Personalizing Success: More Than a Grade

Ever since ​coming back to from California, I’ve been eager to share with all of the things we’ve learned having the opportunity to travel across the country to see examples of personalized learning. I was especially eager to try new things and share what I’ve learned with my students. On my first day back, I immediately printed out my class’s i-Ready data, and I asked my students to look at their data and tell me what they saw.

One of my students (I’ll call her Julie) began the year not really enjoying or seeing any point to being in my math class. So when I asked students to share their i-Ready data, I was surprised that Julie volunteered. What we saw in her data was that the area she struggled with most was number sense and operations. With that as her focus (and using the guidance I had given the class), she planned out her next steps: which standard to start with, which stations to pick during our rotations, which Khan Academy videos to watch, and which homework assignments would benefit her most.  She got started on her plan, and soon I couldn’t believe how much work she was producing.

After seeing her change in attitude, I asked her how she felt about this process of choosing her own goals and working on her own to improve. I was shocked and excited when Julie told me that she liked being able to choose her own goals because it allowed her to understand the content on her level, and she really like the videos because she could pause and replay as much as she liked. She no longer felt that she was in competition with anyone.

After taking her first quiz on the goal she set, Julie earned her first 85% in my class—and her first passing grade!  She was excited and proud, as was I—I knew she was shy and often doubted herself.  I couldn’t believe that I was now seeing her smile and share with her classmates to update them how she took her area of weakness and turned it into an area of growth.

Julie isn’t the only student who has thrived in this new model: Every fifth grader now knows what his or her individual goals are, knows what he or she is going to do to meet that goal, and meets me in our small group ready with questions surrounding fifth grade content or his or her individual goals. I’ve seen such a difference in my students: They choose what they want to learn, they know where they have room to grow, and they know what they can do to achieve that growth.

I’ve also given my students the opportunity to give me feedback on what they think is working and what isn’t. As a result, I tweak and change things as I go, and they’re right there with me—I love how flexible they are and how invested they’ve become. Personalized learning affords all of my students the opportunity to feel success at their own levels, and I can’t wait to see how they continue to grow and improve.

Diane Johnson, 2015 Education Innovation Fellow
Orr Elementary School


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