ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

The Power of Personalized Learning

Personalized learning. It is a stealth ninja lying in wait ready to knock out its adversary, student malaise. It's a weathered sage employing ancient methodologies of simple wisdom and effortless discernment. It's creative wizardry that unfurls forgotten enthusiasm. And it is within every educator's grasp.

Simply put, personalized learning is a teacher allowing students to be at the helm of their own learning and the director of their own educational ship.

There are two ways to employ this methodology:

The Broad Approach

This is when the educator provides the students with a broad topic and then allows them to determine the specifics. For example, our team of teachers gives the general topic of "America" to the students and allows them to determine what idea or facet of America they are interested in researching further. Once the specific idea is determined and researched, it is up to the students to create a project that reflects and demonstrates the knowledge and insight they have acquired through the research process. This manifests in the form of games, books, videos, PowerPoint presentations, speeches, plays, recycling projects, community service, and more. The students also determine how to present their research and finished product to their peers. They guide their own learning while the teachers are present to facilitate student investigations and creations and provide helpful suggestions if it appears a student needs assistance.

The Detailed Approach

The second approach to personalized learning is when the educator provides the details of what needs to be learned and students create a self-chosen piece that contains all the details indicated. Essentially, teachers are providing the "instructional dots" and students must organize them into a connected, cohesive whole using their own personal strengths, interests and preferences. The teacher assists in the educational process. Students are largely guiding their own learning and determining how it unfolds. This approach communicates to the students that instructors trust them with their own learning.

A powerful sense of responsibility is awakened when students are permitted to take ownership over their learning by utilizing their natural gifts and preferences in an environment that encourages creativity, exploration, and endless possibilities.

Encouraged by principal Andrea Peck to write about their beliefs and practices with regard to personalized learning, this post was submitted by a team of educators at Seneca Valley Middle School in Harmony, Pennsylvania. From left to right in the photo are Seth Verba (learning support), Kate Wilson (science), Autumn Lynn (English), Angela Palumbo Marasco (math), Susan A. Teets (health), and Patrick O'Shea (civics and economics).

Seth Verba is in his 11th year working as a middle school teacher. His learning support career has been spent working in pullout English and reading and he also co-teaches in the inclusion environment for science, social studies, and math. Most of Verba's teaching career has been spent in his alma mater, Seneca Valley. After graduating from Slippery Rock University in 2003, he worked in Richmond, Virginia, but When given the opportunity to come back and work in Seneca Valley, the decision was easy to return to his home. Both Verba and his wife are teachers who are excited to raise their family, made up of my three-year-old daughter and another child on the way, in western Pennsylvania.

Kate Wilson has been teaching middle school science at Seneca Valley for 24 years. She has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a secondary science education degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and a master's degree in environmental education from Slippery Rock University. Wilson is married to a retired teacher and has one son.

Autumn Lynn graduated with a degree in English literature from the University of Pittsburgh and then moved on to Geneva College, earning her secondary teaching certification. She has been working as a middle school English teacher for 11 years. Although there are challenges that inevitably present themselves, Lynn finds immense joy in teaching such wonderful students over the years. They inspire, uplift, and enlighten her each day.

Angela Palumbo Marasco is a graduate of Grove City College and this is her first year teaching at Seneca Valley Middle School. Working with a fantastic team of educators has truly helped her to grow as a teacher. Marasco is recently married and resides in Pittsburgh with her husband.

Susan A. Teets is a veteran teacher of 34 years for the students of Seneca Valley Middle School. She has been a physical educator as well as the health science teacher for junior high students and now for middle school students. She graduated from Slippery Rock State College and began her career in 1980. Teets is proud to be a member of the fine group of teachers and students on the Hawks/Owls team at Seneca Valley Middle School.

Patrick O'Shea has been a teacher for the past 22 years (21 in the Seneca Valley School District). He is also a varsity assistant football coach. He and his wife Michelle have seven children: Patrick (17), Keegan (14), Finnegan (12), Shealin (9), Delaney (7), McGinnis (6), and McGuire (3). O'Shea received his teaching degree from Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

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Comments (3)

Tracy Vitale

January 23, 2014

What a wonderful “snippet” of what these heroes do each and everyday molding our next generation into not only lifelong learners, but also great American citizens!!

Jana Mead

January 23, 2014

Ok, so how do you actually implement these approaches? 
I am a 6th grade Social Studies teacher.  In order to make history a little more fun/interesting I changed my entire teaching style several years ago.  I introduce a topic/unit, then give my students choices of directions to go in with their individual learning.  They choose their own “Quests,” from a list of suggestions, do their own research, and then develop a presentation in order to “teach” the rest of the class what they have learned.  The majority of students love “Quests,” but of course there are those who don’t want to do anything.  My biggest barrier is parents.  I have a lot of complaints each year from parents because the Quests are too hard. 
I am looking for some new ideas to hopefully help me get over this “hump” of resistance!

Hawk Team

January 27, 2014

We frequently require the students include “must haves”—those items that are non-negotiable and are essential pieces to include in their projects. 

As far as motivating students, choice and collaboration are our best allies. Our students are also encouraged by the grades they earn.

Parents don’t complain about difficulty because every aspect of the project is driven by the students, themselves.  The ownership and responsibility falls on them: not us. 

We include benchmarks and give them suggested timelines to prevent any student overwhelm.

Hope we were able to clarify some things for you!  Let us know if there is something else we may elaborate on.

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