Personalized Learning Perspective from a High School Student

Anthony Johnson is a senior in Henry County Schools where he is a part of many different programs and has plenty of opportunities to speak on personalized learning, project-based learning, and 21st century education.  In addition to pursing a truly personalized learning path, Anthony travels to speak on the importance of innovative education and provides student perspective on a variety of educational topics.  Learn more about Anthony on his website: www.AnthonyJohnson.info & Twitter @AJohnsonIA.

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Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of being a voice of 42,000 students in my school district of Henry County. Each year, Henry County Schools offer a Teacher Induction Program the week before pre-planning that allows new educators to the district to receive more training, professional development, and networking opportunities to be successful for the upcoming school year.

On Personalized Learning Day of this annual event, I had the opportunity of being the opening keynote to provide a motivational message to all of the new educators.

My Personalized Learning Story

For me, it started in middle school. I was the student who had problems with the traditional school model. I saw it as an aged system and I felt I could do more to impact my learning. Additionally, I suffer from chronic migraines. Each day, I deal with the personal conflict of, “How bad will my headache be today?” and “How do I manage it today?”

It’s a struggle that made it more and more challenging to maintain my personal goal of Honor Roll in the traditional school model. All of these factors contributed to feeling unsatisfied. As a result, I proceeded to engage in additional opportunities that were beneficial to my education.

I joined Impact Academy, an enriched virtual school program for middle and high school students of Henry County. This allowed me to still be attached to my traditional school and have the opportunity to take my classes online from home. I could go on campus for face-to-face instruction as needed.

Having the ability to have voice and choice in my educational path made a huge impact for me academically. I wasn’t constricted to the traditional classroom. If I woke up with a migraine, I could do my work later in the day. In reference to the traditional mindset, I was now outside of that. I can work at my own pace, get ahead, and progress through the necessary credits at a speed that is suitable for me.

Best of all, I can show mastery of any standard I choose through project-based learning. As a student, I can go to my teacher if I feel I can’t show mastery to the best of my ability through the online site. The process starts by me initiating the project idea and who the presenting audience will be.

The ability to do project-based learning is a concept that was there in traditional school. However, now I can mold and cater to how it benefits me personally when it comes to certain concepts in the curriculum.

Expanding my Personalized Learning Profile

My personalized learning profile expanded when I started taking classes at the Academy for Advanced Studies. This is a career academy in my district that offers CTAE course, college courses, and work-based learning opportunities for students to get college, career, and life ready.

At the Academy, I completed the Criminal Justice pathway and am currently studying business. I previously had an internship for the Academy doing receptionist tasks before being promoted to event coordinator where I coordinated campus tours, catering,  banquets, and meetings we hosted.

Also, this academy allowed me to be a student of Clayton State University where I am taking college classes. Following the internship, I was offered a position at Georgia United Credit Union. This is the first financial institution in the country that has a branch inside of a high school.

Now, I am working daily in finance in a branch that’s embedded in my educational path. Because of this exposure and freedom to have agency in my learning, I am able to provide presentations and consultations talking to educators about a student’s perspective. None of this wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t make the initial choice to go the personalized learning
route.

Personalized Learning Perspective

So coming back to last Wednesday. I was tasked with sharing my perspective on this 21st century way of learning to new educators of Henry County Schools. I was the welcome keynote prior to leaders of my district and then the keynote of Ms. Allison Zmuda. After I was given that platform to talk about the above opportunities, I sat in and watched Ms. Zmuda’s presentation.

I can say that — as a student that will soon be graduating — it gives me a relaxing feeling that we have educators outside of our district who are so passionate about this way of learning. This type of education is that of the future. It’s a matter of “when” that personalized learning will be the norm. Allison Zmuda shed some valuable insights on the importance and of implementing a personalized learning classroom.

What peaked my interest first of Allison Zmuda’s presentation was her analysis of “Learning in a Contemporary World.” Ultimately, it’s vital that new educators implementing 21st century learning are aware of the “messy problems” and know that it’s not always this clear-cut defined process. On the contrast, Ms. Zmuda’s explanation of “Sticky Learning” can ease and provide comfort in this educational transition.

She stated that four key components provide a “sticky learning” experience: memorable situations, authentic learning experiences, attention capturing, and real world. The idea of it being “sticky” is that these are base ways to provide structure in this personalized learning classroom. The key is providing experiences for your student that is truly authentic and will benefit them in the future. For a student that is also making this educational transition, some sort of structure is necessary and now there are endless ways to expand that.

Next, I was moved about the portion of her keynote that focused on the “Power of Authenticity”. This is important because educators can be trained about technology. They can be trained on ways to implement personalized learning; students can be coached to learn in this way. However, what is all of that for if there is no true personalization and no authentic audiences at the end?

The first step of the “Power of Authenticity” model was defined as opportunities, networking, and progress opportunities. Through my personalized learning experience, I was constantly pursing new opportunities and networking through them. I believe it is crucial that today’s students are made aware and are encouraged to pursue any new opportunity, not only because it allows them to try something new for the moment but it can benefit long term.

Continuing in the “Power of Authenticity” concept, next is real world scenarios followed by forms of performance and refinement and critique. These are all important because it is so much more than personalizing that learning experience. It’s more than providing a project-based learning opportunity.

One personal story is that I made the choice to join SkillsUSA, FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), and DECA. These are all school clubs where I made the choice join in the 11th grade. In SkillsUSA and FBLA, I was treasurer of both chapters and made it to the national stage where — this past summer — I placed 4th in the nation in the Job Interview competition. Excelling in this competition allowed me to refine my interview skills as that was the main event.

Additionally, I networked seemingly endlessly and have gained contacts that can be extremely beneficial is I enter college and the real world. Throughout this entire competition, from competing in my region of Georgia, to advancing to state, and then nationals, I was faced with a real world scenario because the interview process was that I will continue to follow when I graduate. These interview skills will stick with me and doing it over and over helps me master it, which allowed me to place first in the state. The forms of my performance kept varying because there were always new judges. At the end of the interview, I was provided ratings and critique so that by the next level of competition I was prepared.

Final Thoughts

Aside from what personalized learning looks like, I appreciate Allison Zmuda taking the time to talk about the roles in the classroom. In addition to having an open mind about innovative learning and trying new things, it’s important to know that the teacher’s role does not change. They are not a “manager” of this instruction. The teachers remains the instructor. This would all not work if there was not a motivational teacher in the classroom. The classroom teacher acts as a coach and still provides all of the learning and expectations to show mastery of standards.

In conclusion, I can say that my views and Ms. Allison Zmuda’s have overlapped many times and in seeing each other present, I believe that is something we both witnessed. This is a time where we all need to have enthusiasm and be comfortable in reaching out for support if necessary. I truly believe that this is the future of education so I was honored to network with Ms. Zmuda and have this platform to talk about my story. No matter what stakeholder you are in education, you are part of a movement. Thank you.

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