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The Buzz on Personalized Learning and English Language Arts

According to a report by the nonprofit KnowledgeWorks, personalized learning is a critical component of most states’ accountability plans submitted under ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act). Personalized learning was mentioned in 39 states’ plans. The questions being addressed were “How do we build learning-centered or student-centered systems?” and “How do we advance policies focused on what each individual student needs?”

As this conversation goes on at the state level, teachers grapple with how to implement a personalized learning approach in their classrooms. Their goal is to avoid the one-learning-fits-all recipe and to put together instructional models that meet the needs of individual students. The power of personalized learning is in students taking ownership of their learning, with the teacher facilitating and enriching their course of study. Personalized learning puts the focus on what, how, and why students learn so that the learning is deep and connected.

Personalized Learning ELA


Personalized Learning in Action

So what does this look like in the classroom? In her blog post “Six Examples of What Personalized Learning Looks Like,” teacher Janice Vargo explains that personalized learning always involves four core elements:

  1. Targeted instruction
  2. Data-driven decisions
  3. Flexible content
  4. Student reflection and ownership

She then provides examples of how schools are implementing these core elements and digital content and tools are being used in a purposeful way. In Middletown, NY schools, starting in the youngest grades, students are doing self-reflection and goal-setting. One teacher has students using Google forms to do self-assessment; she uses these assessments to guide her instruction and group her students for math and ELA.  In a high school class, a teacher assigns her students a field exercise in which they must show their ability to collect and analyze data employing a digital tool.

Another form of personalized learning that is gaining popularity is playlist-based instruction. Digital playlists are sequences of resources and/or activities aligned to a student’s needs and focused on specific content. The purpose of a playlist is to differentiate instruction while at the same time giving students a choice over when, how, and what they do to reach their academic objective. So how can publishers develop products to meet personalized learning?

English Language Arts and Personalized Learning

Language arts offers many opportunities for personalized learning. Students are all at different reading levels and have different interests and thinking patterns in reading and language arts. So what are the opportunities for differentiation and how can teachers match students to their specific levels and abilities while meeting the accountabilities of assessment and standards-based learning?

Focusing on broad literary or expository themes, such as survival, growth, and change, is one way to enable students to work individually and independently yet still engage with their classmates. Students select and explore their own choice of literature or nonfiction and come back together as a class to discuss the larger theme within the context of their readings. In focusing on the theme and how the author develops and interprets it, students can have fruitful discussions of the author’s choice of a structure and language that supports the theme.

Having students work independently and then come together enables them to share what they have learned, to compare their thinking to their peers’, and to clarify what they still want to know. Personalized learning helps students take deep dives into topics within a standards-based framework.

Creating a “playlist” of literature and materials based on themes and topics is a good way for students to enhance and enrich their skill set, gain automaticity in reading strategies, and track their own learning.

Putting the Standards into Practice

Several states’ English language arts adoptions are coming up in 2020 and 2021: West Virginia in 2020, and Alabama, Florida, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah in 2021. ELL adoptions are scheduled in Oregon for 2021. How will publishers address personalized learning in states that have moved away from the CCSS (Common Core State Standards)?

Adoption states are looking for lessons that teach critical thinking while meeting their state standards. Digital lessons offer opportunities to address both these requirements. Students can work independently on a lesson, taking a deeper dive into learning, and come together as a whole class to share their learning.

At Victory, we have developed a digital critical thinking lesson that has a structure that allows a student to work on the lesson independently, meeting the student at an individual level of learning. Additionally, the lesson is developed so that while students work independently and at their own pace, there are points at which they can reunite for discussions. Thus, the lesson offers opportunities for independent, group, and whole-class work; students are never isolated on a computer. Furthermore, the lesson is designed so that both teachers and students can track their thinking. This allows students to see how they are thinking and approaching learning, and what patterns of thinking and learning are emerging in their work.

Combining technology and print into balanced programs enables personalized learning strategies while automatically incorporating standards and reading and writing strategies. Formative and competency-based assessments flow naturally from these programs and truly track the students’ learning.

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