Friday, July 20, 2012

Racing to the Top to Personalize Learning

The new Race to the Top District (RTT-D) competition means that a district must address Absolute Priority 1 and identify one of the Absolute Priorities 2-5 that applies for the LEA or a consortium of LEAs. Absolute Priority 1 focuses on creating personalized learning environments. What does that mean for you as a teacher, a school, or a district?

Absolute Priority 1, Personalized Learning Environment(s)

The four core educational assurance areas in Race to the Top - District competition is to create student-centered learning environment(s) that are designed to:
  1. significantly improve teaching and learning through the personalization of strategies, tools, and supports for teachers and students that are aligned with college- and career-ready standards;
  2. increase the effectiveness of educators, and expand student access to the most effective educators in order to raise student achievement;
  3. decrease the achievement gap across student groups;
  4. and increase the rates at which students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers.

The RTT-D competition is for LEAs that have the leadership and vision to move beyond the one-size-fits all models, are concerned about inequity for their diverse student population, and are looking at student-focused approaches. Technology levels the playing field for learners, yet just putting technology in the hands of teachers and learners isn’t enough. To be college- and career-ready and to raise the achievement gap across all groups of learners, learners need to know how they learn best and teachers need to understand how their roles will change. Let’s review the wording stated on’s website:

“They (teachers) will organize around the goal of each child demonstrating content and skills mastery and credentialing required for college and career and will allow students significantly more freedom to study and advance at their own pace - both in and out of school. As importantly, they will create opportunities for students to identify and pursue areas of personal passion-- all of this occurring in the context of ensuring that each student demonstrates mastery in critical areas identified in college- and career ready standards.”

When learners have the freedom to advance at their own pace in and out of school, pursue their passions and demonstrate mastery of learning, school and the classroom will look different. It is a complete culture shift. Roles change. Teachers are a facilitator, advisor, and/or guide moving the learner toward their learning goals. The term “students” implies being taught to by their teacher. We use the term “learner” instead of students because we believe that learning starts with the learner. This is the shift we are talking about.

Learners will design and monitor their progress of their learning plans. Teachers will have learning plans and have support of coaches, mentors, and each other. Learners will work independently and collaboratively with other learners on-site and online. They will be more of a partner in learning with their teacher and receive ongoing input and feedback from their teacher and peers. Teachers will develop lessons that match to Common Core as part of a larger Community of Practice where they learn, connect, and share with other teachers.

Learning looks and feels different. Technology provides easy access to resources, data, and collaborative tools. Technology helps personalize learning, but the role of the teacher is what will make the difference. This move to personalize learning from the learner’s point of view changes teacher education and professional development. Minimum high school graduation requirements will change. Assessment strategies will change. The connection between school, the community, and higher ed will change.

This culture shift is big. LEAs can apply but may not be aware of the consequences of designing a personalized learning environment that continues to be mostly teacher-directed. We invite you to refer to the Three Stages of Personalized Learning Environments. Most schools are still in a traditional teacher-directed environment. We see that moving to Stage One is a big culture shift for most teachers and administrators. It is more than flipping the classroom, going 1:1, or allowing learners to rotate around the classroom. In Stage One, the teacher role involves letting go so there is more learner voice and choice. Some schools may be ready for Stage Two that is learner-centered, but that takes time, a shared vision where everyone is on board, being okay about taking risks, learning from failure, and having a community built on trust.

We believe that RTT-D can be successful so all learners are college- and career-ready. We can support your school or district by...
  • assisting with the writing of your proposal for the RTT-D competition.
  • involving all teachers in understanding what college- and career-ready means.
  • providing research and resources on personalized learning environments.
  • ensuring all teachers identify where they are currently and facilitating a shared vision of where they want to be as it relates to personalizing learning.
  • visiting models of personalized learning either on-site or virtually.
  • opening discussions so teachers are able to share concerns, do action research, and showcase what is working.
  • partnering with higher education to develop pilot projects involving pre-service and practicing teachers.
  • providing models of lessons and activities that encourage learner voice and choice.
  • demonstrating how learners can identify how they learn best.
  • redesigning lessons and the classroom so learners access the resources that are appropriate for them, engage with the information and express what they know so it best reflects who they are and how they learn best.
  • developing teachers and learners as partners in learning so learners are more responsible for their learning.
  • creating community partnerships so learning is experiential and can be extended learning opportunities.
  • reviewing and designing assessment strategies so learners can demonstrate mastery with evidence of learning in the form of ePortfolios. 

Contact Us for any questions about personalizing learning and writing a proposal for RTT-D.

Blog Series #4 on Connected Educator: Go to this discussion to answer: 
What does RTT-D mean for you as a teacher, a school, or a district?
How does personalizing learning s
ignificantly improve teaching and learning?

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