Friday, June 15, 2012

Debunking the Traditional Classroom

Personalized Learning in the Common Core

By Amy Esselman

Personalized learning has taken a new leap in the Common Core Standards that is rapidly debunking the idea of a traditional classroom.
By now we have all figured out that there is no such thing as a cookie cutter classroom. What works in one school for one teacher may not work in a school across the district. There is the proverbial give and take when it comes to how teachers need to adapt and make lessons work for everyone in the room. Personalized learning, in conjunction with the implementation of the Common Core, may be able to help. With all the differences in skill level, interests, and even personalities, it’s time to put to rest the idea of “traditional classrooms” when it comes to education and learning.

It’s true. Classrooms are becoming less traditional, but for all the right reasons.

What is traditional, anyway? If one classroom or student is considered traditional or typical, what does that make the rest of them? Even more pressing, are there specifications to be labeled traditional or certain benchmarks that a class needs to hit?

The last I checked, classrooms were filled with a variety of students—each with their own unique needs. If all students are different there is no way that they can be clumped together as one set. Besides, it would be impossible to define a classroom as “the norm,” or standard when there are so many factors that come into play.

Let’s set the scene. An English class needs to be assessed on their ability to understand a story plot, major characters, and motivations. The teacher prepares a multiple choice test to give to the class.

If it were me in the class, I would have mixed feelings about the format.

Personally, I’m not a fan of multiple choice tests. They don’t necessarily give all students an ample opportunity to demonstrate what they understand. They might get confused, or be hindered in how they can express what they know. I can never tell the difference between A, or C. What if they both sound similar, or could almost be right? They aren’t supposed to be unfair, but sometimes they feel like it. Students don’t like to be tricked, and teachers don’t like to trick them. So, there has to be another way.

Here lies the beauty of personalized learning and the Common Core. The Common Core lays out the necessary skills that students should obtain before leaving each grade. Less about content, the Common Core Standards allow teachers to focus on process and understanding objectives rather than press fixed methods or specific texts. It’s the opposite of traditional. It’s adaptable and flexible per student. Forget testing solely with multiple choice, or finding a way to measure all students in the same exact way. Now, if you want to assess certain skills—plot, major characters, you have more options. If I were in the English class I would use pictures and a map, or maybe create a chart. As long as students can provide sufficient evidence of understanding, there doesn’t have to be a “one-shot” mentality when it comes to assessing them.

Traditional is relative. Personalization in the classroom will help unlock doors for students to be active in the learning process. It doesn’t mean you have to abandon those techniques that worked well in your classroom; it just means adding to them. Teachers and students can work as a team to create a roadmap for their success. And whether in a traditional classroom or not, students will be working to master skills in a handful of ways—at their own pace, and in their own way.

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