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Teaching With Tech: Personalized Learning in the Classroom

This blog post was written by guest contributor, Desiree Aviles.

In a matter of days, educators all around the world dropped everything they had planned for the following week and switched it all to distance learning. In the midst of a global pandemic, teachers’ lessons had to be turned into videos and our interactions were through the webcam. There wasn’t a “How to teach remotely during a global pandemic” book that we could all refer to. If it were not for technology, distance learning would not be possible.

Technology is now a staple in schools and is preparing our students for the future. Many schools have a 1:1 student to technology ratio or are pursuing this goal. This allows for personalized learning in the classroom.

Personalized learning involves academic strategies and learning experiences that adhere to individual students. It is tailored to individual students’ needs, skills, and interests. School should not be a “one size fits all” concept. Students learn in different ways and it is very important for everyone to recognize that. It’s also unrealistic for one teacher to be able to provide individual lessons to 25+ students every single day. So how does one achieve a personalized learning environment for their classroom? We can achieve this with the use of technology. Technology allows educators to create a personalized learning environment by providing the flexibility to differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of each student. It has been a tremendous asset for personalized learning in the classroom setting.

Classroom Lesson Apps

My favorite method to personalize learning in the classroom is to use a variety of apps. In my district we use an app called Seesaw. With just this one app I am able to reach 25 of my students individually with just a couple clicks. Let me share an example on how this could be used during distance learning and in the classroom face to face. Let’s say I am teaching a reading lesson and I do a 10-minute whole group lesson on a book. All of the students are together sitting on the carpet to get this instruction. I send them back to their desks with their iPads and they all have to turn in a response from the book I just read to them. As a teacher, I can create a variety of different templates for their responses based on each student’s needs. This essentially acts like a worksheet but has more features. I can modify the response template to provide sentence stems for the student, or I can provide just keywords to guide the student. I can have students type their answer, or students can do a voice recording instead. I am also able to create templates that can have a drag and drop feature and visuals that they can move. Once I have created everything initially, all I have to do is select the template each student will receive. I can even schedule these beforehand so I don’t need to stress about sending the response template out right after the reading lesson. Students feel successful in what they have accomplished and there’s no embarrassment for doing a slightly different task than others.

In addition, if the book is on an app like Epic or Tumblebooks, I can provide the book digitally to students who may need to refer to it. Instead of having 25 students going back to your one hardcopy, they have book apps which allow them to have their own copy digitally. They are able to go at their own pace and refer back to it as many times as necessary. This example of personalized learning allows for success in the classroom, but the same strategies can work with distance learning. I can make one video on a lesson and students can have all the same resources in the comfort of their own home. With just two apps, I was able to provide 25 different learning experiences for my students. This is all possible because of technology.

Discovery Apps

Technology allows us to enhance students’ learning and build their confidence in what they have achieved as individuals by teaching what a normal textbook cannot. When I was working with third graders, I downloaded the NASA app that let them see space as if they were floating in the solar system. They controlled where they wanted to go and which planet they wanted to visit. A normal textbook or image doesn’t do this app justice. Each student can do a report on their interests based on what they have discovered. They can even go on virtual field trips and explore places around the world. My students love to use the app Google Earth to “travel” to other places. When we read books students always ask where the character lives and what the area looks like. Whether it’s a state or a country, I always have students explore the location on Google Earth. They form a connection to the book they're reading just by exploring where that story takes place. Technology allows students to go beyond what other resources are capable of.

Classroom Management Apps

In addition to these other amazing applications, one app that has helped me maintain a personalized learning classroom environment is the app Apple Classroom. As a teacher, we don’t have eyes on the back of our heads (though we claim that we do.) As much as we try to be at 10 different places at once, it is unrealistic. Apple Classroom essentially allows me to be in 25+ places at once and monitor what the students are doing on their iPads. Let’s say I have a small math group at my table and the other students are doing a math app called IXL at their desks. The IXL app is a great math practice for students and adheres to each student's math needs. Every student practices different questions at their own pace. As I am at my small group table with students, I have my iPad out and I open Apple Classroom. It is displayed near me so I can always see what the students are doing on their iPads. I can focus on my small group in front of me, but I can also quickly glance on Apple Classroom to make sure everyone is on task. I can see if students are stuck on a problem and I can offer them quick tips from across the room as I am doing my small group. I love the surprise on students’ faces when I state, “Go look at that anchor chart on the wall. It may help you with that question.” They always say, “How did you know I was stuck?!” I always reply with “Because I’m a teacher!” I can even assign students different apps or websites and have it automatically open up on their iPad. All of this can happen while I am still sitting at my table with my small group! This app really helps a teacher manage and monitor students when they are using technology.

Using technology for personalized learning in the classroom allows students to demonstrate their knowledge in multiple ways that paper and pencil cannot offer. It provides students a choice and voice in how they learn. This helps students feel successful and show increased pride in their work. With so many resources available today, personalized learning in the classroom has become much easier to achieve.

Learning how to implement new technologies and apps into the classroom can be overwhelming. One of the most effective ways to pick up on these new strategies is to discover more from practitioners with experience in introducing technology into student learning processes. The online M.Ed. in Learning Design and Technology from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota will equip you with the tools to modernize your classroom practices. Learn more about the program today.

Desiree Aviles is a second-grade teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota. You can follow her on Instagram.