Wading into the Water of Personalized Learning

Shawna Parkinson

Shawna is a Learning Experience Designer at Mason City Schools in Mason, Ohio. You may follow Shawna through Twitter: @ParkinsonLearns.

Writing this on the second day of school, I don’t mind sharing that I am happily exhausted! This feeling is the result of my own passion for teaching and the collaborative energy happening inside my classroom. To those of you who don’t know me personally, please know I’m not one to think that every day of instruction in my classroom will be or is perfect. To be honest, during that first day, I modified one of my lessons three times before I found the right pace and the right transitions. But, in the end, my journey into creating activities that allowed for personalized learning moments was definitely worth it.

To provide some background information, I should share that I teach AP Language and Composition and English III. Both classes are junior year English classes, and both classes are having conversations about the value of rhetoric and its link to persuasion at the beginning of the year.

AP Language and Composition

During my first two days, my AP Language and Composition students prepared for and participated in a “speed dating activity” in which they had to personalize their own prompts, and then speak persuasively for one minute on each prompt. The prompts allowed for relationship-building as students applied the prompts to their own lives. In addition, the totality of all the prompts allowed for complexity of thought as different audiences were addressed inside the rhetorical situation of each prompt. At the end of the activity, students were asked to reflect on their one-minute speeches. I asked: What caused your rhetoric to change when delivering your pitches? Look back to when your language choices changed. What caused this difference? This challenge question allowed students to think about how or if their recognition of audience impacted their language choices.

My hope is that this final question will become a pathway for deeper learning within our AP Comp class in our first unit. And beyond this, I hope the memory of the two long lines formed in class from our second day of instruction will leave a permanent imprint in the students’ minds when conversations about audience arise again.

English III

In my English III class, my lesson was slightly different in each bell. In my first bell of that day, I found myself following my pre-planned lesson. In my next class, I decided to show a video of a short, persuasive speech as an example. In my other classes, I alluded to the example and then modified my pace. Despite these slight changes in the bells, all classes were asked to consider their own learning about persuasion last year. Then, given a box of random objects (dice, index cards, a football goal post, a pointer, a ball, markers etc.), students worked in pairs to create their own “get to know you” game. Their final challenge was to pitch a one minute speech to convince their table groups to vote for the game they invented. The pitch that received the most votes was then the winner.

Students played the table group’s winning game for about 10 minutes while I circulated the students’ tables and joined in as many games as I could. Personally, I found myself loving that so many of the games involved movement and a hands-on approach. One group played musical chairs, another group moved to different spots in a circle when a commonality was shared, and still yet, another group rolled dice with each roll of the dice sparking a different question or task.

In English III, once our games were over, I began to ask the students: What if this game was being played at a carnival booth and you were an ambassador for a charity? Students then considered the location of the carnival, the charity or organization the proceeds would be donated to, and how their pitches would change depending on the different audiences that attended the carnival. All in all, this final question helped me to plant the seeds for understanding the importance of the rhetorical situation when planning any speech.

My Reflection

To be honest, the planning for each class was slightly intricate and a little complex. Overall, though, I can share these small realizations about my first two days:

  • Despite even the most elaborate planning, everything changes when the students’ faces are in front of you. As much as I had planned in advance, certain realizations about my lessons only truly “kicked-in” once the students arrived. I had to let myself be in the moment to build connections with the students while still facilitating the plan for the day. In essence, my own humanity as a teacher had to be as apparent to the students as the lesson that was actually created.
  • Learning is fun when students are given the “floor” and given the chance to personalize. My classroom was a dynamic place for learning as chairs were rotated, as objects were held, and as conversation took place. With the array of activities planned in my day, I remained invigorated and joyful due to the busy buzz of learning in my room.
  • Not every moment of every lesson will be perfect. Of course, there are pieces that I would add or expand, but that is to be expected. At the end of the day, my students saw a teacher who tried, who didn’t repeat the same plan, and who was eager to teach. And, as difficult as it is for me and other teachers to do, I now embrace this essential thought: If the heart of personalized learning is the person, as once said by Allison Zmuda, then teachers have to also accept their own humanity. Students need practitioners of their craft- not perfectionists.
  • Teaching is not judged by minutes; it’s decided by moments. Teachers and students, through personalized learning, can create memories together that will far outlast the minutes of pure content instruction… I think we all deserve that.
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Rachel C
Rachel C
4 years ago

Kudos to you for being able to live in the moment – especially so early in the year (flying blind)! I bet they had a great first impression and the idea that they will have to be invested in their own learning. Great ideas that I will try in my own class!