Good news is that the educational system in Finland and many other countries are finally taking a long needed leap towards more personalized way and pace of learning. Kimmo Kumpulainen, teacher and founder of the realtime assessment software SkillzzUp, shares his tips how to get started with more individualised teaching.
1. Read the curriculum
Begin with reading the curriculum – and not just the part that concerns your own course, but the whole document. It is important that the teacher is very well aware of the goals, subject matters and the evaluation criteria of his / her own course but also the courses taught in the same a school or program.
2. Define the core skills of your course
Select 3-7 core skills and describe them with few words. Probably the curriculum has plenty of criteria and they have been described in great detail. This detailed document is important when doing an official assessment or explaining the exact criteria to the students. But like Wiggins states the criteria should be clear in order to be understood. So to avoid information overload in everyday learning 3-7 shortly defined skills per course should be enough.
In many cases the curriculum includes general skills like communication skills, concentration on work or teamwork. These skills might be mentioned in the general part and not listed under all the separate courses. This fact does not make them any less worthy – just the opposite. If you believe students should learn i.e. these broadly defined 21st century skills to make it in the future, you should include these to your evaluation criterion. It would be ideal if teachers could compare and decide to use the same criteria for same courses in the same school or even nationwide.
3. Mix and match a wide range of learning methods
Innovate different ways how students can learn these skills. Most teachers are good innovators and have a broad arsenal of different teaching methods. I do not think any single method (LBD, learning games, lectures, flipped classroom etc.) can be the best way for us all to learn. That is why I think teacher should allow students to achieve learning in various methods (doing an interview, book essay, drawing, building a prototype etc.).
4. Revise the skills
Revise the skills that are being learned every day. Some students might think school is all about doing all the assignments teachers give to them. I do not wonder it because it is the focal point of every day discussions. If on the other hand the teacher has defined a few, clear core skills, those are easy to repeat and explain why we are doing our current exercise. I.e. “We are learning team work. That is why you should work with Mike even if he is not your best friend. You can teach him how to use the sewing machine and I will see that your skills are improving when you practise. You can try to make a picture of a cat together with zig-zag pattern.”
5. Let students to set their own learning goals
Ask the student to set the bar for each skill. We all have our strengths and weaknesses but they only concern our current situation. If we want we can learn basically anything if we decide. Learning occurs often through practise and repetition so if a student decides to learn i.e. working efficiency the teacher should encourage it and give opportunities to achieve it. If the students says: “I am not good at sewing, so I will not set the bar very high”, this is a good time to emphasise there is no such thing as being good or bad per se, just that your skills are at a certain level at the moment. Then it is easier to emphasize that if the student practises these skills, eventually the skill will improve.
A limited number of clearly defined skills helps the student understand why I am doing these exercises and how much I am willing to practise to get them to a certain level.
6. Teach, coach, encourage experiments and evaluate progress
Enabling individual learning requires a lot of time to plan the lessons and a lot of coaching to steer all the students to achieve the desired skills. Teacher has to give room, liberties and possibilities to fail when practising the skill. This way different students can learn skills in different ways at their own speed. Teacher also has to be supportive but demanding when guiding those with learning difficulties or motivational issues.
In order to evaluate the progress of individual students the teacher can’t always be the focal point in the classroom. This can be achieved through planning the lessons in a way that there are times when the students are engaged in some activities while the teacher can circle around and watch, listen and ask questions to evaluate if the students are progressing in different skills.
7. Give continuos feedback
Give daily / weekly feedback on individual skill development. In his book Wiggins states that evaluating with just one final grade is dangerous because it is very hard to define a clear and equal standard to any given skill. I also believe one final grade can also be very taunting and cause stress to students and teachers like Kelly states in her blog. I have also written before about the research results of under 25 year olds that state their timeline is only a few days or weeks.
So if you ask to set the goals in the far future or if you give feedback after many days, weeks or even months a student can’t connect the dots between what he /she has done and the feedback. Constant feedback is also very motivating because it shows your work today improved your own skills and the teacher or other students noticed your efforts.
8. Give more support or more challenging tasks individually
We all have different levels of skills and knowledge, we learn at different pace and are motivated by different things. This is why a teacher should have variable level of tasks to support individual students. If an advanced student does not get more challenging tasks it will easily lead to boredom or misbehaviour. If a student who is falling behind on a strictly regulated course it might lead to feeling of unworthiness and willingness to stop trying.
If a teachers observes and gives feedback regularly he / she will notice that some students have problems with certain skills and can give more support instantly or easier tasks to keep them motivated and still going forward. If it’s possible a teacher should notice if someone has reached the required skill level of the course and allow them to move forward in his/her studies.
If you want to learn more about individual learning and different ways to personalise teaching, our workshops might help you to get started. Feel free to contact Kimmo!
CEO & Teacher
tel. +359 (0)50 530 9028