How to Organise Your Personalised Classroom

Peter Kent

Peter Kent

How we are going to manage our classroom to personalise the learning without going insane, or trying to teach 25 different lessons each day. The answer to this problem, as with most problem involves being prepared.

In my previous post, Data We Need to Collect and Why (http://www.connectlearningtoday.com/personalisation-data-we-need-to-collect-why/), I mentioned that to personalise learning we should think in terms of a 5-10 week course of study.  This course of study might cover 3 or 4 curriculum standards; contain 8 – 10 major learning intentions that can potentially be broken down into 15 -20 component-learning goals. Our strategy to answer the question: What is the most appropriate learning goal for each student? Was to ask the students at the end of each lesson, which learning goal they were up to. Providing students with clear work samples and examples of success at each goal, so that they have the capacity to self-assess.

In order to act on this information, as teachers we need to have pre-prepared a range of learning activities or tasks for students for each component-learning goal. With these activities pre-prepared the daily task of the teacher is to match the appropriate activity with the appropriate students, and then decide which student(s) are most in need of direct instruction or support.

There are some tips and strategies around the design of the activities to make this process even more manageable:

1. Design activities that cover 2 or 3 learning goals, and would realistically take students 3 to 5 days to complete.

If your activities are shorter than this it can become overwhelming as potentially you will need to give each student a new activity every other day, and the teacher will spend all his/her time orientating students to new activities, rather than helping students with learning difficulties. If your activities are longer than this, students can get bogged down within the activity and procrastinate. TIP: generally younger students need shorter activities.

2. Design the activities as a series of challenges associated with each component-learning goal.

Remember at the end of each lesson students will be asked what learning goal they are currently working on, as such we need to make it clear within the activity which challenge relates to which learning goal.

3. Design the activities to facilitate student self-assessment.

For each learning goal and each challenge, there has to be a clear definition of success.  All too often we give students tasks and problems to solve, without being clear what success looks like. For example: Discuss the factors that led to the American Civil War. This could be answered with a couple of sentences, or 10,000 words. How is the student to know what success looks like?  TIP: a combination of explicit assessment rubrics and work samples are usually sufficient to guide student self-assessment.

4. Flip your classroom.

While a flipped classroom has a range of definitions, in this context I mean digitise your direct instruction so that students can view it outside of the lesson, allowing them to spend class time working on activities. While a flipped classroom is generally a good strategy in all circumstances, it is of increased value in a personalised learning environment. When we have our ‘direct instruction’ and ‘orientation to activities’ digitised as video, podcast, or even as a Word document or PowerPoint, it becomes easy to assign students new activities.  Students will also be able to view over and over again the direct instruction, as much as they need to first learn, reinforce and revise their learning. If they are having a problem understanding the activity or a challenge, their first solution could be to re-orientate by re-watching the orientation podcast or PowerPoint.

5. Work as a team.

If it is not clear by now you will need at least 5 complete Activity Packages ready before you start the first lesson. With each activity consisting of a direct instruction and orientation component, detailed rubrics, examples of success as well as the activities task itself, and any support materials required, etc. That could be a lot of work, but if you work as a team of 3 or 4 teachers, each with one curriculum standard to cover, and only 1 or 2 Activity Packages to create, life starts becoming a lot more manageable. One of the long-term advantages of this approach is that once you have an Activity Package created, it can be easily reused and will probably have a life of 3 or 4 years.

6. Ease yourself into personalisation.

If you cannot work as a team, and even if you can, it is sometimes a good idea to spend a year preparing for personalisation. As you teach the various curriculum standards this year be mindful to create activities and challenges that can be used again in future years. Ensure that you create detailed rubrics and road test them with students to ensure that they can use them to self-assess.  As you progress through the year be mindful to collect student work samples that can be used as examples of success at each learning goal and curriculum standard. Experiment flipping your classroom in a whole class-teaching context; learn how to make videos, and podcasts of your direct instruction. If we teach this year being mindful that we need to collate our work to create Activity Packages for each curriculum standard when we commence the next year, we will be well prepared to personalise our classroom.

7. Be persistent and don’t give up.

There is a phrase I use with the schools I work with: ‘First Go Worst Go’. That is the first time you do anything it will be the worst time you do it. If you quit after your first go then ‘worst’ is as good as you will ever be. Adopt the attitude of a reflective learning:  Prepare, have a go, reflect, and then continually improve on your performance. Before you know it you will have gone way past ‘worst’ and become a highly effective teacher. That will ensure each student has his/her learning needs met for each lesson.

Generally folks, that is it—the strategy and tactics to personalise learning in your classroom. All that is left to do is as they say, just do it. But I will add to that by encouraging you to have fun as you go.  There is nothing more sustainable and more positive than a teacher who enjoys his/her work.

I intend to end this series on personalisation by looking beyond the curriculum. We will look at how some of the approaches that we have talked about can help teachers personalise their approach to managing relationships in the classroom, and ability to cater to differing learning styles, amongst other things.

About the Author:

Peter Kent is Head of Strategy and Operations – ANZ at Promethean, Canberra Australia. Kent’s education career included primary school principal and vice principal positions. He is the author of numerous education texts and articles. Peter was awarded The Australian Government Endeavour Award in 2010, an International Competitive Merit Based Award that seeks to recognize individuals that provide significant international leadership within their chosen field. The award was conferred based on his significant contribution and leadership with regards to the use of technology to enhance education. In that year, he was the only recipient from the field of Education. Peter is a regular contributor to Connect Learning Today.

Peter Kent

Peter Kent is Head of Strategy and Operations – ANZ at Promethean, Canberra Australia. Kent’s education career included primary school principal and vice principal positions. He is the author of numerous education texts and articles. Peter was awarded The Australian Government Endeavour Award in 2010, an International Competitive Merit Based Award that seeks to recognize individuals that provide significant international leadership within their chosen field. The award was conferred based on his significant contribution and leadership with regards to the use of technology to enhance education. In that year, he was the only recipient from the field of Education. Peter is a regular contributor to Connect Learning Today.
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