“It’s never been a better time to be a teacher/learner.”
Kevin McLaughlin is an ICT Coordinator / Primary Teacher at Old Mill Primary School, Broughton Astley, Leics, UK who transformed his classroom to a personalized learning environment. He is a Google Certified Teacher, an Apple Distinguished Educator, and Google Apps Certified Trainer. His students create PJs or what he calls their Personal Journeys. Kathleen McClaskey and I had to interview Kevin so he can share with our readers the why and how he changed his teaching and how his students learn now.
Why personalize learning?
“My name is Kevin McLaughlin and I am a teacher. I also use technology, a lot, although it isn’t always about the technology. I am passionate in my role as an educator, and I use my website to offer advice to others as well as detail my use of a wide variety of teaching and learning approaches.”
If you are going to consider personalised learning as an approach in your classroom then you should first understand that every learner is unique. Learners may appear to be similar and at times we can teach learners in the same fashion but to use this whole class approach for every lesson you teach then you run the risk of leaving learners behind. Learning requires more than a teaching plan that focuses on teaching. As educators we need to focus on the learning that is going to occur and the learning that is to come. We can do this by using a personalised learning approach.
What is your vision of personalizing learning?
I have envisaged personalised learning in my classroom as one that involves every learner in the development of their learning journey, that includes their own learning themes as well as those that the curriculum requires of them and allows them the opportunity to explore this learning in any way they see fit to achieve it.
Describe the first steps that you took to create a personalized learning environment in your classroom?
I began developing my approach when I realised that the three step teaching approach – introduction, main activity and plenary was hindering many of the learners in my class. Those that understood the learning focus would grow bored very quickly waiting for the opportunity to show off their learning. Those that required additional teaching had to sit through introductions and main activity demonstrations before getting the opportunity to be guided in their learning. A personalized approach gave me the time to focus on the needs of every learner from the onset.
How did you decide on the new design of your classroom?
I came up with the design after trial and error. I knew the traditional classroom layout would deter a personalized learning approach so it had to be changed. This requires a good understanding of your learners, how they interact with each other and the development of trust and respect from the start of the academic year as a personalized learning approach will be daunting for any teacher at first. You need to be prepared to allow the learners to move around, to interact with their peers, to sit anywhere with anyone, to use the floor space as well as a table and not to use groupings of any sort unless there is a specific reason for it.
The room is now our Learning Zone and there are no pre-seating arrangements. My class are free to move around, sit with whomever they wish at any time and, if they so wish, pop outdoors for some fresh air and a quick ‘chill out’ session if needed. The Learning Zone is divided into 5 areas:
- Discussion and Thinking Zone – Learners can drop in whenever they wish to talk about their learning, find solutions, help each other and just to think and chill out. It’s also still the area where my class gathers for a whole group focus or an additional Creation/Show Off zone.
- Discovery Zone – There are 2 of these although one is missed off the top of the image. These contain laptops, pc’s and other technology that the learners can use to guide them on their learning, discover answers, investigate and solve problems, collaborate on projects and create presentations.
- Show Off Zone – This is where the learners focus on discoveries they have made and demonstrate their understanding through writing, presentation, art work, display whatever medium they wish to present their work.
- Repeat Level – This has evolved from my use of Gamification of learning and an approach that my class enjoy. Whenever any learner requires help, advice, explanations and is ‘stuck’ this is the area they come to repeat the learning so they can move to the next level.
- Creation Zone – Creating content for use in their learning, creating presentations to demonstrate learning, blogging, refining, editing. It happens here and it’s usually very busy.
Read more about this on Kevin's website.
How does it contribute to personalizing learning for your students?
The classroom layout allows my class the freedom to explore their learning in a way that would not be possible if they were grouped by ability and had specified seating arranged for them. You can watch a video about this here:
Do you believe that your classroom model can be scaled?
Any educator would find it very straightforward to arrange their own classroom according to my layout. It’s a simple matter of stepping back as the teacher at the front and giving your class over to learning.
How does your school determine how students learn best?
I am quite fortunate in that my school respect and trust the staff to teach in the way they see best for their class. My headteacher has been very positive in my use of this approach and after 8 weeks has seen the proof through improved results in Maths and English.
How do your students understand how they learn best?
My class and I discussed this approach on the first day back in January. We talked about when they considered the best ways to learn, how they liked to move around to discuss learning with others in the class, how when they were at home they could take a break when they needed one, how they could sit on the floor as well as at their desk. I valued their responses to help develop our classroom layout and the personalized learning approach that they would use.
What types of technologies are you and your students using to support their learning?
In my class the learners have access to desktop computers, laptops, 5 iPad devices and the school PC suite whenever it has open spaces. My class can use these technologies in their learning when they know it will be an effective tool for their learning. This approach to choosing the right tool for the job is an essential skill that takes time to instill. This is a recent example of a PJ, a Personal Journey that every learner in my class receives at the start of each week.
The Numeracy and Literacy targets include those required by the school curriculum but the rest is created by the learner and what they deem important to their own learning. Personalising the curriculum for every child in my class has been an inspiring journey for me. I have watched in awe at children working their way through their learning, solving problems in pairs, discussing and thinking, coming up with solutions, offering suggestions and advice to their peers. It has confirmed my belief that if we give learners opportunities to follow a personalised approach they will fly. After the very first week of using PJ’s in my class I found the following outcomes.
- Every child preferred this approach to their learning
- Every child was on task every day without having to be told
- Every learner made progress in Numeracy and achieved at least two targets that I had set them
- Every learner achieved at least 1 of their own targets
- Every learner told me they were looking forward to the next week of learning in their Personalised Journeys
What have you learned and what changes have you made from your initial steps?
I quickly learned that using a personalised learning approach meant standing back more as a teacher and giving the learners more opportunities to develop their learning. I found that I had to stop myself from merely giving the process at the start to provoking a question that would inspire the learners to discover solutions for themselves. My planning had to adapt very quickly and I found a daily planner created by Doug Belshaw to be the catalyst for the development of our ‘Personal Journey’ that every child is now using weekly for their learning experiences. The ‘PJ’ has changed from its initial conception after discussions with the learners about what worked and what could be left out. We have now agreed on a format that every learner is happy with.
What would you change in the future?
At the moment I am happy with how the use of the PJ is going. Our PJ’s are on paper as we have found this is the best media for quickly changing plans on the go. I recently came across your chart on ‘Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization’ and it has sharpened my thinking and I will no doubt refer to it during the next few weeks to develop my approach further.
Read more here.
Readers can contact Kevin using any of the following: