Using Personalized Learning Pathways with Primary Students

By Kristen Wright and Erin Cordova

Once we realized personalized learning was what we were seeking, we turned to the internet and social media for inspiration. While we found others who shared our same passion and lots of information, we struggled to find where it was really working well in the primary grades. We decided that if we were going to use personalized learning with primary students, we needed to develop our own model and our students were going to help us along the journey.

We began by establishing assigned literacy centers where students rotated on a timed basis. Next, we shifted our reading centers to reflect Gail Boushey and Joan Moser’s Daily 5, but had students rotate independently throughout their activities and choose their preferred order. Realizing that this was still limiting to student choice, we created a list of “Must-dos” and “May-dos,” where students completed their necessary tasks but were able to choose their own “May do” activities. The problem with this approach was that some students rushed through their required activities to get to their chosen activities, while some students could never get to their chosen activities because they were focused so much on their requirements.

After trying these different approaches, we had to do some reflection on our core beliefs. We believe in providing focused literacy instruction, but we also believe in providing time for kids to explore and pursue their passions. How do we combine the two? The answer is what we call a personalized learning pathway.

Our personalized learning pathway is essentially a “game” board focused around collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity (4Cs). Our students, when not working with their teacher, choose what they will work on based on their areas of interest and academic goals. They do this by building a board from tiles of their choosing. Tiles represent apps or activities students can do to practice foundational skills, learn content, and pursue passions or interests.

Part of being a teacher is recognizing that change is inevitable and great teachers are always evolving. Our first iteration is currently working well, but we are driven by a model where we are constantly reflecting, revisiting, and improving our work for students. With feedback from our students, questions, and input from other educators we have pushed ourselves to rethink this pathway that we have grown to love!


Today, we are in the process of prototyping and implementing the next iteration. Our students still choose what they will work on based on their areas of interest and academic goals. Their work is still based on how they build their board and the tiles they choose. Tiles still represent apps or activities students do to practice foundational skills, learn content and pursue passions and interests. However, there are four differences.

  • First, we have eliminated the 4Cs because they are reflected naturally in everything we do.
  • Second, we added a place where the student’s goals are visible so they can clearly see their personalized and targeted goals that they are working toward.
  • Third, we have built in the importance of scaffolding through the addition of Bloom’s Taxonomy. So, while some activities are practice and application, which is important for primary learners, but on the lower level of Bloom’s, they are important to set the stage for success when they analyze, evaluate, and create.
  • Finally, the board can be used for a longer period of time to be more reflective of integrated units.



As we mentioned before, we have just begun this new version. While we can’t tell you yet how well it’s working yet, we can guarantee that the work of personalizing learning for our students will always be an evolving process. But isn’t that what makes teaching so exciting?




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Eileen Fernandez-Parker

Hello Kristen and Erin,
I loved this blog about personalized pathways. I’m curious to know where you are 3-4 years later.

I’m also wondering how exactly the tiles work and what does your must do/may do list look like?

We are struggling in the upper grades with knowing what to assign to whom without making it be a drill and kill list and totally alone. Primary is so more hands-on and collaborative friendly. Any help and/or resources is appreciated.