By Dr. Amy Burkman
Director of M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision, American Public University
Teaching has moved beyond a one-size fits all mentality, allowing for teachers and schools to utilize creative methods of instruction from the earliest school attenders through college. School administrators hold a unique role in the learning process and have the capability to influence the implementation of a personalized learning model more than any other school stakeholder. This is yet another skill required of the 21st century school leader.
What is the value of personalized learning?
Personalized learning isn’t just about tailoring a curriculum to a student’s academic strengths and weaknesses. Student interests and experiences also play a vital role in determining the level of personalized learning available. There are many concepts that can be taught using a student’s interests rather than prescribed curriculum, such as reading skills and written language skills.
In my most recent books, “Differentiated literacy strategies for the ESL learner: K-6” and “Differentiated literacy strategies for the ESL learner: 7-12”, I discuss specific strategies for meeting the needs of students learning English as a second language. These strategies include:
Flexible Grouping: Put students of varied skill and language levels in the same group to promote inter-group dependence and increase participation.
Learning Contracts: These contracts clearly outline the role of the student in the learning process and clearly define for students expected behaviors, creating ownership in the process.
Organizers for Center Activities: Personalized organizers (verbal and pictorial) that allow the student flexibility in choosing center activities.
All of these strategies, and more, are outlined in my most recent books and are proven to increase student success.
It aides in comprehension and engagement
There are many ways to teach comprehension, but many schools prescribe what a student will read and when. Why? Something as simple as letting a student choose the book they’ll read can increase student engagement and student success. This is an often missed aspect of personalized learning. Teaching a skill while allowing students to choose the content creates student ownership in learning and reduces the level of student resistance to challenging skills. It is a win-win situation!
How mentor teachers play a role
Creating a personalized learning atmosphere is enhanced through the use of a variety of curriculum delivery tools, including technology and allowing student choice in products. Student products that are especially interesting include creating websites, creating videos and podcasts, and blogging. All of these products can easily replace a paper/pencil product. While many teachers choose to use these tools, administrators are responsible for the monitoring of curriculum delivery and for introducing new tools to teachers throughout the year. One of the best methods of monitoring curriculum delivery is through the use of mentor teachers. Mentor teachers have consistent student success, use a variety of personalized learning tools, and can work well with others (which is a very important requirement). No man is an island, especially not a school administrator! The use of successful school employees to monitor peer performance reduces the stress on teaching staff to perform for administration while creating a team atmosphere.
Create a core mentor group to foster student success
The same concept holds true when trying to implement new ideas. Administrators should identify teachers that are innovative and ready to try to new things that will improve student success. These teachers can mentor those that are hesitant while piloting new ideas. This core group of teachers can be the administrator’s biggest asset when implementing new ideas. Working as a team to create an atmosphere of personalized learning helps the students and creates a positive school culture.
Administrators guide, lead, and sometimes direct the ship. However, they should never stand alone in important issues like personalized learning. With the varied needs of students and staff the only successful school will be one that is dedicated to a team approach to learning.