"In order for students to fully buy into personalized learning, they have to see the personalized aspect of it almost immediately. If you’re... still approaching content and skills exactly the same for each learner, your students will call foul..."
Help Students See Themselves as Learners
For personalized learning to work effectively, students must see themselves as active learners with educational responsibilities, not simply receptacles for knowledge who will passively “get through school” en route to whatever comes next. That means that one of the most important goals of your rollout period is to ensure that students see themselves as learners and recognize both the agency and responsibility they have under PL.
One great way to do this is to have students create some form of a learner profile. A learner profile is essentially a personalized homepage or living document that helps learners, teachers, parents and administrators gain insights about what makes that individual student tick: interests, strengths, areas of curiosity, self-identified areas of need, etc. Creating these profiles forces students to confront themselves as learners and assess truthfully where they are in their education as well as where they are trying to go.
Learner profile features are built into many LMSes, especially those that are created specifically to support personalized and competency-based learning initiatives. If you don’t use an LMS in your classroom, though, you can easily shift this exercise to pen-and-paper or poster board!
Reflect on Meaningful Learning Experiences from the Past
Part of helping your students see themselves as learners is ensuring they know what academic success and intellectual curiosity truly feel like. In order to capture that spark of exploration and motivation that drives personalized learning, you must tap into their prior experiences in school to show them the possibilities of learning.
Take a few minutes to allow your students to reflect or journal on an academic project or unit that was extremely interesting or rewarding for them in the past. Ask them to think about what aspects of the project engaged them, methods they used to access the proper content and skills during that time, and what big “payoff” made that unit or assignment so memorable to them.
This kind of reflection helps your students build excitement for school and the learning process while also informing your practice by providing insights about what access points, methodologies, and assessments might be most interesting and valuable to your and your students throughout the academic year.
Set Individualized Student Goals
In order for students to fully buy into personalized learning, they have to see the personalized aspect of it almost immediately. If you’re simply calling your classroom environment “personalized learning” but still approaching content and skills exactly the same for each learner, your students will call foul and disengage for potentially the entire year. One of the best ways to invite personalization into your classroom from week one is to start the year with some student goal setting.
When learners set goals, it makes the education process more purposeful and authentic because personal goals provide the too-often missing connection between “book learning” in school and each student’s individual goals for their real life. The best set of student goals doesn’t just focus on school, though - it also considers each learner’s personal goals for their own social evolution, professional growth, and community engagement. If you challenge students to organize their goals using a specific procedure or goal-setting framework (like SMART Goals), it forces them to word things in a specific, measurable way that can be easily assessed and reflected upon down the line.
In addition to building buy-in and anchor points for your students, this kind of goal-setting is also useful for helping you as a teacher understand the long- and short-term goals your students have for themselves, which is the first step to unlocking the buy-in and motivation that will carry them through the school year and beyond as engaged, individual learners.