Personalisation : Data We Need to Collect & Why

Peter Kent

Peter Kent

We began this personalisation series with the apparent contradiction of ‘why is it getting hard to teach, while at the same time personal experience tell us it is getting easier to learn something’.  The contradiction seemed to be that because it was easier to learn, the diversity or differences between students in our classes was constantly increasing. This diversity makes it increasingly harder to design a whole class lesson that meets the needs of all students, hence a need to shift more towards a personalised approach to teaching and learning.

Personalisation is easy to pronounce, very hard to implement. Obviously, if we are going to implement a personalised learning approach we need to provide teachers with more detailed data about their students. However, we continued the discussion by shifting our focus from data as the goal to the daily decisions teachers need to make.  Expert teaching is not one or two big decisions made on a weekly basis; rather it is a collection small decisions made continually each day throughout lessons. When we can collect data that allows us to improve the multitude of small decisions teachers make we can aspire to greatly improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning, and genuinely implement a sustainable model of personalised learning.

But what are these small decisions that lead to personalised teaching and learning, that should guide our data collection?  The Small Decisions (http://www.connectlearningtoday.com/small-decisions-personalise-teaching/) post covered this issue. Fundamentally the constant decisions that all teachers need to make throughout lessons are:

  • Who is in the greatest need of my time?
  • What assistance, support, instruction, and guidance do they need?

The other decision that teachers need to make in preparation for each lesson is:

  • What is the most appropriate learning intention, or learning goal for each student at this point in time?  Note: In order for students to be able to take ownership and control of their learning this is a question that they should be regularly reflecting on as well.

So here we are.  We know what decisions need to guide the implementation of personalised learning, we now have to collect the data, and act upon it. This is where the rubber hits the road.

How to Collect the Data

Generally the best way to find out what students know is to ask them. Then, is that the best way to find out what help they need—by asking them that as well? Sounds simple, and I wish it was, but like in most things there is a catch—or more accurately some essential preparation to be done before we can ask these questions and expect useful responses. Let’s start with the last question first because it is the most important, and there is so much useful information we can get from student responses to it.

What is the most appropriate learning intention, or learning goal for each student at this point in time?

  • Teachers need to be able to use the answer to this question to set Learning Intentions or Learning Goals for their next lesson, or to provide precise guidance to a student within a lesson. In this context the answer to this question will ideally be in the form of a Learning Goal for the Subject or Course at hand.
  • To ensure that students can answer this question teachers need to make visible to students the set of Learning Intentions or curriculum standards (or more likely sub-standards) that will be covered over the coming period of time. When I was teaching this time period was usually 10 weeks but it could be more or less depending on how you organise your units of work. Once this set of Learning Intentions is visible to students, ideally with examples of what success looks like at each stage, then all that students are required to do is identify the most appropriate learning intention by selecting it from the list.  By presenting students with a list of the learning intentions to be covered at the end of each lesson and asking them which one they are currently working on, teachers are able to very accurately make precise decisions about what is the best lesson for my class tomorrow.
  • Teachers need to ask this question every lesson. Students need to get into the habit of reflecting on their personal progress through the curriculum every lesson. If students expect the question to be asked, then they will naturally prepare themselves to answer during the lesson and consequently get better at answering, and better at identifying their own specific learning needs.

A course of study aimed at lasting 10 weeks might contain 8 – 10 Major Learning Intentions, and potentially 15 -20, if we can break some into component parts. So while Teachers would ask the question each lesson, it would not be expected for students to change their answer each lesson. The number of days that a student has been working on a specific learning intention can help us answer our first two questions:

  • Who is in the greatest need of my time?
  • What assistance, support, instruction, and guidance do they need?

Students who have been ‘stuck’ on a specific learning intention for more days than desired or planned—clearly they may be in urgent need of assistance and intervention. Students who have just moved to a new learning intention will most likely benefit from an initial orientation and direct instruction. So by monitoring the rate of learning and the time it takes for individual students to move from one learning intention to the next, we can identify the students that have potentially the greatest need of our time on any particular day.

There are a lot more questions we can ask students to find valuable data to personalise teaching and learning:

  • Today our lesson intention was on…… (to see if they were paying attention)
  • To what extent was the lesson’s work easy?
  • What is your score on the progress rubric? (in this instance the teacher might have used a rubric to define what needs to be learnt)
  • What content would you like to revise next lesson?

But everything is best done one step at a time, and so I suggest you just start with the initial question—what Learning intention are you currently working on? And then progress from there adding more questions at your own pace.

So now we are in a position where we can identify the most appropriate personalised learning goal for each student on a daily basis. We also have a very good idea of which students would be in the greatest need of our time—fantastic. The obvious problem is that I now have a class of 25 – 30 students each potentially working on a different learning goal each day, how on earth are we going to manage that without going insane? That is topic of the next blog post:  Managing a Personalised Classroom.

Editor’s Note: Please search for and read all Peter Kent personalized learning posts at Connect Learning Today.

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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