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Personalized Learning and Today’s Classroom: My Experience in the Personalized Age of Teaching

As a veteran teacher of more than two decades, I would like to think I have seen it all. I have been a part of teacher-led, computer-led and workbook-led teaching. Over the last several years the Kettle Moraine School District has been a national leader in the movement toward the personalized learning, allowing students to choose what topics to study, what sources to use while researching, and what tools to use when presenting information to an audience. Personalized learning has been infused across the each of our ten K-12 schools.

With education’s paradigm shift to personalized learning, I am doing my best to meet students where they are with their learning choices. My last blog post explained how I earn micro-credentials to gain more information and references for new ideas in teaching, all while being financially rewarded by my district. These micro-credentials, taught by personalized coaches in our district and online micro-credential facilitator Digital Promise, have given me tools to personalize learning for my students.

The micro-credentials I have earned have helped provide me support as I personalize my curriculum. I have tapped the resources of the Center for Collaborative Education for several micro-credentials. The one from CCE that I feel helped me the most in my curriculum building was Embedding Habits, Skills, and Disposition in Performance Assessments. In this micro, I learned to get more from presentations from my students by challenging them to be resilient and self aware of their learning.

Elsewhere, I took the Personalized Gamification micro-credential, where I turned a medieval unit into a Lord and Lady quest. Students earned accomplishment tags and a lanyard that added up to being knighted by our principal. Through Digital Promise’s Student Voice and Choice micro-credential, I facilitated students to brainstorm their choices in a unit and choose partners or presentations that met their interests. I also took a Digital Promise micro-credential called Design Thinking and Doing as well as Idea Generating. Both helped give me the bearings and resources needed to design and implement personalized units.


Morris's students are knighted by the school principal upon completing their "Lord and Lady" quest.

My latest micro-credential, The Personalized Continuum, creates accountability between me and my peers as we invite each other in to explain what we are doing in our classroom. We are using the book Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning by James Rickabaugh as our base.

I work in two 6th grade houses. One house is called Inquiry, which has a personalized model that meets student needs. As a collaborative 6th grade teaching team, we decide on the unit of study, such a the U.S. Election, National History Day or an ancient civilization. Then, I design the curriculum and content. I provide an interactive calendar to my collaborative team of teachers to provide structure into a personalized setting. I give the students access to several films that I have made using the app Playposit, as well as readings and interactive activities that cover the content of the unit. Students answer embedded film questions or take online quizzes to show understanding before picking a topic of interest from the unit to dive deeper into.

Students engage in standards-aligned project based learning with multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they know and are able to do. The process is pyramid shaped. Then the kids get a deep reading and writing base in the material in class. Finally, the kids pick their topics with voice and choice then design their papers and pick their project presentation style.


A sample interactive kiosk Morris creates for students

Students exercise voice and choice in their learning and co-create personal academic profiles and learning plans focused on their interests, aspirations, and learning challenges. I make interactive kiosks of information from the content for the students to use as research references. This way our class time is used for close reading skills for the unit, or writing targets for their essays, or even free work time for the projects they have chosen for themselves. Those projects may include making a documentary using Wevideo, producing a digital package using Prezi, creating a model or exhibit board, or even writing and performing a play.


Morris's students perform a play.

Flexibility is the answer when meeting the needs of personalized learning. I am also a flipped educator who puts all content based work online for students to go over on their own and at home so that our class time with my colleagues and students are not just filled with reading and video watching. This flexible flipping of content has become my passion. As a teacher, I need to manipulate materials to meet student needs in and outside of class. Whether it be the use of technology such as an app, one on one instruction, or flexible schedules for higher flying students who need less direction, it’s all part of meeting the individual needs of students.

In summary, the personalized learning I have experienced as an educator -- both through micro-credentials and other professional development offerings in my district -- has allowed me to personalize learning for my own students. I have had many benefits in experiencing voice and choice in my own development as an educator, and I fully support providing that opportunity for my students.


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6 & 6 for Implementing Personalized Learning in Your Classroom

May 2, 2016
Have you ever wished it was a bit easier to begin personalizing learning in your classroom? Well now it is! Check out our list of six resources and six strategies to begin integrating personalizing learning with your students today.
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A Technology Rich Project-Based Curriculum: TechBoston Academy's Vision for Personalized Learning

December 7, 2016
Karen P. White talks to Nora Vernazza, TechBoston Academy's Co-Headmaster, about how the school plans to implement personalized learning through a series of community-based student projects.
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Does Teacher Customization Improve Student Learning?

CCE Researcher Joshua Littenberg-Tobias describes an article he recently published on teacher lesson customization in science.