Of all the current buzzwords in education, the one I am hearing the most now is “personalized learning.” It’s one I can get on board with because I was doing it before it became a thing. As a kindergarten teacher, I have been running four or five reading groups on four or five different levels for years. After they read with me, they work on their own leveled group work, then go to a Chromebook for even more personalized learning on their own individual levels at their own pace. It works for me, and it’s a model I used even teaching fourth grade. It can be replicated at almost any level.
The more people are trying it out, the more I cringe at what I’m hearing. I’m hearing about teachers who set up their entire lesson online and children come in to do their work with the teacher in the room, but not teaching. The teacher is there to help, but what about when no one needs help? Do you hang out, grade papers, read emails? Many districts and principals are encouraging teachers to put students to work online. What gets lost in translation sometimes is what the teacher should be doing while the online work is happening.
If you’re looking to try out personalized learning this year, I would like to propose a different take: it is not all online, and it starts with the teacher. You can do personalized learning with no technology or with a mix of high-tech and low-tech solutions. While others are working at their own speed on an assignment or a computer-based activity, grab a small group and start teaching! Think about ways that you can use your time while others are working independently – and not just finishing reading the twelfth email from your principal in 24 hours. Teach the ones who still aren’t getting it. Teach the ones who got it two years ago and need something new to learn. Teach them all on their own levels at their own pace with their own personalized human teacher. Computers are great, but nothing will replace a competent, caring, professional. Don’t replace yourself because you are irreplaceable!
Natalie Beach is a Professional Educators board member and was awarded the 2018 Professional Educators Teacher of the Year Award. She currently teaches Kindergarten at Prescott South Elementary School. Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.