Tag Archives: personalized learning

The Journey Begins

After two years of visits to Pioneer Ridge Middle School in Minnesota, learning by reading and doing, and allowing individual teachers to implement personalized learning, our school is ‘all in’.  Over the past two years, our building has had numerous staff pivot in their mindset on instruction, student voice/choice and learning spaces.  It has been refreshing to see people revitalize their passion for teaching.

To start 2016, I mentioned we are ‘all in’.  What does this mean?  We are implementing a model of instruction with ELA, Science and Social Studies dovetailing their standards to personalize learning for a group of our sixth grade students.  During each school day they have a block of time where the environment is personalized for them.  Before school began, these three teachers through out their curriculum and are now building it…together!  I believe there will be great power in this collaboration.  But we also have several teachers who are implementing personalized learning on an individual basis, which also has a power to it.

One area we could plan before students arrived involved learning spaces.  In sixth grade each of the three teachers moved their teacher desk to one room, which created a shared office.  Next, we renamed each classroom with a color and called them studios.  This was based on advice from Mary Perrine in Minnesota.  Through this whole process, we have come to believe in her work and advice.  Studios now reflect the learning that will take place in the space.  They will reflect the amount of collaboration and style of instruction instruction required for learning.


Group Flex Space


Gathering space where daily offerings are provided to learners

As noted in the picture above, the open space is the beginning of a learner’s day.  In this studio they have a choice of what they learn and when they learn it.  The organizational piece is a software called Kairos; I will discuss it in another blog post.  The software allows them choose voice and choice, while providing us the knowledge which studios have particular learners.


Each of these learning environments will challenge the learners to make choices related to their progress.  How they advocate for their learning will be important.  Isn’t this what we want for our kiddos?  To be able to speak of your need and control a path has great power for future learning.  These spaces didn’t stay empty for long.  They have been occupied for just over a week, and there are great stories happening already.


Thoughts on Personalized Learning

Our high school in Harrisburg, SD, under the direction of Dr. Kevin Lein, has embarked on a journey of customized learning for our students the past two years.  Most schools approach this from the elementary level and move up.  Dr. Lein has decided to start at the top and work down.  His concept of using a modular schedule came from visits with Omaha Westside in Nebraska and several school in Maine.  Maine also influenced his drive for a customized learning model with the assistance of our state technology group, TIE.

My view of this model of education has been influenced by several people and entities.  First, I wholeheartedly agree with Eric Sheninger’s push to move away from the Industrialization model of education.  This is outdated and does not fit all the students that enter our building.  They are digital learners, moving at differing paces in their educational life.  Second, Dr. Lein’s passion to drive a customized model for students has been relentless.  The forward thinking approach fostered by him is contagious.  Third, South Middle School has created a relationship with Pioneer Ridge Middle School (PRMS) in Chaska, MN.  Their Personalized Learning Coach, Mary Perrine, has developed a foundation for personalized learning for her school.  Our staff has made three visits to view their Adventures program, and it has been rewarding every visit.  To hear their students describe their learning is amazing.  They speak about assessments, choice, and owning their learning.  Listening to their mature answers, you are amazed that these are sixth graders being interviewed.

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PRMS began with a small group of teachers willing to take a risk on a paradigm shift.  Mary Perrine has led an organized charge beginning with staff professional development.  Students begin their day by scheduling their Adventures classes, which include ELA, Science and Social Studies.  Even though they are in the early stages of personalized learning, Mary and her staff have set a solid foundation for growth into this model.


Our move at South MS from a culture of learned helplessness to student accountability will include a form of personalized learning.  One of the great attributes we can give students is to develop them into responsible learners.  At this time we have a few teachers who are changing their instruction to reflect a seminar/workshop/personal flex model similar to PRMS.  Mrs. Diede provides her Math students choice in a traditional 43 minute period.  Students are at their own pace, but she still provides a seminar for instruction if requested (picture 1).  Other students have the opportunity to complete work or pace ahead.

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As mentioned earlier, a strong foundation and plan is needed for this type of change – Transformational Change.  In a recent article on the topic of transformational change was discussed from the perspective of the business world.  It suggests that transformational change requires a “portfolio of initiatives, which are interdependent or intersecting.”  The article continues with this fabulous comment, “More importantly, the overall goal of transformation is not just to execute a defined change — but to reinvent the organization and discover a new or revised business model based on a vision for the future.”  How does this correlate to personalized learning?  The better question is how doesn’t it fit the immense change in our educational culture and history of delivering instruction to students?  Aligning initiatives that work together for a common end, reinventing the system, discovery of new models, and a vision for who this will affect.  In our world the ‘who’ are our students.  If we truly believe that personalized learning will benefit our students, then throw your effort and passion to this change.  Because change is not easy for our stakeholders, you have to withstand the kickbacks/arguments against it and believe in the value for our students.

I would love to hear your stories of personalized learning and read any resources you might share.  Transformational change begins with one but needs passionate colleagues for sustainability.  Here’s a toast to Risk – Love It!

Ashkenas, Ron. “We Still Don’t Know the Difference Between Change and Transformation.” Harvard Business Review. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2015. <http://linkis.com/hbr.org/2015/01/NRQJU>.