Much is emerging
and still to be learned about how to effectively personalize learning for every
student.The research on student
learning is solid and reliable direction for educators on how to put together the personalized
learning pieces.For example, we
know students succeed when learning in their Zone of Proximal Development
(Vygotsky) – sometimes referred to as “the sweet spot of learning.”This learning theory, coupled with setting
objectives and providing feedback (Marzano,
Hattie), and linked with
autonomy, mastery and purpose (Pink) makes for a
elements start to triangulate our thinking around the idea of how to truly
personalize learning uniquely for each student.Indeed, the proposition of achieving that learning trifecta poses
a tremendous opportunity for students, teachers and parents, balanced with weighty
reality of this being an educational feat.Schools today are striving to achieve personalized learning for every
one of their students - everyday, in every content area, and to high levels. I
wrote about one such example from my school in the September 2014 issue of Educational
Leadership: Motivation Matters. It was an anecdotal style reflection of how personalization can happen for a student with a wide range of needs, and illustrated that personalization positively changes the trajectory of a student’s education.Personalization causes magnitude on learning. It is how educators effectively change the direction and rate of a student's learning in
individualized ways, and it is those very factors that magnetize me again and again to this learning approach.It’s a challenge worth
taking on - but how?
Data as an Inquiry Tool Data has a “must
mention” here.It’s the tool that
makes the “just right learning theory,” feedback strategies, and motivation
trio work so harmoniously.Data is
an engine of inquiry, fueled by formative assessment day in and day out. Pre-assessment,
observations, checks for understanding, conferring, self-reflection and exit
slips are just some of the tools of a master teacher that inform teaching and
learning on a daily basis.These assessment
practices must be audible and visible in the school environment on a daily basis, in
order for data to hold meaning.
Data Questions to
degree does formative assessment exist in every teacher’s instructional practice?
Formative assessment (“assessment for”
learning) is crucial in understanding each learner’s unique needs and
progress.We cannot begin to talk
about data, without discussing the underpinnings of formative assessment and
how rooted it is in daily instructional practice.
supportive structures in the school where data is the centerpiece of teaching
and learning conversations?
Data is not an event; it’s an ongoing practice
that requires pillars of support.Start the culture with basic structures, such as a data notebook and or a
simple spreadsheet. Look at authentic work samples across the grade level and organize
the information simply with sticky notes, charts or basic spreadsheets.By doing this, educators can begin to
look at how students are performing relative to the expected standards and engage
in meaningful conversations.Leaders
should also create common meeting times, ideally during the school day, that support
teachers to collaborate in looking at student work.Professional learning communities, grade level meetings,
peer mentoring, coaching opportunities and department meetings are structures
where teachers should be working on data together, as a central and routine
part of their collaboration.
being used for inquiry purposes?
All data tells a story. It should be used
for looking at growth, not just achievement levels.By
starting all data inquiry with an important question, and collaborating with
team members in an inquiry-based process, data fuels a meaningful conversation
around the “why” - not the “what.”
hear students, teachers and parents using a data lexicon?How is it being used to inform
Data is a tool that has its own language and
concepts.It is not jargon; rather it is an educational vocabulary that we must possess. It is our professional responsibility to become data literate.Educators must understand data concepts
(such as growth measures, and “assessment of” and “assessment for”) and data
language (such as standards, rubrics, cut scores), in order to build our
collective capacity in our shared work together.
culture passionate about using data?
A culture that relies on data, in fact,
generates and seeks data on its own.Data literate schools are data curious schools.When the leader models formative data
use, sets a high expectation around formative data use, provides clear structures
to support data, and empowers the school to be data literate; this is the
litmus test of being a truly data informed school.Leaders should ask themselves,“Does data inspire our culture to strive to high levels of
learning, and promote innovative forms of teaching and learning?”Just as teachers, students and parents
become urgent when data inquiry unfolds a story of need, they also celebrate
when collective effort around data has promoted student success.
It is essential that a leader
makes data heard and seen in all aspects of a school’s life, and uses these
efforts as a springboard to grow the academic and pro-social well-being of
student success.When students
say, “This is the goal I set for myself today, after reflecting on my
self-assessment;” or teachers say, “I devised different ways to help my students
learn the concepts, so they can choose their preferred learning modality and have the
opportunity to learn at different rates;” or parents say, “I can see how much
progress my child has made [here], but I want to know how to help them
[there],” then a leader knows that data literacy and practices are taking hold within the school
Personalized Learning Through Data Effective data
practices are necessary for personalization to fully come to life for each
student.Data is the means to how
educators to inform, guide and adjust learning.When data is partnered with the cornerstones on educational research around personalized learning
(Vygotsky’s seminal theory on the Zone of Proximal Development; Hattie’s and Marzano’s
compelling findings on feedback; and Pink’s argument on autonomy, mastery and
purpose); data is the unsung hero among these giants.It is our professional responsibility to understand this
educational research, and also make it actionable through proficient data literacy and
practices.It is only then that
personalized learning can effectively come to life for every student in a lasting way.