuality of the schools. For Chattanooga Christian School, our teachers started off in a blended learning station rotation model with modality stations such as teacher instructed, hands on, technology instruction, gaming, inquiry based.
Screen Shot 2016-11-18 at 3.41.07 PM.pngOur teachers created icons to help students navigate the day for movement in the classroom. They also used a LMS for instructions. It didn’t take long for the educators in the classroom to see they had students that could move forward and some that needed additional time. They decided to allow for personalized learning to take place with some constraints as far as pacing. Those moving ahead were often given opportunities to go deeper and those lagging behind were given calendar dates to get things done by.  It wasn’t an easy year. At the end of the year the lead teacher looked at me and said, “I’ve been teaching for 17 years and I never saw the cracks that my students were falling through. Please don’t make me go back to teaching traditionally again.” It still gives me goosebumps. Especially considering I thought she might quit on me at any moment during the school year! Here are testimonials from 2 students:

In the 2016-2017 school year we are in year two of the prototype with two school systems still involved and 40 students in the classrooms with one lead teacher and 2 para-professionals. The educators in the room have found a rhythm and other math teachers are questioning positively “what’s happening in that room and how can I be a part of it?” I believe in personalized learning and think that maybe some students might become confident math learners because of the trailblazing these amazing teachers are doing at our school. I believe the culture of being grade driven students is changing to competency driven in this pilot. I believe these students have been given a glimpse at being in charge of their path of learning and seeing it for the process it is. I'm interested to see where the future takes us.