This article was first published in Summer Journeys 2018.

Students experience personalized learning

The administrators, faculty, and even students at Singapore American School are learning a lot about personalized learning. Many of us have been personalizing for years; you can see the tremendous difference a personalized approach has made for elementary school Spanish students. So what does it look like in our classrooms?

FLEXIBLE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
One factor contributing to our team’s success is flexible learning environments in every classroom. For example, my room morphs every few days to accommodate large group activities, pair work, small group games, obstacle courses, gross motor movement, peer-teaching, and student-teacher feedback. This flexibility allows my students to learn in many more ways than they could in a traditional classroom. No longer are students who can’t sit still disadvantaged—they can move while they learn, and the ones who prefer to sit still can do so.

LEARNER PROFILES
Learner profiles give us the information we need in order to provide each student with the right support at the right time. What we rely on most is our assessment data because that is what drives our instruction. My team currently uses a tool called MasteryTrack that lets us see data across classes, and even compare classes with just a few clicks. Combined with our clearly defined learning progressions, this tool allows us to see where each student is in their learning journey, what their next steps are, and who they can work with. What’s more, students can access their own data, see their next steps, and take ownership of their learning. For many of our students that access has made all the difference.

Comparing the SAS Spanish program to US schools

COMPETENCY-BASED PROGRESSION
On a macro level, students progress from one Spanish level to the next based on their proficiency, rather than their years in Spanish. Within the classroom, competency-based progression is business as usual in the intermediate mid and high classes. In these classes, regardless of what content students are learning, their goal is always to use that content to practice the proficiency skills in the next step of their learning progression. As students demonstrate competency with each skill, they progress to the next skill, and then the next. This approach allows us to set daily proficiency targets that are tailored to each student’s needs. The novice Spanish class has a greater focus on mastering the foundational building blocks of the language. Up until now, all the students in a given novice class progressed through the content together. Starting next fall, however, my work of several years will come to fruition, and competency-based progression will finally be a part of my classroom. This is how it will look:

Each day as class begins my students indicate what they are practicing in a Google form that collects the results and pairs students who are working on the same thing. Once they know their partner, students access digital input resources on my website to learn and interact with new content. The website then directs students to one of 60 bins in my room where they can choose from a variety of speaking activities that facilitate practice of the same new content with their partner. After practicing, and when students feel ready, they check in with me to demonstrate competency and then continue on their learning journey.

For years I’ve wondered if there is a way to let all my students learn at their own pace. Now there is! Students who come in already knowing some things can skip them. Those who can progress more quickly will have nothing holding them back. Students who need more time will have it. I will be there to guide them along the journey and check in regularly to ensure they do not stagnate and that they retain what they have learned.

CUSTOMIZED LEARNING PATHWAYS
The fourth aspect of personalized learning is customized learning pathways. I mention this one last because this is where I have the most room to grow. Given the novice class’ focus on mastering foundational content, most of my students start off with ¿Cómo te llamas? and move forward in a logical sequence from there—without much customization of the content. My next venture will be to develop a wider variety of optional extensions for students who have a specific interest area. It will be an exciting challenge.

The intermediate classes have plenty of room to explore individual interests. This year, for example, students studied Puerto Rico. One of the units is Béisbol, and everyone learned about Roberto Clemente. Thereafter, students chose to learn more about their favorite sport and athlete, and went on to use that learning in their assessments.

As we incorporate personalized learning at every level, we as educators try to offer students as many guided personalized opportunities as possible. The last few years have proven that it increases student engagement, motivation, performance, and retention—that’s one better than a trifecta. That’s personalized learning!

*The US data comes from the STAMP (2016) publication of levels of spoken language and is the largest compilation of external proficiency data in the US. The SAS data is external testing by AAPPL. The conversion chart to compare the two data sets was provided by the STAMP publication so that results are comparable.

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