Personalized Learning – a Year in Review

Personalized Learning - A Year In Review (1)Now that the year is over I have been trying to analyze how things went and begin plans for next year. I had several goals, as there were many new things I wanted to try. Personalized learning was at the center of everything, and I wrote about it here several times. If you haven’t read my other posts about personalized learning, check them out first: Personalized Learning: Part 1Personalized Learning: Part 2Personalized Learning: Part 3, How it Works.

Overall, introducing personalized learning strategies was great. So much that I will definitely continue next year. Many students far exceeded my expectations; they loved having the opportunity to move at their own paces, pushing themselves, and were pleased with the results. Others progressed at what I would have considered a “typical” 5th-grade pace but still seemed to enjoy the freedom and having choices. Then there were the stragglers. The students who did nothing. Nothing probably isn’t a fair term. When prepared, they played their instruments during lessons, participated in rehearsals, and attended concerts. But they did not turn in any (or at least very very few) assignments. It had nothing to do with a lack of understanding of the skills. They just didn’t do it. Or maybe they turned in a video, but it wasn’t related to or contained no description of the skill mastered. Regardless of being reminded countless times to do so. This was frustrating, to say the least.

“Personalized learning helps learners become intrinsically motivated to learn, so they own and drive their learning to become self-directed, independant learners.” Barbara Bray & Kathleen McClaskey, How to Personalize Learning 

I used personalized learning for my school district required SMART goal, which worked out well since tracking of data was necessary. My SMART goal was for all students to demonstrate growth throughout the school year by setting their own goals and working towards mastery of a pre-determined set of learning targets. Here are the results of the data produced during the first three grade periods:

  • All students started at a baseline of zero, with no learning targets completed. By the end of the third quarter, 97% of students had completed at least 1, and 85% completed 3 or more (up to a possible total of 17).
  • I would consider the mastery of the first 10 learning targets to be typical of 5th-grade students; however, 35% of the students exceeded that number. Only 3% of students are identified gifted in instrumental music.
  • Several students each quarter submitted the correct number of videos to achieve their goal but did not have the skill(s) mastered. I will need to work on finding additional ways to help students determine if a skill is mastered.

Additional findings that are not data related that I observed throughout the year:

  • Students who used the Essential Elements Interactive app consistently were more successful in mastering their learning target skills.
  • Most students tended to use the suggested songs to show mastery but seemed to appreciate having options. Students were most likely to use the “student choice” option around holidays when I distributed fun music, such as Christmas or Halloween songs. I may try to find additional music like this for next year.
  • Some students completed very few (or zero) learning target videos, but I know this does not accurately reflect their skill levels. This is especially upsetting since they were given class time to work on and record their videos. I need to reflect on if I should provide options in addition to video in the future, and how to best facilitate this.

When surveyed at the end of the year, most students seemed to enjoy instrumental music – you may remember, all 4th and 5th-grade students in my school are required to participate in either band or orchestra, so this is a good thing! When asked about their favorite thing, most named the winter and spring concerts. Many also said they liked having choices and working independently. When asked what they would suggest being done differently for next year’s 5th-graders, most said more modern, or popular songs. That is to be expected. Several said no changes were necessary. One was not happy with the school year. That student said, “you should engage them more and actually teach them instead of making them learn it themselves.” Wow! I’m glad she was honest! Ironically, that was one of the higher performing students, who participated in the county Honors Band and is identified gifted in music. I guess I can’t please everyone.

I think what makes me the happiest is the final question on the evaluation asked students if they will continue to play their instruments in middle school. 43% plan to continue, either playing their current instrument or a different one! I wish I had statistics from last year, but I feel that this is a definite increase.

That leads me to some thoughts for next year, and things that I would like to try.

  • Allowing students to play assignments for me in person, instead of only accepting video assignments. Students would still need to articulate the mastered skill though; I think that is important.
  • Include non-playing skills. I felt that students lacked some vocabulary knowledge and may have benefitted from more time spent on this as well as note reading.
  • Have a fun “theme” for the year, like going on a journey, adventure, or something similar. This might be considered gamification. I will research it more this summer.
  • Come up with a better task for students who forget their instruments for lessons and rehearsals.
  • Understanding that not all students are motivated in the same way, (one reason for personalized learning!) I need to find ways to help the “straggler” students feel motivated to learn.

Next year I will be participating in a “Personalized Learning Expedition Design Team” in my county. There are 50 of us who will be working together throughout the school year to implement personalized learning strategies in our classrooms. I look forward to having a team to consult with as this experiment continues. I believe it is worthwhile, and something I hope more instrumental music teachers will consider!

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  1. So awesome! For what it’s worth, I had a handful of students who would have preferred a traditional classroom too. I always struggled to figure out how to navigate that!

    Also, I 100% support the idea of a theme – it made everything more fun and tied it together :-D.

    Keep up the good work – your posts are always so inspiring to me!

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