Personalization Tip #2
Even if you think you have explained the process enough times... Explain it again. Unfortunately, personalized learning is very foreign to kids. They need lots and lots of reminders about pacing, next steps, and learning targets.
We are finally making personalized moves! Last week, I explained that the first two weeks in a personalized class really need to be about building the right culture, so we didn't even touch any content until Week 3.
Like I've been telling the kids for the last two weeks, we are making baby steps so that we can climb mountains later. I have always felt that when students first encounter AP Language content, you need to build their confidence with "baby steps" or tasks that seem simple but actually scaffold to some challenging work.
Here is the daily breakdown of how we've been doing that:
Week 3, Day 1 (Tuesday, because of Labor Day)
I started class with their Daily Dose (daily ten minutes of informal reading or writing). Then, I warned them that this is one of the few days where I would stand up and talk at them for most of the period (a.k.a. My own personal hell). It is a necessary evil for this particular lesson as I walk students through the core features of my personalized classroom. I ask them to write questions on the PowerPoint notes (below) as I go.
After my spiel about our procedures, I ask them to complete a detailed learning inventory. It is a simple Google form with questions about how they learn best.
Week 3, Day 2
My school adopted what we call "Flex Wednesday" last spring. Students are given an open schedule to fill based on what they need and want to do. As you can imagine, it is a work in progress, but fostering student agency means giving up a lot of control.
For AP Language, I have designated Wednesdays as test prep, so for this day's sessions, I offered a walk through of the exam. I use the 2020 Practice Exam from the course audit.
Week 3. Day 3
Ten days into the school year, and this was our first day of content and the first day of Unit 1. I begin each unit with a "Launch," or group activity, that tries to accomplish two things: 1) starting new content and 2) engaging our disposition, or focus, for the unit. (These dispositions come from our district Profile of a Graduate).
Because I designated this unit to be about Communication, we did one of my favorite early AP lessons: Rhetoric of a Snap. [This is also available in my A Year of AP Lang (Updated).] It breaks down the foundation of communication: speaker, audience, and purpose.
Here is a video version of the lesson and the handout:
At the end of the lesson, there is extra time, so I walked students through our Learning Management site, Schoology.
Their unit folder includes the following:
1. Unit Calendar
2. LEARN Folder (Vocabulary and Flipped Knowledge Lessons)
3. CHECK Folder (AP Classroom Progress Check, Review, CHECK Assessment)
4. SHOW Folder (Brainstorming Guide, SHOW Assessment).
This format uses a similar format to what I have posted about in the past. Please note, there are deadlines listed in the folder; however, these are suggested deadlines. Flexible pacing is essential for a truly personalized class.
Week 3, Day 4
This was our first "Learning Day" where students are engaging in personalized options and I am taking a more flexible role. We still started class with our Daily Dose, and before I let them jump in, I expressed my expectations for this flexible time.
Using the CHAMPS format, this is what I tell them (and tell them and tell them...):
Conversation: Only whispers are allowed in the room. If you want to collaborate with others, you need to head to the hallway or FTLAs.
Help: Approach the teacher OR send a Schoology message.
Activity: Personalized learning time.
Movement: Move freely, but quietly.
Participation: Working on your Learn folder without side conversations or distractions. Making progress!
I also take a moment to show them their unit calendar again. The unit calendar is very simple: learning targets, checklist, and an empty calendar. Each day, I ask them to set a goal for what they want to accomplish for the day between Daily Dose and learning time. At the end of the period, we do emoji reflections in the box to assess progress.
Week 4, Day 1 & 2
Over the weekend, I came down with this horrific head cold that is sweeping through the school. So while the kids were continuing their personalized learning, I was getting a COVID test (negative!), napping, and chugging DayQuil.
My notes for subs were simple:
1. Daily Dose
2. Update Unit Calendar
3. Learning Time
As with anything, the kids were probably less productive without me, and it killed me that I wasn't there during their first days of this format, but they were able to make progress. Good enough.
Week 4, Day 3
I was back for Flex Wednesday. This week, we talked FRQ rubrics. I walked students through my pizza analogy for the FRQ rubrics.
Week 4, Day 4
The next day, it was time for another group activity. When students and I looked at the Unit Calendar for the first time, I was sure to designate days on their calendar for group activities. These are more traditional days where I walk them through a whole class activity.
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I wasn't sure they'd LOVE it, but they really loved the sass-factor from both Abigail Adams and Dear Abby. I strongly encouraged them to bring that same sass to their letters.
Reading their letters, I saw pretty consistent ability to pick out her claims. A pretty impressive task when using a letter from 1780!
Week 4, Day 5
And our last day was another learning day. After Daily Dose, we did Unit 1 Calendar as usual, but then I took a minute to review the second folder on the unit: CHECK. Some of the kids were working ahead and onto this section, so I wanted to review what had to be done. Yes. We talked about it the week before, but I've been reviewing what they need to do daily. Like I said in my tip for this post... even if you feel you have told them enough. Keep telling them.
Here are some of the things I did during learning time:
- Provided a few students the passage to complete their CHECK assessment. (I vary the passages to avoid cheating, and I keep the passages with me).
- Corrected Unit 1 Reviews with students using the textbook for their knowledge learning.
- Checked with a couple students who had completed the AP Classroom Unit 1 Progress Check to see how they felt about their learning so far.
- Refocused students who were more excited about the evening's out-of-town football game. Because... teenagers.
- Sat with a group of girls that had been doing too much talking during the prior day's Dear Abby lesson. I wasn't sitting there to punish them, but I made a point to joke around with them a bit to work on building the relationships a bit. As my fellow coach would say, I was making some investments in hopes of cashing in later.
- Provided feedback on the Dear Abby letters for those who stated they prefer in-person feedback. (It might seem difficult to keep track of every one's preference, but I made myself a quick cheat sheet of their results that I just carry on my clipboard).
- Encouraged a student who did a sad face emoji after our Dear Abby lesson. She was second guessing herself so I wanted to show her she did it correctly.
- Asked a student to read her Dear Abby letter to me because I couldn't read the handwriting, but I also felt that she might be able to explain it better orally.
Going through this list, I am reminded exactly why I love a personalized format. These are all things we need to do, and even love to do, as teachers, but we rarely get to do them if we are at the front of the room teaching.
It may seem like I did a million things, but really, I walked into my classes Friday with a very short post-it list of things to do. The rest happened organically. Once upon a time, I was never the teacher who would still be planning her lesson the day OF the lesson (Hello, Dear Abby). Adopting a personalized format has forced me to get out of my own way and focus on what is needed in the moment. It has made me a more present teacher and a much better teacher.
Personalization Tip #1:
As promised, I want to be diligent about sharing what class looks like each week, using my personalized method. This post is about establishing the right culture right from the start.
UNIT 2 is OUT!
I have posted the free release of the Unit 2 supplemental material. There is a vocabulary list, group activities, and many practice activities for students to engage in. Check it out!
Unit 3 Will Be Out October 1.
Now... Let's talk about the first seven days in a personalized classroom. (Well, in my personalized classroom, at least).
Personalization only works when students are comfortable with you and willing to ask questions. In my many attempts at a personalized classroom, I was never really able to get this desired culture at the start of the year. Kids come in apprehensive of the class and you, the teacher, and frankly overwhelmed by all the other classes they are jumping into.
That's why I took a new approach this year. I have always been prone to rushing into the content - usually diving into the first unit within the first three days of school. This year, I wanted something that would get them talking and allow me to interact with them often.
I decided to invest at least a week in my school's "Profile of a Graduate." This is just a snapshot of dispositions we want to see in a graduate from my school (Compassionate, Creative, Responsible, etc). We are trying to embed this more consistently, so I figured this was a good way to start kids on low pressure content.
So, all this week, they were tasked with designing and planning the "Ideal School."
Because the kids were split into committees and given a focus, I was allowed to spend each day walking amongst the groups and getting to know the kids. It also created a less intimidating environment for them to start engaging in class.
It simultaneously let me practice one of the main practices in my personalization style - the idea of the teacher as a coach. Instead of me being up front and guiding them through activities or lessons, they were independently navigating the word. I asked questions when I found them to be stumped, but the ideas came from them.
Our next step - I mean, after their video presentations in - is to have them complete a self-assessment using the POG dispositions. There is no grade attached to this project. They will be annoyed, having put the time in, but it is my gateway to talk about proficiency over points in our overview of personalized learning on Tuesday.
And that's what we've done so far. If you are hoping to engage in personalization in your own classroom, I hope this recap of my first days gives you some ideas about how to establish the right culture. Come back next week for how we transition into flexible work time and pacing.