It’s tough to take an individualized approach to teaching by using technology in the classroom. Even when the technology is there—which it often isn’t—the teacher needs to decide how it can best support student learning.
In my second year as a math teacher, my school had a laptop cart of about 15 computers in the computer lab. Unfortunately at the time, it was still difficult to find good activities online. Though I wanted to use technology, I still remained extremely discerning about the materials that I used in my class. I poured over websites for hours trying to find practice that matched how and what I was teaching.
Luckily, that same year, the iPad was released and Chicago was offering a pilot program to provide 32 original iPad tablets to several classrooms throughout the city. My students and I wrote a grant proposal for the devices and ultimately we were awarded a spot in the pilot program.
I remained skeptical about the value of many of the apps that were available for math, and I wasn’t exactly sure how to integrate the technology into my everyday practice.
Fast-forward to the beginning of this school year, and I felt the exact same way about the one-to-one initiative at my middle school. I wasn’t going to use technology just for technology’s sake, and I held onto the belief that my students learned the best from their teacher and not from Sal Khan.
On the other hand, I had seen a change over the past decade in the way my students were learning and their ability to learn using technology. I wasn’t reaching as many kids teaching in front of the entire class. Also, after learning what was possible with personalization and blended learning, I had a duty to provide the best education possible to my students.
Brain Science Tells Us We Must Do School Very Differently
Just like when I went the extra mile for my students at the beginning of my career in Chicago, I now continue to search for the best learning supports for my students year after year.
Like professionals in other fields, teachers are continually looking for the best way to do their jobs. Education is changing. Researchers have learned in recent years more about the science behind how individuals learn.
Definitive brain science says that:
- There is no average way that people learn.
In this keynote speech at the 2016 Excellence In Education summit, Todd Rose, faculty member at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and co-founder of Populace, says there is no science behind the idea of an average person or an average way that people learn. Rose says that brain science shows that every single one of us learns differently, therefore highlighting the need for personalized education experiences.
- The brain grows when making mistakes.
According to Jo Boaler, author of Mathematical Mindsets, the brain grows and creates new connections when we make mistakes, even if we aren’t fully aware that we are making those mistakes. Making mistakes and failing should be an integral part of the learning process. We must change our classrooms to allow this to happen.
- Mindset matters.
A student’s attitude towards learning or their mindset can affect the way that the brain processes new information. Children should be encouraged to adopt a growth mindset—the idea that learning is akin to getting stronger.
J.K Rowling says it best: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously, that you might as not lived at all.”
Teachers should embrace seeking challenges to students’ curiosities while allowing them to fail and try again. Oftentimes, children have a million excuses to avoid working harder, so give them an excuse to work harder and try again.
How to Transform Your Classroom’s Learning Experience
Whether you are someone who is just getting started with blended and personalized learning, or you are looking to push your practice even further, here are some tips for taking an individualized approach in your own classroom:
- Set SMART goals and create portfolios.
Spend some time at the beginning of the year with your students setting SMART Goals. Have your students track their own progress towards those goals by using a product like IXL to assess their progress towards individual standards and/or topics. Use Seesaw for students to create a live portfolio of their progress towards their goals that they can share with their parents or guardians. Have them reflect as a community on their growth and their mindsets using FlipGrid to record and share reflection videos to the whole class.
- Trust students with technology.
Google Classroom guru, Alice Keeler says in her book, “50 Uses for Google Docs in Math,” to stop teaching like the internet doesn’t exist. Our students are extremely adept with problem solving with technology. Also, figuring out how to use internet devices as a tool for learning is part of what we are teaching. That said, teach like the internet is a thing.
- Use data to inform your teaching.
Use formative assessment data to inform your instruction. Even better, change activities that you already do in your classroom into digital formative assessments using GoFormative. Assign buddy practice or use a gamification product to gather data about student performance as well. When your teaching is informed by data, everything you do in class becomes a formative assessment and provides an insight into how the student is progressing towards mastery.
- Mastery Based Learning.
Ultimately, if you are going to embrace the idea that every student learns in a different way and all students will have their own paths in the learning process, then a different system for tracking mastery needs to be in place. Traditionally, we have used grades to communicate classroom progress to children and parents. School communities use grades as a means for rewarding students and communicating student progress. The traditional system will not suffice if we are going to allow students to take their own paths in learning. Use Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) to track student progress towards standards mastery.