Personalized Learning Plans Change Lives

The estimated reading time for this post is 3 minutes

When we were engaged in our “developing a common vocabulary” time in the office, I had the chance to share some of the personalized learning pilot work we had done at Monte Vista, focusing on the personalized learning plan.

In fall of 2014, I would visit Monte Vista Elementary School once a week and meet with a small group of students and talk to them about their learning. Sounds a bit vague, maybe. And it was initially. I was working on a design for a personalized learning plan and we started with one on one student interviews that took, in the initial stages maybe ten minutes per student. I asked questions about what they were interested in learning, how they viewed themselves as readers, as students of math, and how they thought they could practice to get better. With the teachers, Nicol Howard and Barbara Howard, and principal Meg Greene, we identified that we would track one source of academic data that we deemed trustworthy, valuable, and that could be a regular source for us to monitor the students’ progress. We chose Accelerated Reader, well, more precisely, the STAR reading test that can be administered again and again to help pinpoint the students’ reading levels.  I’ll share some examples of the personalized learning plan work in another blog post, but what I am processing here is the fact that I knew that one of the challenges of personalized learning plans would be how to make them attractive to students to visit.  In other words, what could we do to help students own their plans?  Instinctively, I had brought my camera with me to film some of the interviews, and I ended up shooting portraits of the students involved.  When time came to construct a prototype of the personalized learning plan, I knew that the impact of the plan, which would be a digital interface, basically an app or a web page, had to have an intensely personal connection and intimate feel for the student.  Our prototype was a Google form that housed all the questions of the student interview. We customized the header with a high quality image of the student smiling broadly – a custom-captured moment from the portraits we shot of the students.

jasper plp

I remember the first moment when I unveiled to Jasper that his personalized learning plan was his own webpage and that it was graced with his image on the top.  He smiled broadly. Incredulously. It was a weightless moment. A homerun. I read him the questions and recorded his answers. I learned that he liked reading about animals and other countries. Jasper came to life, was vivid, was vital, as he worked through his personalized learning plan. I relived some of this work today with my team as we talked through the common language of personalized learning plans. You can view a video we made of principal Meg Greene leading Jasper through a personalized learning plan reflection here:

At the end of the day today, my team debriefed, as is our custom, with the FIND debrief protocol.  When we got to the decisional level, which is phrased as “What commitment can you make based on our time together today?” I realized that seeing the images of Jasper that were part of our personalized learning plan pilot brought forth an unexpected meaning and importance of that work.  I don’t know where Jasper is now.  I hope he is happy.  I hope he is healthy.  But I do know that his personalized learning plan changed my life.  The personalized learning plan humanized and memorialized the learning process in a way that transformed me, the educator.  I have a distinct, well-formed memory of our work together as well as the chain of data that follows his dramatic improvement in reading.  The paradox of a truly effective personalized learning plan is such that it blesses both parties, learner and leader, by softening, shaping, documenting, and deepening the learning interaction.  Jasper’s personalized learning plan changed my life because today I set a goal of finding students this year with whom I can connect, and with whom I can develop relationships.  I want to learn about their goals and follow their journey. 

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Coordinating 21st Century Learning in Santa Ana & beyond. I practice art through photography. I raise funds for clean water with Team World Vision.

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Coordinating 21st Century Learning in Santa Ana & beyond. I practice art through photography. I raise funds for clean water with Team World Vision.

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