Making Every Moment Count: Sound Bites from a Personalized Classroom

By Allyson Miller

When I first found out about personalized learning, I was intimidated. After all, I’m a teacher, not a techie. Personalized learning relies heavily on technology; students use a Chromebook that is assigned to them for the majority of their coursework. This was not my forte! However, once I saw it in action, I knew this was the type of teacher I wanted to become. In order to demonstrate how personalized learning works at my school, I’ll share some of the moments that stand out to me from a recent week.

Monday 8:30 am - Ms. Miller Shares

A lot of my class time is spent moving around the room working with individuals or small groups, however I still take time to do whole class community building. On Mondays I start class by walking through the week’s online module assignments and goals, and then comes what many students refer to as their favorite part of the week: Community Check In/Ms. Miller Shares. Every Monday students get to ask me one question. Usually, it’s “What did you do this weekend, Miss?” but I’ve had some that were as thoughtful as “What’s your pet peeve?” or more recently, “What’s your biggest fear?”

This Monday the question was: “What was your biggest mistake?"

My inner thoughts struggled with what to tell them. I decided to tell them about a time that I convinced a friend to ditch school and ended up indirectly causing him to have to have his car towed. Why not use the chance to share something personal and interesting while also make a little plug about not ditching school? Lessons are everywhere, right?

Personalized learning allows me time for these important moments building community with my students.

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Tuesday 3:45 pm - Advisory

Each morning and afternoon in Advisory, students look up their own grades on their Chromebook, and they set goals for where they’ll push themselves. Students take a lot of personal responsibility for their grades, because they can see their progress towards each assignment and quiz at all times! It’s their job to re-take quizzes or ask for extra help if needed (and as the teacher, I can use this data to create supports for them too). Last week one of my students had a complete breakdown about her grades from quarter one. This Tuesday, I decided to check back in with her to see her progress. Here’s some of our conversation:

“Hey Patricia. Can we chat for a second?” “Sure Miss.” “I just wanted to check back in about your grades.” “Miss, I’m not messing around anymore. I’m going to get this. This school is hard, but I’m not trying to lose my focus.”

I could see her determination in the work she had gotten done for my class that day. I have a feeling that this is the quarter that’s really going to stick for her.

Wednesday 10:10 am - Thesis Writing

One of my students turned in an essay on Wednesday. Students turn in essays when they’re ready, and schedule a time to get feedback from me. As the rest of the class continues working at their own pace, I can read over students’ assignments and conference with them one on one. This student was struggling with thesis writing, and structuring his thesis in a way that doesn’t just state his topics without a context. We sat together, and I asked him what topics he was discussing in his essay:

-Chavez’s strikes

-Chavez starting the union

-Chavez speaking up for the migrant workers

I then asked him how these were all connected. “They’re all ways that Chavez influenced the Labor Movement.” Perfect answer. I asked him to put that together with his topics. He looked at his screen for a while and then typed out the following thesis: “Cesar Chavez influenced the labor movement by striking, organizing a union, and speaking up for migrant workers.”

Couldn't have said it better myself! Now that’s a solid start to an essay.

Wednesday - 3:00 pm - Peer Tutoring

Some of my students were done with their essays, and they chose to use their time helping others clarify their writing process and their essay structure. This is one of the conversations I overheard during peer tutoring:

Partner A: I think this topic will come up later in your paragraph. What’s a better way that you can introduce the topic? Partner B: I don’t know… The topic of this paragraph will be…? Partner A: No, that doesn’t sound right. Look back at your thesis. Partner B: Oh, Chavez influenced the Labor Movement by forming a Union. Partner A: Yeah, that sounds better.

Partner A: Here, you have to cite the source. Who wrote it? Partner B: Chavez. Oh, that’s right. I have to put his name.

Partner A: This needs to be more clear, instead of “the people”, who are you talking about specifically? Partner B: The union. Partner A: Put that.

Partner A was able to help out three more people during the class period using the same inquiry approach.

Thursday 11:20 am - Small Group on Arguments

I decided to pull a small group of students to reteach a skill from last week’s assessment, on which I saw 5 students had struggled. One of the students generally never speaks up in class, but I saw a whole new side of him during the small group lesson.

We are currently working on finding arguments in our reading. In order to reteach this skill I had the students reread one of the current readings from the unit. We went over the reading and I asked students to find Chavez’s main argument and then answer a multiple choice question about it. The generally silent student raised his hand,”The answer is B because that’s what he talks about in his speech the most.” I ignored the shock of my students and my own and excitedly told him that he was correct. His confidence was evident, and he turned in one of his first complete assignments for my class. What he had struggled with the first time around, he’d been able to learn through the extra small group support.

Moments like these happen so much more because of the way our school is structured. In a traditional classroom, I never had room to fit in all of the things I’m able to do for my students now. With students accessing their assignments online and self-guiding their in-class time, the individualization possibilities are endless and invaluable. I'll take getting out of my teacher comfort zone any day, when it means that my students can learn more.

Allyson Miller teaches 9th grade Reading at Ednovate's USC Hybrid High School in Downtown Los Angeles.