Personalized learning is pivotal to student success. The way we learn as individuals is as unique as we are; people retain information in different ways, and that is exactly what this type of approach to learning is tailoring to.
According to Tina Fossgreen, the Director of Teaching and Learning at IST as well as a parent of a Grade 8 student, personalized learning is visible throughout the school.
“You see flexible seating options in most classrooms and there are open areas around campus as alternative learning spaces,” Fossgreen said.
With personalized learning, anything - and everything - is done to make the learning targeted to student needs said Fossgreen.
“We use standardized assessment scores to determine when instruction begins - this could be for the whole class, small groups or individual students,” Fossgreen said. “We use flexible grouping, flexible seating and different approaches to the delivery of content.”
For example in Math, students have challenge by choice problems that have the same content at a range of difficulty levels. Therefore, no matter the learning level, students are presented with a curriculum that works for them.
According to Fossgreen, projects and essays have the same perimeters and give students a choice of topics. The same tactics are evident in tests which also have questions which range in difficulty and allows students to engage at different levels.
“Student advocacy is promoted,” Fossgreen said. “Students have the opportunity to take ownership over their learning by talking with teachers if extensions or accommodations are needed.
IST also employs team teaching where teachers who have an expertise in a certain subject come into the classroom to help out one another, they learn from one another. This type of teaching is employed depending on the purpose and direction of the subject at hand.
In order to create a personalized learning atmosphere for students, teachers and faculty must employ differentiation, which simply means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs.
“Teachers differentiate content, process, products and the learning environment,” Fossgreen said. “The use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping is what makes this a successful approach to instruction.”
Though the content might differ depending on the level of the student, the standards and assessment of those standards are not differentiated as expectations are the same for all students.
The Teaching and Learning team has established protocols and procedures to examine student data on a regular basis.
“This helps teachers understand where differentiation needs to happen.”
Personalized learning, an engaged community and ensured sustainability are all pillars of the Strategic Plan finalized in spring of 2018.
On August 1, Fossgreen’s first full day with all IST faculty, she started the conversation around personalized learning and what it will entail as a whole school initiative.
Since that day, Fossgreen is thrilled to see the teachers taking theory and putting it into practice.
“I suspect the students appreciate that they get the content and skills they need and are not being taught what they already know. They are being challenged and supported as needed.”
When asked why this type of learning is important for student growth and success, Fossgreen expressed how vital it is to keep in mind the uniqueness of each individual at the school.
“It is imperative that we meet the students where they are and move them forward, this helps challenge and support students as needed,” Fossgreen said. “Students receiving services aren't labeled as needing support in all classes, just as needing based on data [in a particular subject matter that they may struggle with].”
IST has committed to continuously develop their personalized learning tactics to make sure they are the best they can be.
“We have spent all our PD days and several Wednesday meetings working on personalized learning,” Fossgreen said. “We have defined what it means at IST and how to put it into practice.”
She added that they are dedicating countless resources towards this part of the strategic plan, as they understand the impact on student learning.
This is a type of learning that knows no labels and has no bias.
“Personalized learning is for all students, helping to support, challenge and inspire them.”