How to Develop the Role of Teachers in Personalized Learning

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past fifteen years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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Jill Thompson and I co-authored the book, How to Leverage Personalized Learning in the Classroom, which you can download for free on freshgrade.com. Jill is is the Personalized Learning Program Manager for Charlotte Mecklenberg Schools and the President of Edulum. You can learn more about her on our Personalized Learning Center page and access her wealth of knowledge by joining the group.

The following excerpt is from Part 1 of our book, What Personalized Learning Is and Isn’t. It outlines the teacher’s evolution from being a lecturer, to an instructor, to a facilitator, to a coach.

The Role of Teachers

As we move away from the traditional role of teacher-as-expert standing and delivering content from the front of the room to a facilitator who designs customized approaches for students, there must be rich dialogue about how this change requires teachers to think about learning and teaching differently.

In a personalized learning environment, the teacher’s mindset is akin to an entrepreneur, an artist, or an engineer: a dynamic spiral where we design, take action, and evaluate results until the idea is fully realized or another idea springs up as a worthy pursuit.

In fact, many teachers who have been engaged in growing personalized learning tell us the reason they love it is because it is the reason they became a teacher — to have tangible impacts on student learning, passion for the subject, and broadening possibilities.

Teachers must self-evaluate where they are on the teacher continuum (see below) and be purposeful in making small, scaffolded changes. Hard work doesn’t happen overnight. Educators will need time to adjust, and so will students. Many instructional leaders we have worked with use this continuum as a tool for teachers to self-assess where they are in their craft and as a guide to help move them up the ladder.

How to Move a Teacher from Lecturer to Instructor

In a lecturer’s classroom, the teacher is maintaining tight control of assessment and instructional decisions with limited opportunity for students to do anything but stay the course and follow directions.

When you coach a teacher to move from being a lecturer to an instructor, consider helping him or her develop mini-lessons that are no longer than 10-15 minutes and paired with application opportunities (transfer questions or texts that ask them to apply knowledge to new situations).

Another option is to implement a workshop model such as balanced literacy, daily 5, or math workshop. This model instructs students to engage in guided work, group work, and individual work.

How to Move a Teacher from Instructor to Facilitator

In an instructor’s classroom, the teacher sets parameters about assessment and instructional design as well as pacing for a class/group of students. Students have ownership in applying the instructional content based on related questions and challenges. As you coach a teacher to move to the facilitator level, one approach is to incorporate a rotation model.

If you have a few devices or if you are a bring-your-own-technology school (BYOT), try a blended learning model such as station rotation. A rotation model allows a teacher to teach mini-lessons to small groups versus a whole class. Students should be grouped based on learning needs according to their data, and each mini-lesson should address those needs. The data can be informal, such as an exit ticket, or formal such as a pre-assessment.

Use the rotation model to engage in student/teacher conferences as well. If you were doing 20-minute rotations, the other 10 minutes can be used to conference with a few students each day after the mini-lesson.

How to Move a Teacher from Facilitator to Coach

In a facilitator’s classroom, students have a voice in shaping ideas, approaches, actions, and timelines within parameters (e.g., checkpoints, evaluative criteria). To develop a teacher into a coach, start by:

  • allowing students to become more responsible for their learning through the development of ideas, approaches, and actions
  • conferencing on current achievement and potential next steps to meet deadlines
  • demonstrating mastery

The teacher evaluates instructional support for each student/groups of students through conferencing, formative assessments, and by providing appropriate scaffolding. Students get what they need when they need it instead of at a set pace. A teacher/coach works on the skills of the individual student. Students and teachers together make action plans based on the students’ needs according to a pre-assessment.

When a student finishes a unit, they can move on to the next. Instead of mini-lessons, there are small teaching moments during conferencing and facilitation. This is the most difficult shift and takes a lot of management, but it can be done by taking small steps that allow for more student ownership.

Keep reading by downloading our book, How to Leverage Personalized Learning in the Classroom for free!

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