By: Dr. Gregory W. Betts
Indiana Jones finally reaches the Holy Grail’s chamber in the 1989 Movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It is guarded by a700-year-old knight kept alive by the power of the Grail. Before Indiana chooses a cup that he believes to be the Holy Grail, the knight says “You must choose, but choose wisely.” Like in education, we must choose, but choose wisely, especially when it involves maximizing student achievement and engagement.
A student’s role in their own learning is powerful and engaging. Part of the excitement of being an educator is creating opportunities and supporting students’ opportunities to be engaged and maximize their achievement opportunities. As a teacher, providing voice and choice is important in obtaining this and should not be taken lightly. The amount of time and how time is allocated for teacher decision making will determine the quality of voice and choice a student might be presented with. Instructional best practice coupled with our five elements of personalized learning (Knowing Your Students, Voice and Choice, Flexibility Data-Informed, Integrating Digital Tools) can enhance what, how, and when a student has input in their learning.
Zmunda, Kallick, and Ullman (2017, p. 6) articulate that there are “meaningful distinctions” about what a student’s role will look depending on the philosophy of the instructional model. The following three models allow for variations of student choice and voice.
- Differentiation, the student will select from a range of content and options because the teacher is tailoring instruction based on individual student needs and preferences.
- Individualization occurs when the student has more control of the pace, place, and topic to demonstrate mastery. The teacher continues to drive instruction through teacher created tasks and plans.
- Personalized Learning occurs when the student is the active participant in pursuing authentic problems with their voice and choice of the learning from the beginning. The teacher is more of a facilitator of learning and provides questions and inquiry through reflection conversations.
Aligning these approaches with the understanding that “Without question, learners need to move at their own pace and engage in classroom activities suited to their individual interests and levels of readiness, but alignment of instruction to appropriate standards remains enormously important” (Rickabaugh, 2016) will put students at the center by making learning personal and meaningful to the student.
All of this, of course, depends on the readiness of the student, availability of the teacher to create meaningful lessons/units, and the readiness of the teacher to coordinate multiple opportunities for every student in every course. What is reasonable? At what age should voice and choice be offered and to what extent? Do I have to provide voice and choice for every subject and every child? How do learners know what they want to learn and how they learn best? Is facilitating learning the best approach?
The approach of Student and Learning Focused Instruction will guide the teacher in providing the optimal experience for each student. The teacher’s expertise is more important than ever because of the multiple learning opportunities presented for student learning and teacher instruction.
- Some content is delivered with explicit/direct instruction practices as whole group. This might be because it is new content, foundational to the subject/core, or because it is how the student learns best. Whole group instruction is an appropriate way to teach and great teachers still use this approach. Using whole group 100% of the time for 100% of the students is not congruent with maximizing student achievement and engagement.
- The teacher needs to use data to drive and support the type of instruction and learning activity to master the skill/content. Emerging skills might start off with teacher activated and differentiated instruction. Using formative assessments and knowing your student, the teacher then might start to transfer the learning to facilitation by offering more student activated learning when they are proficient in the skill/content. “Research uncovered some amazing results. Learners in the studies who received initial instruction in small groups using learner-focused strategies at a pace calibrated to match their readiness and who were offered feedback and support when necessary improved their average performance by two standard deviations, a 98 percent improvement” (Rickabaugh, 2016).
- Understanding the five elements of personalized learning (Knowing Your Students, Voice and Choice, Flexibility Data-Informed, Integrating Digital Tools) will drive the decision-making process by the teacher for the type of voice and choice presented to the student. The distinguished column in Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching describes what this classroom might look like especially Domain2: The Classroom Environment and Domain 3: Instruction.
As an educator, balancing curriculum requirements, state and local mandates, student emotional and intellectual needs, the climate and culture of the building, collaborating with peers, and parent concerns are all many requirements and educator balances in meeting the needs of all students. As the paradigm of education continues to change from teacher centered to student centered, we are positioned more than ever to combine direct/explicit instruction methods with student-centered methods and beliefs to create lifelong motivated learners who:
- Understand how to work hard (Persistence)
- Think critically (Inquiry)
- Recover from failure (Grit)
- Collaborate (Team Work)
- Engage in Reflective Practices (Consciousness)
Student and Learning Focused Instruction will lead us to meet the needs of all students without guessing at what might be best. Voice and Choices are critical in this process and is a crucial component to the paradigm shift of empowering student learning and instructional approaches.
Danielson, C. (2013). The framework for teaching evaluation instrument. San Francisco, CA.Teachscape.
Rickabaugh, J. (2016). Tapping the power of personalized learning. A roadmap for school leaders. Alexandria, VA. ASCD
Azmud, A., Kallick Bena (2017). Students at the center. Alexandria, VA. ASCD