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One of my passions in education is being an advocate for personalized learning within schools. To that end, I am the Director of Lights Academy at Lutheran High School, an accelerated, project-based, personalized learning experience at our school. I very much believe in this model of learning because I believe the approach fits Lutheran theology.
There are times where learning a common body of knowledge is completely appropriate. Faith concepts, reading strategies, and the basics of mathematics come to mind as learning examples that we want every student to embrace. However, when students move beyond key skills to subject-area content, there are greater opportunities to meet the interests and needs of individuals, honoring who they are in Christ in the process.
Personalized learning provides students the chance to build upon their God-given interests and passions—personal gifts that are unique to each of us for further service in God’s Kingdom. Take a look at 1 Peter 4:10:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
The establishment of a personalized learning approach within the classroom is more than simply helping students apply their interests and passions to the learning process. In the Lutheran school, it is a process where God continues His work through each student while the student applies the gifts given by God to His service, being a good and faithful steward of these gifts.
Personalized learning is not about personal empowerment or self-glory. Rather, it is about a focused preparation for present and future service to our Lord. That is why the faith elements behind personalized learning are so important.
Sometimes, educators are daunted by the thought of personalized learning in their classroom, envisioning 25 students moving at different paces and directions with no way to track everything that is happening. But a full-immersion personalized learning program does not have to be applied. There are several smaller strategies that can provide greater personalized choice for students. Here are some examples:
SCOPE: Provide students the opportunity to select the scope of what is learned. This could be through opening the choice of research topics, the depth of research expected, the application of learning, and so forth. Many teachers are already doing this in their classroom. Providing the encouragement to pursue interests (and providing the faith reason for this) can be a powerful motivating force for a child.
TIMING: There is value for the teacher for all learning activities to be completed at the same time. Very often the idea of “fairness” creeps into this approach. However, have you ever noticed that some motivated students can be limited by what they can accomplish because of an artificial deadline? Conversations about the timing of work completion, especially as students grow older, may encourage students to take greater responsibility for their own learning and help them develop new management skills—skills that have value for service to others in our world.
GUIDELINES: There are times where project guidelines need to be similar because of the standards being addressed, such as with a research paper. There are also many other opportunities when the guidelines may be personalized. Papers, presentations, videos, and blogs are just a few of the many possibilities for students to choose different guidelines.
ASSESSMENT: How can students show what they know and what they have learned? The most common method for accomplishing these things is the test, but we know that certain students naturally, because of the way they have been gifted, do better with this than others. What would each student choose for assessment? Perhaps some would like to share an oral expression of learning. Others (especially older students) might prefer peer assessment to be a part of the process. Being open to alternate assessment strategies helps personalize the learning experience for the child.
Due to the digital age in which we live, the opportunities for personalization of learning are greater than ever before. Thankfully, we have a God who has always personalized His care for us, not only knowing the number of hairs on our head (Luke 12:7) but also sending His Holy Spirit to us to provide each of us just the prompting we need for our faith at any given time. Because we have a personal God, we have the power to share His love with our students through seeing them as individual gifts from the Creator as well.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.
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