The Trends of Personalized Learning and Critical Thinking
Two key curriculum trends are affecting educational publishing: the movement toward personalized learning and the need for critical thinking lessons. Personalized learning is influencing how curriculum is being developed and also how students’ work and learning is being assessed. Since 2012, 15 states have incorporated personalized learning into their curricula, implementing policies ranging from waiving regulations to setting up innovation zones. New Hampshire is the state spearheading the trend, and across the nation, many districts are following suit, using digital online courses and products to implement personalized learning. This impacts the product development of key players in the education market. The bar has been raised as districts demand digital products that allow them to customize their curricula to meet personalized learning and assessment goals. 
Education Week recently surveyed educators about personalized learning. The survey found that while many educators are in favor of it, the implementation of and the professional development for personalized learning is not at all consistent.
How to Implement Personalized Learning
It is proving difficult to come up with consistent approaches to when, how, and at what grade levels personalized learning should be introduced. Are upper elementary students too young to track their own learning and set their own learning goals? Will they know when they have enough content knowledge to move on within curricula? What does a teacher do about immature students or students who lack motivation in learning?
Personalized learning requires behavioral “rules” that govern a student’s independent work. Do students have the skill sets necessary to do this work? And how will students demonstrate what they have learned and “prove” that they have acquired the content knowledge to move forward? According to the survey, the majority of educators do not have students set their own learning goals. Often the reluctance to allow students to set goals has to do with students’ maturity levels, students’ lack of familiarity with state or district goals, and the fact that students and teachers are still accountable for summative assessments.
Research has shown that when students’ personal interests are integrated into lessons, students are more motivated and focused on learning. Learning about things that interest students or presenting information in ways that are meaningful to students engages them and allows them to more easily reach goals and objectives. Thus, many educators have begun to incorporate and integrate topics of interest to students into their lessons.
Another concern with personalized learning in the classroom is that while students learn to work independently they may be missing the learning experience that comes from whole class and collaborative group work and discussions. Collaboration teaches skills that are vital in building 21st century skills, as students will need to know how to work as part of a team. They will need to know how to listen to others, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information from a number of sources in order to make inferences and draw conclusions. Therefore, students need to know how to think critically, alone and as part of a team.
Critical Thinking and Personalized Learning
Critical thinking is part of personalized learning in that critical thinking is often self-directed, self-disciplined, and self-monitored. However, students benefit from seeing how others think about the topics or information. Having students work critical thinking lessons independently and then coming together to share their learning and thinking allows them to see different approaches and how others analyze, evaluate, and synthesize materials. The analysis and evaluation flow from the topic and information presented, so the critical thinking approach to materials is adaptive. Students observing how others think about topics and information allows them to adapt their own thinking and advance their critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is a life-long learning experience so people continually adapt and change their strategies. 
Since one of the tenets of personalized learning is that students self-direct and self-monitor their learning, they need to know how to think critically about the content they are learning on their own, without continuous guidance from a teacher. Lessons should be structured so that the students are thinking critically about the information they are reading or hearing throughout the lesson. This means that they are linking what they are learning, analyzing and evaluating information, and are finally able to synthesize what they have learned. Thus, critical thinking and personalized learning work hand-in-hand.
How Are Learning Companies Responding to Personalized Learning and Critical Thinking?
Learning companies are responding to the demand for critical thinking lessons as they create personalized learning courses. Learning objectives are focused on students’ critical thinking skills. Included in these lessons are the more traditional formative assessments. The assessments, which are usually content-related—such as answering multiple-choice questions—allow for instant analysis of student understanding of subject or topic. These types of lessons also feed into the competency-based movement as well as the implementation of NGSS (next generation science standards) and the trend to develop civics lessons and 21st century skills.
Within all content areas, such as ELA, mathematics, and science, critical thinking is a natural component of lessons. Learning companies are exploring the different and best ways to develop these lessons.
Victory’s Critical Thinking Tool (CTT)
At Victory, we have been monitoring the trends and research on both personalized learning and critical thinking. To answer these needs in the marketplace, we have developed a series of digital templates that are used to structure critical thinking lessons. The structure allows students to work independently on the lesson and to come together with the rest of the class at specific points to share learning, combining personalized and traditional teaching practices.
The lesson templates are built around interactive activities that require students to effectively analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information as they progress through a lesson. In our prototype lessons, activities include formative assessment and competency-based projects. The prototypes are aligned to topic-related standards and employ and are based on Bloom’s Taxonomy and Universal Design. With our critical thinking lesson templates, lessons can be developed for all curriculum areas, such as ELA, mathematics, science, and social studies/civics, or lessons can be cross-curricular.
One of the great advantages to these templates is that teachers are able to track their students’ thinking processes as it unfolds, and students are able to follow their own thinking as it develops and to see the patterns of thought that are emerging in their work.
We would love to show you how our prototype lessons work at several grade levels. Talk to us about how we could develop critical thinking lessons that meet your need for personalized learning, formative assessment, and competency-based learning.