On day one of math class, about one-third of school students are ready to master grade-level standards while others aren’t yet able to complete basic skills. Indeed, it’s not uncommon that students’ abilities span not just one grade level, but several grade levels. And while whole-class instruction may meet the needs of some students, more often than not, it leaves out many more students than it helps. An effective way to tackle the challenge of teaching core academics to all students across ability levels is to implement a personalized approach supported by a variety of carefully chosen digital resources.
In the Putnam County (TN) School System— a rural school district with 23 schools spread across 400 miles—our personalized learning approach has allowed us to reshape education for students on a variety of fronts. In the past several years, we have implemented a number of district-wide initiatives to support personalization and differentiation for students including the launch of our Virtual Instruction to Accentuate Learning (VITAL) program in 2008. Highlights of VITAL include a virtual homeschool, blended and online learning across every one of our schools, course recovery to ensure students stay on track to graduate, and course acceleration—all with the goal of preparing students to be future ready.
Our transition to personalized learning has been an exhilarating journey that picked up even more momentum through our work with Education Elements beginning in the 2017-18 school year. First, we defined what personalized learning meant for Putnam County and then formed a district leadership team to develop supports that align to this vision. Using the organization’s personalized learning implementation framework, we diagnosed areas of need and focus while further workshops exposed our teams to design thinking and innovative approaches to personalized learning so that each school team could ultimately create its own instructional model. In our first year, we implemented personalized learning in our six middle schools. This school year, as we continue this work in our middle schools, our 11 elementary school have embarked on their first year of personalized learning, and in 2019-20, our district’s three high schools will follow suit.
At the core of our personalized learning program is our use of data to inform instruction. We use NWEA MAP data to help us create “personalized learning paths” for students that accurately represent their strengths and weaknesses across core academics while providing detailed insights into their skills within each subject. That information helps ensure our instruction is aligned with students’ specific needs, and furthermore, empowers us to provide students with appropriate tools, resources, and curricula. Here are five digital resources we use to meet students where they are and take them where they need to go.
Canvas is our learning management system (LMS) and provides a framework for our blended learning environment. It allows us to document, track, and deliver various resources to both students and teachers. Canvas also functions as a professional development tool that connects our master teachers to our newer teachers. For example, master teachers can create entire base curricula, including a menu of digital resources, and make them available to teachers across the district. This is particularly useful for newer teachers who have far less experience in teaching particular courses.