By Jessica Craig and Kirsten Sola
Coming from a family of educators, Jessica taught in Illinois before moving to her current district in Colorado, where she developed a passion for personalized learning and flexible spaces. She now works as a Strategist in the Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Growth Department, supporting teachers in implementing innovative practices through coaching and professional development.
Kirsten has 14 years of classroom experience, including 9 years of teaching Gifted & Talented students. While teaching Gifted & Talented, Kirsten saw the importance of voice and choice in the classroom, which sparked her passion for personalized learning. Kirsten now works in Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Growth as a strategist, and loves supporting teachers in their journeys toward personalized learning and future-forward instructional practices.
Lori Wheeler at Heritage Elementary developed a passion for personalized learning two years ago in her 6th grade classroom. She found power in providing students with voice and choice in their environment, helping them understand their personal strengths and areas for growth, and guiding them in tracking their own learning progress.
The next year, she decided to make a change and teach special education.
What changed about her classroom and instruction in this transition? Not much.
She created an even more personalized environment with options for student collaboration, conversation, independent work, and goal-setting and tracking. She called this new space “The Studio” and ensured it would be a place where students would WANT to come and learn. Before, students were hesitant or even embarrassed to leave their classrooms to go work on their goals. Now, all students wish they could spend time in “The Studio!”
Lori felt her new students with Individualized Education Plans needed personalized learning just as much, if not more, than her previous 6th graders. She created a climate and culture in which students learn to “take charge” of their IEP goals (AKA studio goals), and collaborate with their parents and their instructors to make progress!
Through an organized process and structures which Lori has put into place, students have a clear understanding of their IEP goals, why they are important, where they are in process of achieving the goals, and what they can do to make further progress.
All of the spaces in the studio are student-centered. Even Lori’s office has become a calming space for students to work, take assessments, and meet with Lori to discuss their progress and goals. She wanted to make sure the physical spaces offered the choices, comfort, and flexibility her students need in order to take charge of their learning and meet their goals.
Lori’s physical classroom space is brain-friendly with its cohesive color scheme, lack of clutter, choices for students, comfort, natural materials, lighting options, and flexibility.
Wouldn’t all students benefit from this? Research points to YES! Recent research from the National Center for Learning Disabilities shows promising evidence that personalized learning is beneficial for all students.
Regardless of whether you teach general education or special education, how can you create an environment that kids WANT to go to? How can you help your students TAKE CHARGE of their own learning goals? Asking yourself these questions and pondering the possibilities is sure to benefit your students.