The Power of Personalized Learning for Secondary Students

Wednesday, September 14, 2016 -- Casey Stone

Between the 6th and 12th grades the differences in students become more pronounced than in the younger grades. Fashion, interests, and personalities, in addition to knowledge and skills, become more disparate between individual learners. That is why electives and advanced or leveled classes have long been offered in this grade range. However, today’s students, instructors, parents, and other education stakeholders agree: it is just not enough. With this in mind, innovative educators across the world are endeavoring to personalize learning for their students to help them realize their passions and bring out their best work.

In our recent blog post on Defining Personalized Learning, we discussed just what this approach entails. I think the most important thing to note is that personalized learning isn’t a checklist; it’s an interconnected system of learning resources, surrounding the student, and orchestrated by the instructor.

Personalized learning is best viewed as a schema with multiple available components. For districts and campuses, the goal should be to develop their professional, organizational, physical, and digital capacities to facilitate the ongoing development of this schema. The development of a campus’ or districts’ personalized learning plan is not a one year project, but a continuous improvement integration. Here are a few ideas to help you create a personalized plan for your secondary students:

Develop a Plan

It’s helpful to go into your personalized learning initiative with long term goals in mind. A great place to start is to develop a high-level, three- to five-year plan for ramping up the personalized learning system, and re-evaluating it regularly for continuous improvement. With that schema in place, your school and district will have the ability to deliver learning activities that foster intrinsic motivation within your students. Recognizing that no two students, teachers, families or administrators are just alike, the personalized learning plan allows for educators to connect students with what they need, when they need it, in the format they want, and at the right time. Why? To foster every student, educator, and parent’s ultimate goal of enabling college and career readiness.

Set the Foundation in Middle School…

In grades 6 through 8, the personalized learning schema imparts the critical transfer of knowledge and skills from prior learning and experiences through application. Innovative teachers at the middle school level are developing students’ abilities to learn through inquiry, formulate and test hypotheses, and then explain themselves through verbal, written, or digital communication. Throughout the process, these instructors continually collect and monitor soft and hard formative data to make differentiated instructional decisions for each learner. The essential self-realization processes fostered through these meta-cognitive learning activities enable students to formulate learning interests and life goals for high school and beyond.

…For Self-Directed Learning in High School

As students progress into their high school years, the menu for learning options expands. Fine arts, career & technical education, world languages, and a wide array of other electives offer great contextual opportunities for students to transfer prior knowledge and skills in math, science, language arts, or social studies content areas, and connect with their learning on a greater intrinsic level. These electives become veritable personalized learning playgrounds, where communication, collaboration, and deeper learning become effortless excitement. Additionally, the digital tools and real world connections fostered by a personalized learning approach figuratively breakdown the walls of instruction, and encourage students to extend learning outside the classroom.

Create Road Maps to Graduation

A key tool in connecting these skills and interests within a personalized learning schema at the high school level is to have a 4-year academic plan for all students. You might hear this called a “graduation plan”, “personal grad plan”, or any number of other names, but the essential principle is for students, their families, and their educators to craft a road map for post-secondary readiness in the form of a sequential plan. This plan outlines the courses to be taken each year and connects them in a timeline focused on the student’s individual goals. Then, around a student’s junior year, it’s easy for students and their mentors to extend the plan two more years to include college or career goals. These planning mechanisms provide critical information on individual students, help educators make projections for resource acquisition, and offer analytical data to navigate continuous improvement of the personalized learning schema at the school or district level.

Viewing personalized learning in this manner, as an interconnected collection of human and digital resources that can flex to facilitate learning for students as individuals, delivers the greatest rewards for all. Through continuous improvement from the collective effort of all stakeholders involved, individual student learning growth can be exponential.

Ready to learn more about how you can partner with Edmentum to offer personalized learning options for your students? Check out our complete curriculum catalog here, and take a look at these 5 Traits of Successful Blended Learning Teachers to help your staff get started today!