Sunday, January 22, 2012

One week with personalised learning

One week has passed with my class using Personal Journey's, each one containing their very own personalised curriculum for the week ahead. Has the week been successful? Has learning improved? Well, one week is far too short to give detailed answers but I can say that personalising the curriculum for every child in my class has been an inspiring journey for me. I have watched in awe at children working their way through their learning, solving problems in pairs, discussing and thinking, coming up with solutions, offering suggestions and advice to their peers. It has confirmed my belief that if we give learners opportunities to follow a personalised approach they will fly.

Personalising a curriculum requires a knowledge of every learner in your class, which is why I wouldn't consider using this approach with a new class at the beginning of their school year. To ensure the approach works you must know every learner and understand their needs. A Personalised Curriculum gives every learner the opportunity to work at their own pace with challenging targets. It encourages collaboration as well as providing opportunities to solve problems individually. The use of a learning document, such as the Personal Journey my class uses, is very important as it focuses the learner throughout the week. Each learner in my class uses their own PJ which is a mix of teacher set targets and their own as you can see in the example below. You can watch a ScreenChomp presentation of me describing another Personal Journey from this link.

Observations after week 1
  • Every child preferred this approach to their learning
  • Every child was on task every day without having to be told
  • Every learner made progress in Numeracy and achieved two targets that I had set them
  • Every learner achieved at least 1 of their own targets
  • Every learner told me they are looking forward to the next week of learning in their Personalised Journey

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Personalising Learning

If you go into a classroom at the beginning of a lesson you will more than likely find the learners facing the teacher at the front of the room. The lesson will start and 15 minutes* later the class will have been given the go ahead to do their work. If the teacher teaches in this way for every lesson during the school day, the learners will be listening for at least 1 hour or put it another way, learners in such classrooms spend just over 8 days of a school year listening to lesson introductions. That's for a teacher who manages to make their lesson introductions succinct. Listening time increases to almost 11 days for a 20 minute intro and an agonising 13.5 days for a 25 minute intro teacher. This needs to change.

Lesson introductions are important but some teachers use a lesson introduction for every lesson which cuts into learning time as you can see. If you remove the lesson introduction completely you are left with a full day of learning. Some may argue that introductions are important and I would not disagree, my issue is the time misspent on introductions when many learners know what to do and just want to go and get on with it. Yet teachers are restricted by their current planning which in many cases involves an introduction, main activity and a plenary at the end. For every lesson! I am not using this post to pour scorn on this tried and trusted teaching recipe but to encourage you to unlearn how you teach and to consider not using introductions for every lesson but allow learners to 'get on with the learning'.

Over this new school term I am using a Personalised Learning approach with my class. Every learner has received a Personal Journey which has been drawn up by both myself and the learner. The PJ lasts for one week but can be carried into another week if required. Learners use the PJ every day from the moment they come into my class. After registration they get on with their learning. There are no introductions. Every learner is on task within 1 minute and if you were to have a look around you might find some doing Numeracy, other doing Literacy and others working on their own personal learning project. They can take a break when they wish, they can walk around the room, they can use the floor or wherever around the room they feel will help them with their learning. Some will seek me out for extra help and guidance, I have plenty of time to see every child in the room and provide instant feedback on their learning. And there are no behaviour issues as we have a strong working relationship built on trust and respect.

I have never been more excited with learning than I am now, I have never had as much time to focus on teaching as I do now, I have never had as much time to spend with every learner on what they need to move their learning forward as I do now. And this is only day 3.  Personalising Learning is nothing new but it is for me. I have started my own Personal Journey and I hope you can join me as I post my findings here and on Twitter.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Innovating learning requires innovating the classroom too

I have always liked moving classroom furniture around, mixing up tables, moving bookshelves along with reorganising the learners in the room too. I usually do this at the start of every term as a way of shaking off the last term and starting afresh, a new perspective and for some, a new partner to work alongside. But recently I have realised that not much has actually changed, the classroom is basically still the same. The mode of learning has remained focused at designated tables. I decided that if I wanted to continue looking at innovating teaching and learning I also had to innovate my classroom too.

The word classroom can be defined as a place where teaching and learning occur. It can be indoors which is normally the case or outside. Today it can even be on your PC or mobile device. Yet in almost every school we see classrooms very much alike - chairs will be grouped around tables or in rows so that each learner can clearly see the teacher who is usually at the front of the room. Victorian classrooms were not much different and we have all heard the the tale that a Victorian teacher would no likely feel very comfortable in classrooms today. That's why I threw the 'classroom organisation rule book out the window and have tried to innovate my classroom layout as much as I try to innovate teaching and learning.

The room is now our Learning Zone and there are no pre-seating arrangements. My class are free to move around, sit with whomever they wish at any time and, if they so wish, pop outdoors for some fresh air and a quick 'chill out' session if needed. The Learning Zone is divided into 5 areas.
  1. Discussion and Thinking Zone - Learners can drop in whenever they wish to talk about their learning, find solutions, help each other and just to think and chill out. It's also still the area where my class gathers for a whole group focus or an additional Creation/Show Off zone.
  2. Discovery Zone - There are 2 of these although one is missed off the top of the image. These contain laptops, pc's and other technology that the learners can use to guide them on their learning, discover answers, investigate and solve problems, collaborate on projects and create presentations.
  3. Show Off Zone - This is where the learners focus on discoveries they have made and demonstrate their understanding through writing, presentation, art work, display whatever medium they wish to present their work.
  4. Repeat Level - This has evolved from my use of Gamification of learning and an approach that my class enjoy. Whenever any learner requires help, advice, explanations and is 'stuck' this is the area they come to repeat the learning so they can move to the next level.
  5. Creation Zone - Creating content for use in their learning, creating presentations to demonstrate learning, blogging, refining, editing. It happens here and it's usually very busy.
I have used this arrangement for one week and both my class and I prefer it to any other organisation we have created. Feedback from my class has been extremely positive
I prefer this because we can move around and sit with anyone we want....You can work anywhere you want which is better than sitting in the same chair all day....I can do my work better now
This adaption has come about because I have started a personalised learning approach with my class this term too. During the Christmas holidays I came across Doug Belshaw's Daily Planner V2 which he created to help him and others to plan their day. This plan only needed a little editing to use with my own class so after checking that I could use Doug's idea (it's CC licenced) I created the Personal Journey (PJ) for every learner to use. A PJ lasts for one week and can be continued if required. Each learner receives their PJ on a Monday morning with Numeracy and Literacy targets and the Most Important area added by myself. The personal area is for every learner to complete and this is done during the morning before we start the day. Learners can add to this section during the week and there are areas where I, or the learner, can add steps to take in the next PJ as well as a section to add thoughts about the week. There is also an area each learner can use to collect their discoveries made during the learning journey. The PJ needs tweaking but like any plan it is a working document.
My planning has now become their learning journey. It is no longer trapped in a file, hard drive or online. It's there for every individual in the learning zone. PJ's allow every learner to move through their journey at their own pace so some PJ's have had additional targets added where others have remained the same.
How has this changed my teaching approach?
I no longer do whole class introductions unless it's a vital part of the learning journey for the whole group.
I have to move around as I don't have a table or chair.
I can focus on targeting every learner.
I don't follow a timetable anymore.
I am incredibly excited using this approach and I will add further posts over the next few weeks as our Learning Zone becomes our new classroom.