K-12 Blended Teaching Competencies
2.1 Blended Teaching Competencies
In Volume 1 of K-12 Blended Teaching we introduced four competencies shown in Figure 1, with each competency represented by a pillar built on a solid foundation of blended dispositions and technology skills. The four core blended teaching competencies—(1) Online integration, (2) Data practices, (3) Personalization, and (4) Online interaction—can be mastered by any teacher in any subject area. These competencies are built on a foundation of positive dispositions and basic technology skills.
Blended Teaching Foundations and Core Competencies
We will provide a brief introduction to these competencies in this chapter with more in-depth coverage in each of the subject-specific sections. Check out your readiness for blended teaching in each of these areas by taking this Blended Teaching Readiness Self-evaluation.
Test Your Blended Teaching Readiness: http://bit.ly/K12-BTR
Check out how ready you are for blended teaching?
As shown in Figure 2, the results of the blended teaching readiness instrument will give you a score in each of the competency areas. The scores will help you to understand which competency areas you might want to start with as you build your personal skillset with blended teaching.
Example results from the Blended Teaching Readiness Survey
This volume differs from Volume 1 of the K-12 Blended Teaching series in that it focuses on examples of blended teaching in the content disciplines. The four competencies of online integration, data practices, personalization, and online interaction are still key skills for successful blended teaching. However, those skills may look distinct when practiced in a specific discipline, such as a science class, a physical education class, or an elementary social studies classroom. We have represented this idea on the cover of this book with the blended teaching tree as shown in Figure 3. The individual branches represent blended teaching in the many distinct educational disciplines all of which are nourished by the common core set of teacher competencies.
Core Competencies in the Content Areas
In the following sections we will briefly outline these four core blended teaching competencies, and in each of the following chapters we will provide discipline-specific examples of these competencies that will help to situate them in your specific domain of teaching. Many of the sections below include questions for you to think about. Think carefully and honestly about your answers, perhaps writing them down. Then notice where you are already strong and where you have room for improvement. These thoughts can guide your process as you begin blending.
2.2 Positive Dispositions and Technology Skills
There are basic technology skills and positive dispositions that you will need to develop in order to be successful in blended teaching.
Dispositions focus on the teacher’s attitudes and beliefs towards blended learning and teaching. Positive attitudes, even excitement, in each of these areas will determine how willing you are to experiment with and grow in a blended learning context.
Learn more about dipositions and skills in K-12 Blended Teaching (Volume 1): What Competencies are Needed?
2.2.1 Student Ownership and Agency
Successful blended learning classrooms shift from teacher led pedagogy to student driven pedagogies. Students begin to take more control of and responsibility for their learning, often making decisions for what, how, and when they learn. Teachers become a facilitator in such decisions and in helping students succeed in their new roles.
- How do I feel about students making some of the decisions about their learning?
- Do I feel I could learn to help students become more independent of me and more able to create their own learning agendas?
2.2.2 Mastery Learning Orientation
Blended classrooms lend themselves to mastery-based learning instead of time-based learning. Students advance in their learning as they master skills and content, not as they spend a certain amount of time on them. This approach significantly reduces the amount of whole-class direct instruction. Technology is a helpful tool for managing mastery learning.
- How do I feel about students learning at different paces in my classroom?
- Do I value students having enough time to master a learning objective before they move to the next one?
- Do I think I could develop the flexibility to manage such a classroom?
2.2.3 Value of Data-Driven Decisions
A reliance on data (Figure 4) to make decisions about instruction and individual pathways to learning is at the heart of a blended classroom. This data may include formative and summative assessment results, attendance, student goals, demographics, and measures of engagement. It can help teachers recognize strengths and weaknesses, progression, and reasons for students’ lack of progress.
- How do you feel about using technology to keep track of various aspects of student learning?
- Do you feel data could help you not only understand your students better but also help them progress and become better learners?
Example of a Mastery Tracker Showing Student Progress
2.2.4. Growth Orientation
Becoming a successful blended teacher will require you to take risks. You may fail at times, but these failures can help you learn and improve.
- How eager are you to learn new things and try innovative ways to do things?
- Are you willing to take risks that may temporarily leave you feeling inadequate? (Are you willing for your cake to fail now and then?)
- Do you enjoy learning and trying new things?
2.2.5 Emphasis on Life Skills
In a blended learning environment, technology can be used to develop real life skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.
- Do you currently use pedagogies that help your students develop life skills? If not, how can you start?
- Do you believe these life skills are part of your responsibility as a teacher?
- Are you willing to consider using technology to develop these skills?
2.2.6 Value of Online Learning
Because blended learning is “the strategic combination of in-person with online teaching,” valuing online learning is as important as valuing in-person learning.
- Do you believe online activities can enhance the way children learn?
- Do you feel online activities can give students opportunities to learn they can not get in the traditional classroom?
- Can you see ways online learning can help you personalize or individualize curriculum?
It is natural to feel a little uneasy about some of these dispositions. Maybe you are suspicious of online learning, or perhaps giving students more control makes you feel uneasy or out of control. Perhaps you worry that if you emphasize life skills, you won’t be able to teach the content you are mandated to teach. Any new venture may feel risky; however, the fact that you are reading this book shows that you are ready to learn! And learning can change dispositions.
You can begin to see yourself as a teacher in new ways and to grow and learn along with your students, adding an excitement to learning that will enhance any methods you learn and choose to use. The key is just to begin. Beginning is the basis for personal growth - you have to start somewhere!
2.3 Basic Technology Skills
If you feel uncomfortable with all the technology tools out there, you are not alone. However, it is important to note that technology is not ultimately the focus of blended learning. It is about helping students learn. Once you start applying blended teaching, you will find that technology will become as invaluable and comfortable a tool to use in improving the learning experience of your students as a whiteboard, a book, or a worksheet is.
Here are some of the important knowledge and skills you can develop as a blended teacher.
2.3.1 Basic Literacy
You will need to become familiar with and use technologies on your own, troubleshoot issues that may arise, and find quality online content for use in your classroom.
- What technologies do you currently feel comfortable with? How did you learn to use them?
- Make a list of technologies you know of but that you don’t use. Which one would you like to learn? How can you do so?
2.3.2 Digital Citizenship
Digital citizenship consists of modeling and teaching copyright laws and fair use, ensuring privacy and protection (passwords, no bullying, etc.), ensuring honesty, and ensuring access.
- What concerns do you have in any of these areas?
2.3.3 Learning management systems
Many blended teachers use learning management systems (LMS) to organize their classrooms. They keep grades, give announcements, and create content pages, quizzes, assignments, and discussion boards in the LMS.
- Does your school already use an LMS? Which one? How familiar are you with it? How can you learn more? Is there another teacher in your school who could help you?
2.3.4 Educational Software
Blended teachers have resources for finding content-specific educational software that helps them meet their learning objectives.
- What content specific educational software are you aware of? Does your school already subscribe to any?
- Are there any free sources you can use?
2.3.5 Media Creation Tools
These tools help teachers create or edit online materials to meet specific needs. They are also tools that students can use to create.
- What media creation tools are you familiar with?
- How could you use them to create materials for your classroom?
- How could you let your students use them to learn or to demonstrate learning?
2.3.6 Communication Tools
Blended teachers use a variety of tools for communicating with their students, parents, administrators, and other stakeholders. They also leverage these tools to help students communicate and collaborate.
- How can greater communication with students, parents, administrators, and others help enhance your teaching ability and your students' learning experiences?
- What tools do you already use to interact with others? Could some be adapted to use with students and others?
- What new tools (such as Flipgrid) could you incorporate into your classroom?
2.4 Online Integration
Online Integration focuses on the teacher’s ability to make and implement decisions related to selecting when and how to effectively combine online and in-person learning as part of core instruction.
Online integration is the one competency that is truly integral to blended teaching. Why is this so? If you don’t have some kind of strategic combination of online and in-person instruction, you don’t have blended teaching. However, don’t let this overwhelm you. All of the other competencies we will discuss provide specific tools to use in integrating the online and in-person space.
- What part of your instruction could be moved online so that you have more time to spend one-on-one or in small groups with students?
- How could you make this content available to students in the online space?
- What parts of student learning are especially well suited to in-person learning?
- How can using the online space help make learning more interactive and personalized?
Read more about online integration practices in the in K-12 Blended Teaching (Volume 1).
2.5 Online Interaction
Online Interaction focuses on the teacher's ability to facilitate online interactions with and between students. Online interaction in a blended teaching classroom broadens the opportunity for students and teachers to communicate with one another about their learning. Online interaction might include digital instruction, discussions, and feedback.
In 1989, Michael Moore defined three different types of learning interactions: (1) Student–content, (2) Student–instructor, (3) Student–student. Moore explained that each type of interaction contributes to a quality learning experience. Though Moore defined these types of learning interactions in a discussion about distance learning, they also apply to online interactions that occur in blended teaching.
Online student–content interaction occurs when students engage with online learning materials by reading, listening, watching, and/or reflecting. Online student–instructor interaction occurs when students have opportunities to apply what they have learned from their content interactions, demonstrate new knowledge, and receive feedback in an online forum from the teacher as the “expert.” Finally, online student–student interaction occurs when students communicate online with one another—sharing their understanding and building on what they have learned.
One of the key elements to being able to leverage the advantages of blended learning is the ability to create a positive, supportive, and safe space—not only in the physical classroom, but in the online space as well. Just as students must develop an understanding of the rules, routines, and procedures for communicating and participating in-person, they must also learn the guidelines for online interaction.
Read more about online interaction in K-12 Blended Teaching (Volume 1).
2.5.1 Online discussions
One of the major interactions that can happen in an online setting is the use of discussions. The advantage of online discussions is that they are one of the few online activities that can combine all three types of interactions. Students usually read or view materials to prepare for the discussion (student–content interaction), then share their thoughts with their peers (student–student interaction) in a forum that is moderated by the instructor (student–instructor interaction). As a result, online discussions can be critical in helping students achieve course outcomes because they provide students with a variety of interactions.
Online discussions can happen synchronously (in real time) or asynchronously (not in real time). The advantages of an asynchronous discussion is that it allows additional flexibility in time, place, and depth of reflection. Online discussions can also range from low fidelity (mostly text based with no communication cues) to higher fidelity (video communication with more communication cues). Higher fidelity discussions that utilize video or audio discussion platforms contain many of the communication cues that we are used to having in person.
It takes careful thought and preparation to create an effective online discussion. Once you have established guidelines, you must figure out how an online discussion can support and improve student learning. It is helpful to keep in mind what you want students to know and take away from the online discussion. You might want to communicate this rationale with students, highlighting what you hope they will gain from their participation.
Once you have determined your objective(s), consider how you are going to make sure that students meet them. You may want to think about the source material students will need to read or watch prior to participating, how the online discussion will inform in-person discussions, and whether the discussion will be started, continued, or finished in the online setting.
All good online discussions begin with well-planned discussion prompts. You may wish to consider a range of question types depending on the specific objectives and what you want students to take away from the discussion. These questions can take a variety of forms, similar to any in-class discussion. As Davis (2009) described, you might consider asking the following types of questions:
- Exploratory questions: probe facts and basic knowledge
- Challenge questions: interrogate assumptions, conclusions, or interpretations
- Relational questions: ask for comparisons of themes, ideas, or issues
- Diagnostic questions: probe motives or causes
- Action questions: call for a conclusion or action
- Cause-and-effect questions: ask for causal relationships between ideas, actions, or events
- Extension questions: expand the discussion
- Hypothetical questions: pose a change in the facts or issues
- Priority questions: seek to identify the most important issue(s)
- Summary questions: elicit synthesis
These question types can be mapped to Bloom’s Taxonomy, ranging from those that focus on factual information such as exploratory questions, to others that require more in-depth synthesis and evaluation.
Online discussions are more productive when teachers give participants explicit instructions. You will want to model the nature of the posts you are expecting. Directions may also include a number of factors such as post length, style of writing, specific formatting conventions students are expected to follow, required references, expectations for number of replies, who will respond to whom, and when initial posts and response posts are due. You can group these aspects into categories of structure, content, flow, and timing. Each aspect of these categories is described in Table 1.
Characteristics of Online Posts
|Structure||Length||How long should posts be? Can you include a range of the number of words expected? Should the post be a certain number of sentences or paragraphs?|
|Style||How formal do you expect the language to be? While it might be more conversational, the tone should still be academic in nature. Helping students strike this balance is important to model in online discussions.|
|Formatting||Are there any guidelines you want students to follow when posting , such as a specific title for the subject line? Should students use a greeting and a closing in their responses? Is there specific content you want in each paragraph?|
|Content||Requirements||Are there sources/references the students need to connect to or cite in their responses? What ideas must students present in their posts?|
|Flow||Replies||How many posts/responses are required to adequately participate in the discussion? How will students know who to respond to?|
|Timing||Due Dates||When are initial posts due? Do students have enough time to understand the material or discussion before posting?|
One of the mistakes that teachers who are new to blended learning often make is using their LMS to create whole class discussion activities. It can be okay to have a class discussion board for sharing general ideas about class or asking general questions, but these are not ideal for creating student-student interactions. If the discussion group consists of more than 10 members, it becomes very difficult for each member of the group to read all the posts and know what has been said and what has not been said. Additionally, large discussion groups make it more difficult to create a sense of community, whereas members of a small group have a better chance of getting to know one another.
For managing discussions, breaking your class into smaller groups can be helpful. You might consider creating groups with between 4 and 6 members (certainly fewer than 10). If you want all students to get a sense of the discussion happening throughout the entire class, groups can have their discussion and then report to the entire class with a synthesis activity. Another strategy is to assign specific roles within the small discussion group to focus students’ contributions. Over a series of weeks, these roles can rotate so that each student has an opportunity to fulfill each role. Several possible discussion roles might be facilitator, devil’s advocate, connector, explorer, and summarizer (North, 2017).
When facilitating online discussions, it is also important to strike the right balance in terms of teacher interaction. Too little teacher interaction and students can feel like no one is listening. Too much and you run the risk of dominating the discussion which can limit or hamper students’ interactions, both in terms of quality and quantity.
You will also want to establish guidelines for giving students credit for discussion board participation, and provide ways to allocate points for posting regularly, responding to classmates’ posts, staying on topic, and responding in a thoughtful manner. Assessing the quality as well as the quantity of the students' online posts is important. Using rubrics will allow students to have clear guidelines of your expectations for the quality of their posts.
Effective feedback highlights strengths and areas for improvement for student work, is given promptly and respectfully, and motivates students to improve. Feedback should build relationships, offer praise, suggest corrections, and offer support. In a blended classroom online tools can be used to facilitate these goals. Online rubrics within most learning management systems help teachers to quickly assess and communicate expectations to students. Feedback templates may be used to provide feedback about common weaknesses by completing a digital form for each student. Video and audio comments can allow for more complex feedback.
Quality peer feedback can allow teachers to spend their time more effectively. For instance, you can implement a three-before-me policy that requires students to receive feedback from three peers before submitting the project to you for feedback. John Hattie’s (2008) review of research found that 80% of feedback that students receive comes from their peers. Unfortunately, 80% of that feedback is incorrect! As a result, you should help students learn how to provide quality feedback to their peers. For instance, you can create specific rubrics and then help students understand how to use those rubrics while providing feedback (2008).
Student to teacher feedback can improve learning for all students. Again, John Hattie’s seminal synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to student achievement highlights the need for student-provided feedback. Hattie explained, “the most important feature was the creation of situations in classrooms for the teacher to receive more feedback about their teaching” because it created a “ripple effect back to the student” (2008, p. 12). Online communication can help students provide you with meaningful feedback because their comments can be anonymous. It can also give students the opportunity to provide you with feedback at any time. For instance, you could create an anonymous feedback survey using Google Forms linked in the sidebar of a course website that students can access while they are working on assignments.
Supporting Learning with Online Interaction
Sometimes teachers don’t see a need to communicate online if students have the opportunity to do so in-person. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to both in-person and online communication. The challenge is leveraging the advantages of both in-person and online interaction. Some of the strengths of online communication include:
- Flexibility: Students can contribute to the discussion at the time and place that is most convenient and comfortable to them.
- Participation: All students can participate because time and place constraints are removed. The discussion is not limited to the time that class is meeting or to the students that are present or feel most comfortable speaking in front of others.
- Depth of reflection: Students have time to carefully consider their claims, provide supporting evidence, and engage in deeper, more thoughtful reflections (Mikulecky, 1998; Benbunan-Fich & Hiltz, 1999).
Notice how the strengths of online communication are some of the weaknesses of in-person communication.
Online interaction facilitates student learning by taking advantage of the strengths of both in-person and online communication. You can begin or improve your blended teaching by considering the advice and guidelines recommended in this chapter.
2.6 Data Practices
Data Practices focus on the teacher’s ability to use digital tools to monitor student activity and performance in order to make informed choices about interventions and to help all students progress.
Read more about data practices in K-12 Blended Teaching (Volume 1).
2.6.1 Performance Data
Performance data shows direct measures of how students perform on assessments. It may include measures such as grade books and state and national exams. Performance data can also be found in mastery or performance dashboards in an LMS.
2.6.2 Activity Data
Activity data are indirect measure of student participation and engagement. It includes attendance, participation, LMS log-in times, and engagement. Some of this data can be found in LMS dashboards; other data could come from one-on-one interviews or observations.
2.6.3 Learner Profile Data
Learner profile data are measures of a learner’s background, interests, goals, and preferences. These data are just as important to data-driven instruction as performance data and activity data if teachers want to provide data-driven instruction and help students to personalize their learning.
Read more about learner profile data in section 4.1.3 in the Personalization chapter of K-12 Blended Teaching (Volume I).
Personalizing instruction focuses on the teacher’s ability to implement a learning environment that allows for student customization of their learning goals, pacing, time, place, and/or path. It is the process by which teachers shift their focus from a classroom in its entirety to individual students. Through personalization, students begin to understand how they learn and how they become life-long learners. Helping students learn how to learn is a goal that almost all teachers have for their students; the question therefore becomes, “How do I empower to students to personalize their learning in my classroom?”
Personalization means allowing a student’s needs and desires to motivate what, when, where, and how the student meets the learning outcomes for a course (Patrick et al., 2013). This involves the teacher giving the students more freedom while still guiding and facilitating the learning process in the classroom. It is helpful to think about how learning can be personalized across various instructional elements, dimensions of personalization, and levels of student agency.
Read more about personalization in K-12 Blended Teaching (Volume 1).
2.7.1 Personalization Across Instructional Elements
Learning can be personalized along any of the three elements that commonly make up instruction: learning objectives, assessments, and learning activities (Figure 5). Describing the personalized learning of these elements helps explain what is being personalized.
Instructional Elements According to Backward Design
“Backward Design” created by Cecil R. Short is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution International 4.0 License
While some assessments may have mandated times, places, and formats, other assessments may offer students some flexibility in demonstrating their knowledge or ability. For instance,
some assessments can be personalized by allowing students to choose how they show their understanding; the level of mastery they hope to attain on the assessment; how quickly an assessment must be completed; or even when and where the assessment should be completed - such as at home or in an alternate school environment during class, before school, or after school.
Similar to assessments, learning activities can also be personalized by allowing students to choose from various kinds of activities, formats, or media to use in preparing for assessments; how quickly learning should occur; when and where study or completion of learning activities should occur; with whom the student would like to work; or even the learning habits students aim to develop while completing the learning activities.
We further discuss how these instructional elements can be personalized by describing the various dimensions of personalized learning below (Figure 6).
Dimensions of Personalized Learning
“Five Dimensions of Personalization” created by Jered Borup is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License
Teachers often feel pressure to make sure their students meet certain outcomes by the end of their time together. These learning outcomes and requirements are usually designated on the district, state, or even national level. However, students can benefit from being encouraged to set, track, and achieve their own short-term goals throughout their learning. As teachers help their students to make Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based (SMART) Goals (see Figure 5), they show that students are responsible for their own learning and give students the tools to reach their potential (Graham et al., 2019).
“SMART Goals” created by Dungdm93 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
It is important that both teacher and student work together to set appropriate goals to help the student reach the outcomes for the course and for personal growth. These goals, which can be academic (performance-based) or behavioral (habit-based), will allow the student to feel accomplished as they reach their own milestones throughout the course. The personalization of goals and the individual process of setting them will help motivate struggling students, showing them that they are growing in meaningful ways, and challenge advanced students, allowing them to set goals at their own level. Students and their teachers can also decide on personalized means of assessing if the students are reaching their goals and the learning outcomes for the course.
|Not a Personalized Goal||Personalized Goal|
|The teacher decides that students will work towards 80% mastery of an assessment for a specific state standard.||Students aim for different levels of mastery, based on their previous performance data.|
Like most people, students often have a preferred time of the day in which they are mentally more astute and a preferred amount of time they can efficiently spend on a single task. As teachers get to know their students, they may begin to understand what these times are for each student. Personalizing time in a classroom allows students to focus on their more difficult content areas while they are more alert. In a full-day class, this may mean allowing some students to write in the morning, while others may choose to do so after lunch. In a period-based schedule, this may mean working with students to adapt the times and dates assignments are due, motivating students to work on their assignments at a time that cognitively works best for them. Additionally, some students may wish to work at home or on a project before or after school. Personalizing time means allowing students to have access to the materials they need when they need them. It should also be noted that allowing students to work at a time that is best for them may also mean allowing them to work at a pace that is best for them.
|Not a Personalized Time||Personalized Time|
|The teacher chooses when the whole class will participate in an instructional activity.||Students choose how to spend their time during a class's "flex" time.|
The personalization of place consists of both the location in which the students are learning and the people with whom they are learning (Graham et al., 2019). Personalizing place in a classroom allows students to learn the types of environments and interactions that are most conducive to their individual productivity while in a structured, low-stakes setting. This knowledge will benefit them as they graduate and move on to more high-pressured environments, such as college and careers. Teachers can open the space in their classroom to allow students to work in different groups or stations, or they may allow more freedom in what happens in the classroom or at home. The teacher can be in only one place at a time, so technology often plays a role in allowing students to have flexibility in the location of their learning by providing them with access to learning materials.
It is important to note that personalization is not always a separating process. There are many ways to group students in a classroom: in pairs or in small groups, with similarly skilled students working together, or with students on a spectrum of skills helping and tutoring each other (Graham et al., 2019). Teachers must decide how much freedom they give their students in determining both the other students in their groups and their roles within their respective groups.
|Not a Personalized Place||Personalized Place|
|The teacher creates a seating chart and each student is expected to sit in his or her assigned seat.||Students are given a choice of where to sit based on several flexible seating options.|
Personalizing pace allows students to adjust the speed at which they complete learning activities and content. While teachers may need to set a minimum pace at which student are allowed to work, adjusting the flow of material for each student helps to ensure that those who need more time to absorb the material are not left behind, while those who may grasp a particular concept more quickly are able to advance to activities that allow them to further develop their knowledge.
|Not a Personalized Pace||Personalized Pace|
|The teacher determines when the class begins and ends working on a lesson or unit.||Students are able to work through units at the speed that works best for them, working ahead or slowing down as needed.|
A personalized learning path consists of students choosing how they will achieve a specific learning outcome or personalized goal. While the personalized goal or learning outcome is the end result, with personalized paths the students are able to decide the learning activities they complete as they strive to reach that goal. These options can take a variety of forms: students choosing assignments from a list of different learning activities that all teach the same principle, students deciding whether they would rather listen to instructions through a recording or read them on a page, or students each choosing how they will show mastery at the end of a unit. While these methods help the students to feel ownership and connection to their learning, it also can prevent the tedium of grading worksheets or multiple-choice exams for every unit.
|Not a Personalized Path||Personalized Path|
|The teacher determines the sequence of activities that everyone in the class will complete.||Students choose from among a list of activities that will help move them towards mastery.|
2.7.7 How to Begin Personalizing, Levels of Learner Agency
While the task of personalizing a classroom seems daunting, it is important to realize that teachers do not need to start implementing all five dimensions of personalization across learning objectives, assessments, and learning actvities all at once. There are some domains that may already fit within a classroom’s structure and others that may follow later. For example, a teacher may begin by helping students set their own goals, which might eventually develop into the personalization of path. The most important criteria are that a teacher starts with a student-centered mentality, builds a support system, and has a personalization plan in mind.
The task of personalizing a classroom requires more than just a structural change in a classroom. It also requires the humility and patience to allow students more autonomy in their learning. The teacher must step away from a lecturing role and into the role of a facilitator and a guide, which often means getting to know the students in a more personal way. While it may be unfeasible to sit down with every student on a regular basis, even simple connections like sending surveys about students’ preferences and needs can go a long way. These surveys can contain both multiple-choice sorting questions (Do you prefer reading instructions, watching video instructions, or both?) and open-ended, interest-based questions (What do you like to do in your free time?) (Graham et al., 2019). The answers to questions like these can be used to develop a more student-centered classroom.
Short (2021) notes that teaching can incorporate four different levels of learner agency for personalization (See Figure 6). These levels are outlined as follows:
- Level 1 - Generalized Instruction. At this level, the instruction is largely teacher-centered and takes a “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning.
- Level 2 - Individualized Instruction. Instruction includes some differentiation, individualization, or adaptation. These modifications come from the teacher making decisions based on students' needs, interests, and abilities, or from technology that measures student knowledge or abilities and adapts instruction based on such data.
- Level 3 - Limited Choice. Students have some choice over their learning related to the goals, time, place, pace, and/or path of their learning. At this level, teachers provide students with options to choose from such as various levels of mastery to work toward, various forms of assessment to complete, or various videos to watch.
- Level 4 - Free Choice. Students fully direct the goals, time, place, pace, and/or path of their learning. At this level, students have full autonomy in directing their learning. It may be uncommon in K-12 contexts for students to reach this level all the time but there are opportunities for students to practice this level of agency. For example, students may freely choose the topic of an essay or whom to work with for completing a project.
Short's Taxonomy of Learner Agency
“Learner Agency Taxonomy” created by Cecil R. Short is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution International 4.0 License
These four levels of agency can be applied to any of the five dimensions of personalized learning (goals, time, place, pace, and path) and to any of the three elements of instruction (learning objectives, assessments, and learning activities).
Developing a support system
Personalized learning is not the same as giving students free reign in the classroom. In order to truly help students, teachers need to find a balance between the overall structure of the classroom and the flexibility of student choice within that structure. As the teacher begins a school year with a plan of what decisions the students will be able to make and which ones the teacher will resolve, the teacher will be more prepared to help students reach their full potential. However, in order to truly be student-minded, teachers must remember to maintain a flexible mindset as they create personalization plans. Once teachers begin to understand the unique individuals in their classrooms, they will be able to fine-tune their plans for personalization in a way that supports those students.
Personalizing learning is not the same as giving students free reign in the classroom. In order to truly help students, teachers need to find balance between the overall structure of the classroom and the flexibility of student choice within that structure. As the teacher begins a school year with a plan of what decisions the students will be able to make and which ones the teacher will resolve, the teacher will be more prepared to help students reach their full potential. However, in order to truly be student-minded, teachers must remember to maintain a flexible mindset as they create personalization plans. Once teachers begin to understand the unique individuals in their classrooms, they will be able to fine-tune their initial plans for personalization in a way that supports those students.
Teachers Talk: Results of Personalization
Personalization is by no means easy, but it is feasible. As teachers approach their classrooms with the students’ needs in the center of their pedagogy, the needs and desires of the students will frame how the learning outcomes are presented, achieved, and demonstrated. Students and teachers will benefit from the preparation and dedication that each will put forward in the learning process.
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