A personalized learning curriculum 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 the International School of Tanganyika (IST), as well as a parent of a student, this type of 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.
What is Personalized Learning?
Through a personalized learning curriculum, 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 that also have questions ranging in difficulty and allows students to engage at different levels.
“Student advocacy is promoted,” Fossgreen said. “Students have the opportunity to take ownership of their learning by talking with teachers if extensions or accommodations are needed.
With this curriculum, students determine what is needed and convey that message to the teacher.
IST also employs team teaching where teachers who have expertise in a certain subject come into the classroom to co-teach, learning from one another. This type of teaching is used 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 apply 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 assessments 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.”
The Implementation of Personalized Learning at IST
Personalized learning, an engaged community and ensured sustainability are all pillars of the Strategic Plan finalized in the spring of 2018.
On August 1, 2018, Fossgreen’s first full day with all IST faculty, she started the conversation around this type of 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.
“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 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.”