In “What Does Personalized Learning Mean? Whatever People Want It To,” Benjamin Harold describes the broad range of definitions that encompass Personalized Learning: “Algorithm-driven playlists? Grouping students based on digital data? Letting teens design projects based on their personal interests? Adaptive software that adjusts to each student's skill level? Customized activities to help kids develop a growth mindset? Check, check, check, check, check.”
Similarly, there are several different variations and levels of competency-based and personalized learning happening at my school. I feel that we manage the use of personalized learning and competency-based learning in a way that is well suited for the elementary level. We use adaptive software like iRead, ST Math, System 44, Mobymax, and FASTT Math. Several of these programs give students choices within their scope and sequence and/or allow them to skip over content if they can demonstrate competency. These programs are also used as a “may do” option in many classrooms. Students often have a menu of learning or activity choices, ”May Do Lists,” for independent learning during small group or universal access time.
Many of our teachers offer students choices for learning, and demonstration of learning, with PBL projects. For example, students can make choices about which marine mammals they want to learn about for their projects, or perhaps whether they want to demonstrate their learning with a poster, a video, or class presentation. Another example is that some of our teachers utilize pre-tests from our math curriculum, Bridges, to allow students to demonstrate competency before embarking on whole-class lessons.
Katie Varatta’s concept of how competency-based learning works seems straightforward. She says, “You would analyze what mastery looks like, and design focused lessons and activities that would support those levels. This lesson addresses the entire group, and then you would move into workshop model where everyone works towards the daily learning target... While they are working, you might be pulling small groups to go deeper on the focused mini lesson or individuals that need further interventions or support.” As simple as that all sounds, however, there are many more steps involved in this process than are spelled out. Developing student protocols, lesson building, behavior management, assessment, early finishers, are just a few of the details that add to the complexity of such an endeavor.
I think my favorite selection this week is the short video, “Personalized Learning: What is it?” I like this selection because it reminds us that any approach needs to be vetted by research and evaluated for its effectiveness. So true are the cautions that students tend to pick the easiest options when given a choice, and that they don’t always manage their time (or attention) well while on educational software. These are issues that need to be constantly monitored at our school. This video should be the official disclaimer for anyone contemplating competency-based learning or personalized learning.