The department’s Personalized Learning Task Force is meeting throughout 2016 to identify promising practices and discuss how personalized learning could work across Tennessee. We’re pleased to share a peek into classrooms already creating personalized learning experiences for students in this series.
by Rachel Browder, English language arts teacher in Lenoir City Schools
Two years ago, an exciting opportunity was introduced for the seventh grade students at Lenoir City Intermediate Middle School. We began a pilot program in which every seventh grade student would receive his or her own Chromebook. This device would be used to complete assignments, practice learning standards focused on skill based deficits, and provide a way for students to dig deeper into content by individualizing their learning.
At that time that I begin to question the traditional classroom arrangement of rows and desks that I had used for years. With the new technology as my motivation, I decided to take away some of the standard classroom structures in hope that students would begin taking more responsibility and accountability of their learning. Slowly, I replaced row by row desks with tables and chairs. This worked well, yet I wanted something more. With the assistance of the Loudon County Education Foundation and DonorsChoose.org, I was able to provide my students with yoga ball chairs at the tables along with traditional hard back chairs. This began my personalized learning journey.
After researching other classrooms that switched to a personalized learning model, I found that surveying students can provide teachers with innovative ideas when it comes to flexible seating. Surveying my students was empowering for them, as well as myself. I found that students wanted the option to sit on the floor, use pillows and coffee tables, have space where they could work alone, and move into multiple collaborative groups, when appropriate. Giving my students this flexibility provided a climate in the classroom that was buzzing with conversation and learning that I could have never provided with the traditional seating arrangement.
Multiple peer learning groups began to be set up by the students–yes, the students. I would begin my day with a short lesson on the idea being practiced, and then the students would take over. I would facilitate by asking students to rate their confidence with the material using hand signals. Students who scored themselves as ‘very confident’ would stand, then those students would choose an area in the classroom to station themselves for other students who may have questions. These stations varied locations such as at tables, on the floor, in a corner with pillows, or even in the hallway and students would work together with their Chromebooks as a further support. What an amazing thing to watch! The boundaries of student cliques dissolved as each individual became confident in what they had to offer. One day while students were hard at work, I heard a student say one of the most exciting things a teacher could be told:
“Can you make the bells go away? I want to stay in your classroom and continue working with my group.”
–8th grade student
In this new, interactive structure, students moved around the room freely as they worked, and when a student felt like he or she had mastered a topic, they would check in for a conference session with me. Groups changed weekly, as did the ‘teachers’ and ‘learners’. I became a facilitator of the learning process and would push high order thinking questions as groups and students were ready for assessment. Students were assessed throughout the week instead of one specific test day, which allowed students to demonstrate mastery of content when they felt prepared. Allowing students the simple freedom to choose their own seats and to work collaboratively has increased engagement and achievement in ways I never could have imagined!