As the documentary details, many teachers—and professors of education—are unfamiliar with the overwhelming evidence that systematic phonics is the most effective way to teach children how to decode written language. While there’s been some pushback, quite a few teachers who have listened to the documentary or an accompanying piece on NPR—or read the New York Times op-ed by the documentary’s producer, Emily Hanford—have expressed dismay that they were never given this information as part of their training……….
Personalized learning’s rationale has strong intuitive appeal: We can all remember feeling bored, confused, frustrated, or lost in school when our classes didn’t spark our interests or address our learning needs. But an intuitive rationale doesn’t clearly translate to effective practice. For personalized learning to actually move the needle on improving student experiences and elevating student outcomes, the question of how schools and teachers personalize is just as important as why.
So how do schools effectively personalize learning? Is it through online learning? mastery-based learning? project-based learning? exploratory learning? Each of these common approaches offers a unique dimension of “personalization.” Yet one of the most important ways to personalize learning may be easily overlooked in the quest for new and novel approaches to instruction.
Across the K–12 education landscape, teachers have by far the biggest impact on student learning and student experiences. Even in classrooms with the latest adaptive learning technology, an expert teachers’ professional intuition is still the best way to understand and address the myriad cognitive, non-cognitive, social, emotional, and academic factors that affect students’ achievement.
Additionally, one of the most valuable forms of personalization is authentic, personal relationships between students and teachers. It therefore makes sense that any school looking to offer personalized learning should not only explore new technologies and instructional practices, but also think carefully about how to increase students’ connections with great educators.
To that end, over the past year, The Clayton Christensen Institute partnered with Public Impact to study the intersection between personalized learning and school staffing. Our aim was to observe how schools might be using new staffing arrangements to better meet the individual learning needs of their students. Initially, we tapped into our knowledge of schools (via the BLU_ school directory and Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture schools) and recommendations from personalized learning thought leaders to identify schools that were working to personalize learning using both blended learning and innovative staffing arrangements.
We then narrowed our list down to eight pioneering schools and school networks—including district, charter, and private schools—whose practices we documented in a series of case studies. Our latest report, “Innovative staffing to personalize learning: How new teaching roles and blended learning help students succeed,” released last week, documents the findings from this research. Below are brief snippets on three of our most interesting insights.
Team teaching increases supportive relationships
The most common theme across the schools we studied was a shift from one teacher per classroom to teams of educators collaborating to support larger-than-normal classes. At one school, classes of 60 students learned together in a large, open learning space with three team teachers at a time for ELA and math. At another school, students spent part of their day with co-teachers and part of their day in seven- to 12-person groups supported by a teaching fellow.
At a third school, students rotated through in-class stations where they worked part of the time with a teacher and part of the time with a small group instructor. With these new staffing arrangements, schools found that having many eyes on each student helped keep students from falling through the cracks; increased students’ chances of forming a strong, positive connection with at least one adult; and decreased the odds that a student risked going through a year with just one “really bad fit” teacher.
Support staff help schools personalize through small group instruction
At the schools we studied, teaching teams included not only teachers, but also other support staff, such as tutors, teaching fellows, or small-group instructors. These support staff members played a critical role in helping the schools offer their students frequent opportunities for personalized learning in small groups. As one teacher explained, “That small group is meant to look at each student and identify their personal needs and assist them.”
Another teacher at a different school said that, “Sometimes tutors make awesome relationships with students, and the students can’t wait for the tutor to come for that day; so then, I use [the tutors] also to make sure that students know that they’re being watched and that they can always ask for help.” Small groups gave students individualized support and relationships that helped them see success is possible.
Blended learning complements innovative staffing
As schools used new staffing arrangements to personalize their instruction, blended learning gave them increased flexibility in how to best use their educators’ time and talents. By letting online learning provide some instruction, educator teams could focus more on coaching students and addressing their individual needs instead of worrying about covering their course content.
Software also gave educator teams data on student progress that allowed them to make their planning and interventions more targeted to students’ needs. Some schools also used software that recommended student groupings and lesson plans for small group instruction.
All too often, schools may be trying to personalize learning while treating one of their most crucial assets—human capital—as fixed. But as the findings from this report illustrate, many pioneering schools see personalized learning and teacher quality not as separate strategies, but as complementary levers within their broader efforts to better serve their students.
In that light, the findings from this report are a bellwether to the field for showing the alignment between personalized learning and human capital approaches that improve access to quality teaching.
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The term “digital immigrants” and “digital natives” is almost as annoying as the fights are about the terminology. These terms are often credited to Marc Prensky, and from when I have had the opportunity to have heard him speak, he doesn’t believe that kids have an innate ability to use technology over adults.
They have not known a world with anything different. It made sense to me when I thought of my parents who came to Canada as immigrants. They knew one life and then thrust themselves into another. Where growing up in Canada, I have not known anything but what it is like to live in that country.
It doesn’t mean that one group has the ability over another, but their past experiences do shape a lot of what their future looks like. Although my parents were immigrants to Canada, I saw them as less traditional than many people who lived here their entire life.
So then why do we continue to say things like, “Kids are sooooo much better with technology than adults are”? Yes, many kids have never known anything BUT a world with iPhones and YouTube, but the same adults have lived in that world the same amount of time kids have, and sometimes, even more.
Add the years of experience in other parts of life; there is no reason that kids should be better at technology than adults.The difference between kids that are deemed better than adults with technology is not some innate ability; it is their willingness to push buttons. To see what happens. To act on their curiosity.
I was working with a group recently and showing them how to “embed” media from different sites. Since the “embed” button is in different places on all sites, I gave them a strategy for finding it, no matter where they go. I told them, “Press buttons until you find it.” That’s it. Nothing is going to break unless you push the “break computer” button (still looking for it).
So instead of saying, “Those kids are so much better than technology than I am”, why not say, “Those kids are so much more willing to push the buttons and act on their curiosity than I am.”
If you think about it, which statement seems to be truer?Yes, things are not going to work right away. Yes, you might even mess some things up. But that willingness to look and overcome adversity, with technology and in life, are skills that we should not only encourage in our students but embody ourselves.