Personalizing the Learning Experience
By Dr. Kaye Busiek
There are a few questions on my mind today: How can we prepare students to successfully learn without us? How can we give them some autonomy and choice as we make decisions about learning? How can we help them to more consistently form and answer their own questions? How can we help them become comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty, failure and long-term attention to the task at hand? These and other questions are addressed in the article, Preparing Students to Learn without Us, by Will Richardson, as he addresses the pairing of personalized learning with a variety of instructional planning resources.
We have learned from experience that personalizing the learning for students requires us to discover their passions and their interests. It challenges us to discover the unique learning needs of 20 to 30 students in each classroom. It forces us to address the limitations of time, classroom space, funding, and other considerations that keep us away from more performance-based, inquiry-focused, technology-driven assignments. What it does not do is render the teacher unnecessary. On the contrary, it allows the teacher to partner with students as they address clearly-defined learning objectives and connect course goals to student-focused passions and personal curriculum.
What does personalized learning look like? It is a classroom full of students who are selecting their own books to read, utilizing a variety of media to find answers to their questions, and creating products and artifacts that demonstrate how they have translated the learning in a personal way. Students are encouraged to discover their interests by having probing classroom conversations and by studying multiple resources—sometimes provided by the teacher and sometimes found by the students themselves.
Rather than submit the same defined assignment or product to the teacher, teachers may receive individual work that reflects students’ unique insights, content, and conclusions. They may use Google Docs to update their progress. They most likely will utilize a rubric that identifies appropriate use of such things as standards, objectives, blog posts, learning activities, and research. In addition, students may use podcasts to record and share presentations that they give in class.
Personalized learning requires the teacher to develop a new and exciting set of skills. It involves being comfortable with the uncomfortable, and it clearly permits the teacher to allow the learner to engage in more self-directed, relevant, and interest-based choices about the path to meaningful, engaging learning.
Richardson, W. (2012). Preparing students to learn without us. Educational Leadership, 69, 22-26.
The Onion Effect
by Dr. Eloise Hughes
One beautiful spring day many years ago, as I was teaching my afternoon high school senior English class, I looked up to see a paper airplane flying directly into my face. Not such an unusual occurrence, however, the creator and pilot of this particular paper airplane was not the class clown or the constant troublemaker. The person who instigated this particular flight was none other than the young man who was president of the student council, president of the honor society, captain of the basketball team…well, you get the idea! I was actually shocked…what caused this normally well-behaved young man to act in such a way?
A few days later, I attended a teacher workshop and heard a speaker tell the story of the onion in her refrigerator. It seems one day as she was cleaning out her refrigerator drawers, she found an old, hard, shriveled onion that had apparently been left in the drawer for many weeks. The surprise was that in spite of its terrible condition, the onion had sprouted bright green leaves! The speaker went on to challenge us to wonder if spring could do this to a supposedly dead onion, what effect could the season have on a teenager?
Spring fever, senioritis…terms with which we are familiar. Signs of spring are all around us: flowers, baby birds, budding trees, green everywhere….maybe the same stimulation that brings about such drastic changes in plant and animal life is also inside us, drawing us into daydreams of travel, vacations, beaches, and mountains; these daydreams may cause a lack of focus and lethargic or bizarre behavior. The phenomenon also causes us to be impatient with the same offbeat behavior in our students and colleagues in which we ourselves indulged. In spring, I sometimes find myself more emotional than usual, quick tempered and grumpy. But wait, spring is about renewal, rebirth, resurrection and celebration, all good, positive events right? Perhaps, I should give more effort to being extra patient and kind to those around me during this time of year, and remember that peculiar wild spark (the onion effect) is present in all of us…when it’s spring.
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love.
A Lesson in Posttraumatic Growth
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2
By Dr. Renata Nero
Last week, a great man was hospitalized for a recurring respiratory problem. Some speculate that his current health challenge is related to his imprisonment where for 18 years he was confined to a small cell and forced to do hard labor in a lime quarry. Oddly enough, this same lime quarry and small prison cell may have prepared him to lead a nation. This great man is Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
In 1964, Nelson Mandela arrived on Robben Island to serve a life sentence. He along with other co-defendants were accused of plotting to overthrow South Africa’s apartheid regime and convicted of sabotage. His time in prison easily could have spiraled into a life-sentence filled with bitterness, unforgiveness, and hopelessness. Instead it was turned into a series of opportunities for Mr. Mandela to strengthen his commitment to seeking justice and radically transforming the lives of those around him.
One of the opportunities he seized while in prison was establishing a “university”. This “university” was secretly housed in a cave and was beyond the view of the prison guards. The prison guards intended for the cave to be used as a restroom for prisoners working in the lime quarry. Instead, in this unlikely place, Mr. Mandela established a school where history and politics, among other subjects, were taught to fellow prisoners who had little to no formal education prior to being imprisoned at Robben Island.
Furthermore, despite being confined to a small cell where he slept on the floor, Mr. Mandela used this as an opportunity to learn from the prison guards. He entered into debates with them and studied their worldview, history and language. In so doing, he was in a stronger position to form a coalition government with all South Africans once he was released from prison and elected to the highest office in the land. This was yet another way Mr. Mandela transformed his prison sentence into preparation for the presidency.
Romans 12:2 instructs believers to take a Godly perspective when it comes to considering life’s circumstances. In Mr. Mandela’s case, he took a constructive approach when dealing with injustice. As a result, he saw new opportunities he would have missed otherwise, developed relationships with the prison guards he could have viewed as “the enemy”, and became a symbol of strength and courage to people around the world. Conversely, the worldly way of dealing with injustice is to vow revenge, retaliate and harbor unforgiveness. This clearly is contrary to the Word of God. Well, what about those persons who do not subscribe to biblical teaching? Is there a psychological correlate to support this biblical teaching? The answer is “yes” and is found in the area of posttraumatic growth research.
Posttraumatic growth (PTG) research is the systematic study of how adversity has the potential to lead to positive change. Examples of positive change that may result from a traumatic event include the following: 1) finding opportunities and possibilities in the midst of the crisis; 2) developing a closer identifcation with those who suffer; 3) appreciating life more fully; 4) discovering a new level of personal or inner strength and 5) deepening convictions or spiritual beliefs (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004).
In closing, there are PTG lessons all around us and one need not be a world leader in order to experience growth through adversity. By choosing to look at and respond to painful life circumstances in a constructive way, there is the potential to exceed the quality of life enjoyed prior to the crisis. Finally and not surprisingly, the biblical imperative for believers to renew one’s mind is not just good for spiritual growth but for psychological well-being as well.
Tedeschi, R. G. and Calhoun, L. G. (2004). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence. Psychological Inquiry. 15 (1), 1-8.
Learning from the Best
By Dr. Sharon Lewis
I thought that I would give you all the lofty reasons from research that show the positive impact of field experiences in teacher preparation programs, since Houston Baptist University has one of the strongest field-based preparation programs. I know this from having been a district administrator who had to make sure all new teachers in the district had the tools they needed to teach the district curriculum.
As I went through several drafts, I decided it is better if you hear from the students who participate in the field-based courses. They say it better that I can. Here are quotes from their field journals.
Student 1: “Wednesday I administered a DRA with a new student to find out what her reading level was. I didn’t get the full grasp on DRA’s when we did them in class, but after doing this one with the teacher’s help, I now have a much better understanding.
Overall, I am really starting to feel more comfortable working with the students in small group and asking them questions. At first I was a bit nervous to make a mistake, but now that I am having more experiences with them, I have become more confident in my teaching.”
Student 2: “Overall, my experience in field has been amazing. I love my placement and I cannot thank God enough for placing me where I am. At the end of last semester I was seriously doubting my decision to become a teacher, and I almost convinced myself that this was not my calling. After these last couple of weeks of teaching, Ms. Wheatley has helped me regain my passion for teaching and I am extremely thankful for that.”
Student 3: “Fieldwork is a learning experience and it is evident that I am learning so much. I am definitely learning from my mistakes and by being in Mrs. Rincon’s classroom, I am learning how to become an effective teacher.
Overall, the week was great. I really like how much hands-on teaching I am able to do. I am feeling more and more comfortable about being a teacher.”
Student 4: “Overall, my week went very well and I can’t wait to go back next week!”
Student 5: “The teacher really wanted her students to learn how important the pre- writing step was and that you can write down anything that comes to mind. She really talked a lot about the same things the video we watched in class talked about.
So far I have seen a lot of things in her classroom that I notice from the videos that we watched in class and from the readings. I love it when I notice something that she is doing from the videos or from the talks we had in your class.”
Student 6: “One of the students I worked with only drew pictures for their kernel essay with a few words. The teacher told me that this is the way that some students begin to get ideas to write an essay, since they are not on the same level as the other students. From doing this activity with this student I learned that students have to go through different steps to get the same result. Some students have to take more steps than others.
I administered a DRA to a student at level 34. I learned that a lot goes into administering a DRA and that it shows a lot about the reading abilities of the student.”
Student 7: “I noticed one thing that I need to work on is dealing with children that are misbehaving in the classroom. Today there was an incident between two boys, and one of them came up to me to tell me about it. I did not know what to say at the time. Fortunately, the teacher was sitting right next to me, and she handled the situation; she knew exactly what to say. I know that she knew how to handle the situation because she has so much experience with these types of situations. I realized that I need to learn how to deal with these types of child behaviors; otherwise, the children are going to do whatever they want. I know that in my future classroom I will always have children that will misbehave. That is why it is extremely necessary for me to know how to handle situations such as this one. A teacher that handles behavior effectively will have the classroom running smoothly.
In my third week of field work, I have also learned that I did not go wrong when choosing to pursue a career in education. It never ceases to amaze me how much I can learn about myself each time I go to field. Teaching is definitely the job for me.”
Student 8: “I did learn a couple of things about myself this week. I realized that I have to be more prepared to re-teach if students still don’t understand the lesson. A couple of my students still had trouble with the author’s perspective and imagery by the time my lesson was over. I can’t expect that all my students will understand by the end, I understand that some might need more time.”
Student 9: “The teacher has a way of reading books in which the students are just eager to hear her read. I have noticed that the teacher uses a great amount of intonation and voice which makes the text come alive. Most people think that reading a story is just reading words off of a page, but it is much more than that.
This week I have managed to complete the interactive read aloud assignment. I think that watching the teacher do this on a daily basis has really helped me improve. This time, I was not as nervous as I was in the beginning of my field experience. I had already done a read aloud assignment for fun; that is why I was already familiar with the process. On this interactive read aloud I introduced the students to a non-fiction text. The students were actively participating in the reading, and I overall I think it went great.”
Student 10: “It’s amazing to watch the teacher have a reading group and at the same time be aware of what the other students are doing; teachers really do have eyes in the back of their heads.”
Student 11: “This week I learned a lot about myself. I have realized that I’m at a point where I am confident in my success as a future teacher. I used to feel a bit nervous due to the immense responsibilities I knew I would have once I became a teacher. However, now I feel like I have all the ability to help ALL my students succeed. This week I definitely saw myself step up and become the teacher I want to be. I took leadership and kept the classroom under control, I led guided reading groups, and I taught the students how to write a personal narrative.”
Student 12: “Overall, this week was an eye opener. I really got to see the different levels the students were at on their writing.”
Student 13: “I love working with small groups in the classroom. It allows me to get to know the students better and to see how they are doing academically.
The last day of this week was spent making a new seating chart and re-arranging the desks in the classroom. The teacher showed me why certain arrangements would and wouldn’t work based on the students and how they behave with one another. All in all, this week was a great one!”
Student 14: “What I learned from doing the read aloud, was that you have to read stories in such a way that makes students interested. I made sure to read in a very dramatic way, which fit the story very well since it was about a slave family. I noticed that students were all paying attention and they were all taken aback by the story and the drama
The interview I did with the teacher this week helped me think about how I want to structure writing and reading time for my own future classroom. I agree with her that students should have a lot of exposure to books and writing pieces.”
Student 15: “My favorite part this week has to be the students go to the library. I hadn’t realized how much it has changed since I have been there. The librarian did an interactive reading with the students first and then had them check out books. My favorite part has to be the program that the library has. This program works like a Facebook, only it’s for books. Students sign on and can add friend or have friends add them. Then the students can share the books they have read and post their review on the book. Students can also send book requests to other friends. It is really cool to see students really get into writing reviews and looking at what other friends have read, they really take it seriously.”
Student 16: “Although, it was hard adjusting to the grade, I am thankful that I got to learn what I did from being in the classroom.”
Student 17: “I’ve learned this week that effective reading and writing in my future classroom will come from clear expectations and management. With these aspects in combination, my future students will know exactly what I am looking for which will able them to complete tasks with clarity at their best.”
Teachers touch the lives of their students and the future as they prepare students for that future. How excellent it is that these future teachers have had a taste of teaching, reaffirmed their choice to teach, and are excited to move forward in their drive to be the best teachers once they have their own classrooms. This is why field experiences make an impact.