In any given teacher's classroom, you will find students with a history of academic struggles. Sometimes they may excel in one area, while increasingly falling behind in another. Other times they may be several years behind in a particular subject. In any case, working with students to create personalized learning plans is a way to help students close their learning gaps and find success.
Every Student Deserves a Personal Plan
Every one of us can probably remember a student who liked to sit in the back of the class. A student who despite our best effort to gain their interest through content or classroom humor, just wouldn't engage in what was going on around them. We might have heard stories about their behavior and lack of interest from our colleagues or they might have been a student who only attended your school for a single year. You may wonder what happened to them, or have heard stories on the news. You may even have run into them working at a local store. In retrospect, you wish you had found new ways to engage them through a personal learning plan.
Helping Students Self-Assess
As teachers, we typically teach from our goals and agenda. We want to incorporate our students' goals, but in reality that sometimes gets lost in the sea of standards we are required to teach. However, motivating the unmotivated student requires us to work with students to create their own personal learning plan.
Begin by helping students self-assess their strengths and weaknesses. If a student is to meet their goals, they need to assess any learning gaps they have at their current level of education. A learning gap is a difference between what students know and what they were expected to learn at this point in their education.
Depending on the student, they may have a few gaps or several. Sometimes this may be disheartening to a student, especially for one who is motivated enough to be willing to work on a personal learning plan with you. So you want to be sure to keep students focused not just on their learning gaps, but also their strengths.
Students have a lot of skills that are necessarily measurable by normal homework assignments or tests. One strategy it to have students create a portfolio that they feel demonstrates their strengths and weaknesses. It can contain student work, but it could contain other artifacts as well. It might contain photographs that show their activities outside of school such as church or volunteering.
The next step after the portfolio would be to have a conference with the student. Depending on the age of the student it might just be you and the student, or it might even include their parent(s) and the guidance counselor. Using the portfolio as a starting point for the discussion, ask students to explain why they chose each item for their portfolio. As you discuss the items, work with the student to create their personal list of strengths and weaknesses. This list will help students develop goals for their personal learning plan.
Setting Goals of the Personal Learning Plans
The next step is to meet with students to analyze their strengths and weaknesses and set goals to drive their personal learning plan. It's easy for students to set goals like becoming a professional NBA player, or the next Bill Gates. However wonderful these goals are, we want help students learn to set realistic goals. Another phenomenon that tends to happen is students want to set too many goals, one for every weakness they have. It is better to steer them toward setting fewer goals but making those goals more focused.
Students need to create SMART goals as part of their personal learning plan. A smart goal should be specific. For example, you wouldn't say 'Get an A in math,' as that is too broad, and there are a number of factors that will influence the success of that particular goal. It is better to encourage students to be more specific and say thing such as 'I will get an A on the Chapter 10 test.' That makes the goal tied to something very specific and tangible because broader goals can become more ambiguous.
Next, it should be measurable, which means there is a way to measure whether or not they can reach it. For example, they shouldn't set a goal just to improve in math. Improvement could be interpreted in a lot of ways. For example, it could be you could go from a D to a B, or go from a 69% to a 72%. Students need to create a goal that is measurable, such as learning times tables through ten or learning 20 new Latin roots. If it is grade related, it should be something such as raise their grade from a C to a B or get at least a 90% on their government quiz. However they define their goal, help students create goals that are crystal clear and they will know when they have attained them.
Finally, the goal should be attainable and realistic. For example, instead of saying 'I want to join the NBA' in eighth grade, it is better to steer them toward making their local basketball team this year. Instead of having them set goals to go to the moon, perhaps you should set a goal to join the astronomy club or attend space camp. Finally, it should be time-based, so that there is a clear deadline. Goals that go on too long tend to be unrealistic.
Helping Students Put the Plan Together
Now that the student has self-assessed and set goals, it is time to help students create their personal learning plan to meet those goals. The plan should include the specific steps students need to complete to successfully meet the SMART goal(s) they developed. Even though it is the student's personal learning plan it can include actions from both the student, teacher, and even parents and guidance counselor when appropriate.
For example, the student components may include items such as 'attend tutoring for math weekly' or 'read thirty minutes every day.' The student action should be clearly related to the specific SMART goal, which may be something the student needs help writing. Teacher actions could be a variety of things. For example, it may include items such as reviewing the student's self-written study guide a few days before they take the test or facilitating a peer edit session for students who are working toward similar goals.
Technology also brings in a new way that teachers can assist students as part of their personal learning plans. There are a number of websites from Versal to Blendspace to help teachers create personal lessons for students with individual needs. Websites such as Versal and Blendspace allow teachers to create focused lessons on whatever theme a student needs, with built-in options to allow for student self-assessment.
For example, say an English teacher was working with a student on a Personal Learning Plan that included a SMART goal related to verb tense. The teacher could create a personal lesson to help the student review different aspects of verb tense, with opportunities to practice in different ways. Once a student completes the personal lesson created for them, they can meet with the teacher again and discuss what aspects they were successful at, and even which components they struggled with during the lesson. In this way, the student can continue to work towards their goals even when the teacher is not available.
A Personal Learning Plan is Ongoing
Remember as you develop personal learning plans with students that they are an ongoing process. There isn't a beginning, middle, and end. Some components of the plan make take an entire school year. Other components may last only a few weeks before they are replaced by something else. The plan needs to be written in such a way that it can be a living, breathing document that changes to meet the needs of the students. As students move through the year, they can reevaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and adjust their SMART goals accordingly. Your goal as the teacher is to continue to work with students and mentor them and support them in any way you can to help them achieve their personal learning plans.