“Letting Go” with Personalized Learning in the Classroom

Bena Kallick

Bena Kallick is a private consultant providing services to school districts, state departments of education, professional organizations, and public agencies throughout the United States and internationally.

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Below are notes from a 5th grade teacher in Wilder Schools in Wilder, Idaho where they are focusing on personalizing learning with Habits of Mind. According to school superintendent, Jeff Dillon, he sees the combination of the two as essential for the jump he is observing in student performance data.

In Reading Class, I assigned Reader’s Theater plays to personalized groups, according to A-Z levels. Not much choice, but personalized.

The first day, I met with groups to go over vocabulary words. I asked the students to research the vocabulary before reading the play to be sure they understood the story. After that, I “let go,” and watched as the students took charge! With little to no direction from me, they began to collaborate in assigning roles and practicing lines. If students had any trouble communicating or making decisions, I guided them toward the Habits of Mind to solve their own problems.

I started hearing lots of chatter around the room as students discussed making, and bringing, props for their respective plays. They brought in plastic fruit, latex gloves, aprons, stuffed animals, a dog kennel, and one student even make clay figures! One group used their iPad for special sound effects. The presentations went well, and they had a blast!

However, I was curious: if given a choice, what would students choose to do for a reading assignment? So, I gave the students a choice to work independently on a reading task of their choice, or work as a group to either write or use an existing script. Only a handful of students chose to work independently, and two groups chose to write their own scripts. In addition, they are using the Habits of Mind as the “heart of their story.” I heard the group mention they wanted the audience to come away with a “lesson learned.” One group will use an iMovie.

It has been amazing to listen to the children discuss their stories, give each other feedback, and to discuss and implement the concepts of Habits of Mind. I watched as the students became even more engaged in this process by taking ownership. When they realized they were the decision makers, it changed everything. In the end, students are reading for fluency, reading and writing their own scripts, discussing and solving their own problems, and having fun.

I know I am not doing all that I can regarding the implementation of personalized learning, but I am excited to continue learning and growing.

This is a good example of how this teacher just “let go” and the students were able to dive into the project. She gave it enough structure in terms of the goals and the task and audience for the project. She then gave them some instruction on how to give feedback to each other using the Habits of Mind: listening with understanding and empathy and questioning and posing problems.

With those structures, letting go was easier although still a bit scary. As she learned, the kids were not at all scared. In fact, they jumped right in at the chance to script and develop presentations. And, as she attested, the writing and reading skills were practiced throughout!

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