Many times on this blog, I have spoken about my dedication to personalized learning. It is something that I am deeply, deeply passionate about, and I have spent the summer grappling with what I can do to help other teachers move in this direction.
However, as I mentioned in my last post, I have struggled with how to create materials that will actually result in personalization. Instead, I think any content I have been putting out there just fits into the traditional model, or that it doesn't really make sense on it's own.
I think I have it figured out now. (Maybe).
College Board Supplement Packs!
As I was putting together my own content for the upcoming school year, I knew there was a lot of things I could share, but I knew my own personalization method would probably be hard to digest in a simple download.
Therefore, I gathered up what I have made and merged it with the College Board units. This allows you all to use it however you see fit, and it even includes SOME of my personalization materials as well. Essentially, each pack is just a little extra content thrown together so that you can start playing around with personalization! (Or just survive. Let's be honest.)
You're probably wondering what each of these packs include. Well, let me tell you!
Unit Guide One Pager
Personalization Materials (Conferencing and Intervention Trackers, Personalization Guide, and more!)
Let's talk release of the content...
I have mentioned in the past that I really hate taking money from teachers. I know that so many of your are living paycheck to paycheck because... usually, I am too. That said, I really appreciate when people offer monetary support (and honestly, it allows me to invest more time outside of school making new content).
So here's the plan:
I have already posted Units 1-3 on my TeachersPayTeachers site. (Unit 1 is free!). I am going to list these packs at $5 on TpT. HOWEVER - if you can be patient - I will have a later release here. The later release will be free! It's kind of a thank you to anyone who reads my ramblings. :)
Units 1 - 3 are already posted and accessible below. Unit 1 is free! The others are currently $5.
Now... If you can wait, I will release Unit 2 for free on Sept 1. (It will be in the Free Resources and under a new tab titled "Supplement Packs" under A Year of AP Lang).
Unit 3 free-release will then be Oct 1.
...and if you are interested in personalization...
I am setting myself a goal to post once a week, recounting what class looked like that week. Personalization is constantly changing and evolving, so keeping up with how things look in my room can help you visualize how it might look in your own classroom.
As always, I hope these materials help! Check back Sept 1 for a free version of Unit 2.
I have been all over the place. (Not literally. Still afraid of travel.)
I want to create so many things for others to use, but I am realizing that it is very very hard. Personalization is about adapting and changing to the kids in your class, so I really have no way of knowing what to make. Any unit plans laid out in my usual style are very regimented and inflexible - the complete opposite of a truly personalized classroom. How does one create personalized materials for OTHER people?
So while I spouted all the incredible things I planned to make... I'm not sure I really can. Instead, I think the approach is to just share everything I am making for the new year and walk others through the "HOW" via this blog throughout the year. That's the plan... for now.
My plan for today is to compile Units 1 and 2 into packs of materials to supplement College Board's content. Stay tuned!
If you haven't figured it out yet... I am 100% on board with personalized learning. In fact, I am more than on board. I am an advocate (... if I do say so myself).
Personalization for me is what education always should have been, but never figured out. Now that we have the tools to really make amazing things happen, I am ready for a massive shift in how kids learn. How about you?
As a teacher (and now as an instructional coach) I bet I can guess the first concerns that come to mind...
Here are my thoughts to those...
Some kid don't do well with personalization.
This one kind of makes me laugh. Personalization, to me, means setting up content in the very best way for every student. How can they not do well if you are providing exactly what they need?
Sometimes this concern - that students fall behind or get overlooks in a personalized format - comes from a misunderstanding of personalization itself. Often time, the first glimpse we get into personalization is with pacing. Some assume that pacing is the core tenet of personalization, when really, that is just one aspect. For some students self-pacing is a nightmare - inducing stress and frustration. In fact, when I poll my students about personalized learning, they often wish there were MORE deadlines and structure. Every year, I have students that I quickly see canNOT self-pace. These are the kids I create a calendar for or with. Personalization is about the option to self pace.
Sometimes the best option is a more traditional format. (And it really kills a renegade like me).
The current education model makes it near impossible.
Correct. This is a purely true statement.
When I implemented standards based grading a few years ago, it meant working and reworking it into a model that I could enter in the gradebook. When everyone else is finalizing grades at the end of a quarter, I am the one reminding kids that quarterly grades mean nothing. Traditional education has it's claws into our platforms, practices, and attitudes, and frankly, it hasn't let up much.
That said, I am hugely encouraged by the national movement toward more personalized learning. Colleges have learned to decipher standards based grades and deemphasized standardized tests. State governments are re-writing standards to move toward a more student-focused learning experience. The national government is funding initiatives that promote voice and choice. (And before you say something like "Well that's in your state, Cwik..." I will remind you that I work in North Dakota. Check out the results from the last presidential election and then we'll talk about progressive states).
I guess my point is this: progress takes time but in my short 10 years as an educator, I've already seen a whirlwind of positive change!
If you are nervous about attempting personalization in your classroom, I suggest you talk with your admin before hand. You might be surprised to see how on-board they are with the idea. (I would guess - if they are like mine - they just want to know that you are communicating the process each step of the way to students, parents, and other stakeholders).
It's a lot of work.
Yup. It is.
No sugar-coating here. Personalization is an incredibly daunting task for some. (Ok... for all). The thought of being able to cater material to 30 individual kids every hour is insane. BUT... first of all. personalization should never result in 30 versions of the same task, and secondly, the work is just a redistribution of the work you are already doing.
Setting up a personalized class is HARD. You have to have everything for the unit created and ready to go before the kids even touch the subject. For most, that seems like an incredibly huge task... because it is. I spend hours putting together units for my kids.
That said, I am not working into the wee hours of the morning putting together content. I go home at contract time most days (or, at least, I would if I didn't spend an extra thirty minutes talking to my friends).
Instead, I just use time a little differently. For instance, I DON'T spend much time outside of class providing feedback. Instead of sitting down with a stack of 30+ essays during my prep period, I am bouncing between students in class, reading their work right next to them. When a kid submits something, I sit down with them the next day and grade it right there, and explain my feedback. It's a) faster, b) more meaningful, and c) NOT SWALLOWING MY PREP PERIOD. Usually, my prep period is working on materials for the next unit.
A personalized unit IS scary, but not impractical.
That said, I'm here to help. (Well, help AP Language and Composition teachers at least). If you don't know it already, I've created TWO yearlong curriculums for AP Language. (What?! You didn't know. Hurry up and steal all my stuff!). The first one was before the 2020 test changes. The second was suited to the new test, but didn't align to the College Board unit alignment. Can you guess where this is going?
I am reworking old content to create a College Board aligned, personalization-friendly version of the course! For each unit, I am creating vocabulary lists, resource documents, practice activities, and guides to help you try out different aspects of personalization in your classroom.
Seriously. I am so passionate about personalization that I am willing to do all the work for you. THAT's how much faith I have in this method after trying it out one step at a time in my own classroom.
Over the next few months, I'll be sharing activities and strategies for personalization. I also plan to post more "day in the life" style blogs where I walk through days in my class, in the hopes that it will help illustrate some of the things I talk about in the course design.
But for now, let's get to the goods. Presenting...
This content is designed to complete Unit 1 on the College Board alignment.
Pick the unit apart if you just want some new activities or use it in full force! More importantly, keep coming back starting in August to see more posts about what it looks like in my class.
As always, I appreciate and respect you all so much. Keep on doing the amazing things you do for kids in this country!
The "I Check" is my assessment. In a truly personalized format, students would design all their performance tasks, but because we have that big test looming at the end of the year, I need something to make sure they invest some time with test-specific content. Therefore, that is how I design my "I Check" step.
To summarize, the "I Check" stage is where I hit them with multiple choice and test prep. (In addition to the other test prep... I'm still trying to shake my tethers here).
Another way to think about the "I Check" is as the traditional unit test. When I learned this format from one of our awesome instructional coaches (#HiJosh!), we talked about how traditionally units end with the unit test or the teacher designed assessment. However, this should really just be a checkpoint for feedback. Then, students should go on to demonstrate proficiency in an authentic way (or the "I Show").
Designing an "I Check"
That is usually where I start when I sit down to design an "I Check." The ability to sort the question bank by skills is hugely helpful. Most of my "I Check" performance tasks are designed after the questions from this bank. However, the one below is something of my own design (from when I was making things harder for myself... as usual).
The main image below is a screenshot from my Schoology page - the basic overview. Below that I have the prompt students use as well as the handout I created for the task itself.
If that makes sense...
One of the biggest fears people have with personalizing learning is that students are going to be handing things in at all different times. While on the surface, this might seem frustrating or hard to organize, I feel it makes my feedback better. I score without the fatigue of reading 50 of a single assignment. Instead, I look at a variety of things all the time.
Also, and this is HUGE, I grade RIGHT. IN. CLASS. That means, I try to avoid grading outside of class. Why? Because if the student is in the room when I am scoring I can either A) score with them sitting beside me or B) pose questions to clarify meaning and help them correct.
I promise you. Personalizing - though admittedly a lot of work upfront - is a dream once you get going. These conversations about feedback (instead of notes on a paper) have been so much more impactful in getting students moving in the right direction.
In fact... My goal next year is to grade EVERYthing in class, all the time. If it's worth doing, it's worth taking the time to sit with the kids and score. Fortunately, using a personalized flexible format, gives me the time to make that happen!
- Guiding Students Through Performance Task Design ("I Show")
- Teaching Reflection (...if I even figure it out).
(And if you are wondering, I did finish those mock exams... Until I got the makeup ones today).
What I call the "I Learn" phase is my best effort to achieve that self-directed learning experience. It is also... the most daunting part of the entire process, in my humble opinion.
I'll explain by showing an example of how students might learn a standard, such as Style and Sophistication in my class at the moment.
Learning Options: Style & Sophistication
When they open their unit template, their learning options are laid out...
A) Read and take notes from a textbook.
B) Participate in a small group.
C) Watch videos.
Each of these are like designing a lesson on its own, so as you might imagine, creating options takes a lot of time and a lot of materials. This is what makes this - for me - the most daunting. That said, it helps that there are so many great resources out in the world. Here are the materials we are using for this unit.
Style & Sophistication Resources
I have two go-to textbooks which I have class sets of. For different units, I refer students to different books - depending on what is provided in each. I would highly recommend these two texts as a reference for students in their learning:
The Language of Composition, if you don't know, is kind of the standard for AP Language. It is the most often used text, from what I have seen.
The initial part of the book offers a host of fundamental information about writing and rhetoric. From there, it breaks into thematic units with provided texts and activities.
How I Use It:
This is a newer text by veteran AP Language teachers Lauren Peterson and Timm Freitas, as well as Brandon Abdon.
My affection for this text lies in how everything is directly aligned to standards. I can easily pull passages for kids to fit various skills.
Also, this text provides a great number of practice assignments!
How I Use It:
B) SMALL GROUP
This is as simple as students sitting down to talk about the content with me. Starting this portion of the year - where students are exploring 6 different units - my colleague and I created short PowerPoints that we could use to guide these discussions.
Here is our Style & Sophistication one...
Now, I don't wanna brag, but I have some good video content on my YouTube channel. That said, I don't have nearly enough to cover an entire year of AP Language. Fortunately for me, College Board started the incredible task of creating videos (and MULTIPLE videos) for every skill. #blessed
Because we used my videos for the first part of the year, now I am directing them to the College Board videos. My expectation is that students take notes during videos so they have something to prove they put in the time.
Here are a few of my more popular videos:
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Ok... So I didn't mention that there was an option D before. That's because I haven't implemented it yet! As I've mentioned, this is a process that I've been adapting and changing each time. In the next manifestation, I am focused on providing activities (worksheets, graphic organizers, projects) that students can also learn through.
The good news is that after teaching the course for 6 years, I have tons of these activities already to go. I just need to search the catacombs of my many, many folders to find all the gems.
Evidence of Learning
Most of the time, these are notes they took from reading or watching videos, but it might also be summaries, annotations, marked up PowerPoints, etc. Using Schoology, I set these up so they MUST submit their evidence before they can move on.
Personalizing the learning process is scary - even after seeing it be successful. As teachers, we away want to be in control of the information they are getting. That's why we preview videos before we assign them or make our own version of other people's PowerPoints. This need to construct the narrative is well-intentioned but exhausting. As someone who used to obsess about recreating everything myself - it was a big leap to point students in a direction and hope they land on the right information.
That said, the same is accomplished with the next step for students, the "I Check." At that point, I can redirect or provide feedback to clarify what I want. For me, the surprise was that I rarely had to do this. If kids watched videos or read, they seemed to catch on just the same to what I covered in small groups. In other words, I didn't need to dress anything up for them; they got it on their own!
Even so... the "I Check" is hugely important. Stay tuned for my post on designing these assessments and for sample material!
What can I say? I get so excited thinking about how we can personalize learning that I could talk for day. (Which is also why I have started this series... I just can't shut up).
But as I sat in conferences, I couldn't help but think about my first round of conferences as an AP teacher. Every other conference eventually came to some version of... "He/She has never had a B before." Usually followed by my explanation of weighted grades and the rigor of AP classes... until I'd give up and say something like "It'll get better."
Grades were honestly running my classroom. Kids were so desperate for points one year that they literally brought thousands of canned items when I offered to drop an FRQ for the class that brought the most. They spent (or, their parents spent) HUNDREDS of dollars to drop one 50 point assignment. The pressure to keep an A and that influence on my classes was more exhausting than any number of pages I had to grade.
Something had to change. And significantly.
It was around this time that my school adopted Schoology - which offered a host of options under the Mastery tab to let me see students' achievement levels. Looking at the new feature, I was drawn to the fact that I could attach learning objectives to assignments, and Schoology would calculate not just the numeric grade, but also the proficiency.
Quickly - as they often do - my wheels started turning, and fast! I think it was just a few days before a new school year when I decided to jump onboard. I drafted some learning objectives (based on nothing really... they weren't great) and asked my colleague (God bless her) to jump down the standards based grading rabbit hole with me.
And as with everything, the process went through multiple transformations and deviations. From bad to okay to maybe alright? Let me walk you through it.
What was that flaw, you ask? I used the proficiency calculation instead of a decaying average.
Now these words might mean nothing to you, so let me explain:
- Proficiency Calculation: In this format, students grade was based on their highest level of proficiency. It didn't matter which order the grades came in, as long as they demonstrated proficiency at some point they were good (a.k.a. "Got the A").
- Decaying Average: This format is slightly more complicated, but essentially, all scores contribute to a score, but the last assessment of a standard is weighted at 75% of the grade.
Any teacher with half a brain could anticipate what problem I ran into with the proficiency calculation:
As soon as kids got a proficient score on something, they started blowing off subsequent assignments, saying "I already have the A so it doesn't really matter."
In a writing class, practice is key, so this apathy towards repeat assessment immediately caused problems. I'm not saying this method can't work. I just didn't have the refined curriculur design that would have been needed to make it work. So, at semester time, I gave the proficiency calculation the ol' heave ho. (Not admitting my own ignorance - of course - but rather, telling the kids we had to step it up for second semester and focus on consistency. Like a real pro...ha!)
We carried on with the decaying average model for the rest of the year.
- The Kids Didn't Really "Get" It
- My Learning Objectives Suuuucked
In all honesty, I still don't think I have resolved #1 (but I'll share some changes that helped), and #2 is something I am working on every year. I grabbed a screenshot of my Resources page to show you how many variations of the standards I have been through. Like I said... MANY variations.
SIDE NOTE: This process is something that can't be overlooked. It would be easy to say you just plug in all the Common Core standards and start assessing your class, but for me, a huge process has been learning to prioritize and organize standards. And even more importantly, having the freedom to do so. One of the main reasons my adaptation of SBG has been pleasant is because I am not on a core English team and I have a little flexibility with my learning targets. Any system that expects full representation of every standard is delusional. Standards based grading must rely on multiple assessments of each standard, so expecting FORTY TWO standards - even over the course of two years - is unrealistic. (I'm looking at you, Common Core!).
In all honesty, last year I OVER simplified. (It's like I knew something everyone else didn't). I never had a good way of labeling multiple choice so previously, I had just said "Critical Reading" and called it good. So with the new standards in place, I decided to just break that into the four core categories in the CED (Course and Exam Description): Rhetorical Situation, Claims and Evidence, Reasoning and Organization, and Style.
I pretty much had a mix of old standards and new, but I did differentiate between what proficiency was in the first semester versus the second semester. It's not something I would recommend in hindsight. The more I learn about competency based learning, the more I realize that the target shouldn't move just because time passes.
But - another lesson learned!
However, I do feel our work has been more intentional and focused this year. Really narrowing down those reading standards to the subpoints and specific targets has allowed me to 1) use AP classroom to its full potential and 2) zero in on student weaknesses.
This spring, in order to move one step closer to a personalized format, I actually have them narrowed down to six units, pairing the analysis standard with the writing one.
So for this spring, I have made these pairs for 5B/6B, 7A/8A, 1B/2B(kind of), 5C/6C, and 3C/4C. Students are designing assessments that show me both sides of the skill.
Like I said, the learning objectives (or Roadblock #1) have always kind of been in a state of flux while I adjust and adapt to kids. The other hurdle, or Roadblock #2 mentioned above, has been a similar slow march.
Helping Students "Get" It
We did take more intentional steps this year to be transparent, but as you can imagine, switching to this style of grading is a pretty big jump. While my district is moving in this direction, I frankly wasn't willing to wait, so educating students, parents, and other teachers on my system has been a learning process of its own.
That said, here is my advice. (Well... what I have so far. We're still taking steps).
- Take time to explicitly walk students through the gradebook.
- When students ask about an "assignment" in the gradebook, remind them that the gradebook is standards, not tasks.
- Explicitly announce which standards you are working on at every step.
- Create resources to help them understand. (For instance, I created a syllabus video this fall and linked it in my gradebook for parents to see).
- Find a way to be comfortable defending standards based grading.
My last piece of advice can be the hardest. I have spent years explaining and re-explaining my gradebook, rationale, and process to all stakeholders, but it has become easier and easier every time. And, even better, I have the data to support why it's working now. It's one of those times where you have to dig your heels in a bit at the start and persevere, but it'll pay off!
That said, I do know my next evolution involves upgrading my learning objectives to proficiency scales - more to come on those - and continuing to reform my personalized methods.
There aren't simple answers when it comes to this process. (But I'll sure try to help!) It takes time and patience. It takes trial and error. It takes a lot of reflection. In other words, it takes resilience - something we've all mastered in the last year, I think.
But I will say this... Now that I am working in my most personalized model, I have never seen stronger relationships with my students or greater conversations about learning in my classroom. It honestly makes me so excited for our next attempt. (And excited to keep sharing what I learn with you!)
- "I Learn" Resources
- "I Check" Samples and Design
- Guiding Students Through Performance Task Design ("I Show")
- Teaching Reflection (...if I even figure it out).
This has been an unbelievable year - one that seems to magnify every bad day and make even the smallest request seem insurmountable.
But we're still going, guys. Somehow... we are still making it work. We always do, but if we've ever had the right to brag. It's now.
Amidst all of this year's tumult, I returned to last year's mission - to personalize learning as much as possible for my students. It probably seems crazy to complete throw out the rule book right now, but in my mind, I can't think of a better time to completely flip learning. The kids have been adapting and re-adapting all year. They've never been better able to mix up the format.
I should also mention that my school has created a PD cohort that is focused on PCBL, or personalized competency-based learning. Joining this group reinvigorated by dedication to personalizing my classes, and luckily for me, I get PAID to do it! (What a dream).
This group met this week to start talking about our first set of goals. As I met with a few people just starting out this journey, I realized that this is truly a process that has to be done in multiple steps. Talking through some of their grand ideas, I worried that too big a leap would make the experience miserable.
That said, I thought it would be helpful to share the complicated process of personalizing with other people. As I mentioned, I have been working on this process for YEARS. Over my next few posts, I thought I would walk through the steps I've taken to get to the level of personalization I am at now.
Currently, students are self-pacing, self-designing performance tasks, and reflecting on their own learning for five different sets of standards. Essentially, I paired the related reading and writing standards. (For instance, 7A and 8A in the Course and Exam Description are both about stylistic choices).
Kids start each unit by looking at a unit template that they will later complete. The first page, however, sets out how they can learn the content. I haven't created much here (Yay!). Thanks College Board and textbook authors!
An "I Check" is essentially a more traditional assessment. This is the part that I have created for each unit, and for AP Language, I try to keep these focused on the exam. (Thanks AP Classroom Question Bank!).
This was a big mental shift for me. As a teacher, I feel we are taught that our assessment is the end-all of the unit. Instead, it took me time to realize that my assessment should be a guide for an original assessment that students create for themselves ("I Show"). If you end with the teacher designed test, how will kids really express what they know authentically? Most of the time, we give them a choice project, but they still have to finish a test at the end. I had to change my way of thinking to flip those around. My test is formative. Their assessment, the more authentic task, is weighted most.
The idea of allowing kids to design their own performance task raises a totally fair amount of anxiety. Being incredibly Type-A myself, my chest actually tightens at the level of control I am giving up in letting them design an assessment, but I know that one of our constant complaints about students is that they don't have agency. You can't maintain complete control and expect kids to learn responsibility and agency.
BUT. I'm still Type-A. I'm willing to let the kids take control, but I wanted to see the evidence that they thought it through. Below is the unit template I mentioned earlier. Basically, I ask students to sit down and think through how they would like to be assessed and approve their ideas.
Basically, I am checking that they are completing tasks that will demonstrate the standards and that will demonstrate a career-ready disposition. (My district compiled these dispositions in something called a Profile of a Graduate).
I'll be honest. This didn't work. The same document included my rubric for the "I Check" step, so when I saw students struggling to create a rubric, I started telling them to refer to that other rubric as a guide. My plan for the future is to create a rubric template for them, but for now, I just refer them to the one I created. (#lazy)
This stage I feel is my current weakness. For now, I just gave them a prompt to respond to. I think in the future, I want to teach them more explicitly about reflection. For now, I'm just happy if they remember to do it at the end of the unit. Ha!
As I go through this series, please comment or message me with any questions you have! I can share from my experience, but also those of others working in my professional development cohort. I am really passionate about authentic learning, so anything I can do to help others embrace it is work I am happy to do!