Personalizing Instruction Isn’t a Buzzphrase Anymore


My Classroom’s Needs

As a Reading Specialist in a charter high school in Brooklyn, NY, I don’t fit the traditional teacher mold. I don’t teach full classes of students; I work with students in small groups or individual sessions in an office tucked away on our mezzanine. I provide struggling readers with individualized interventions to help them make sense of the complex texts they are receiving in their core classes.

When I began, I realized it was difficult and time-consuming to track over 20 students on a completely individual basis and still be available for intervention sessions and content teacher support. After I compiled data from diagnostic assessments and created individual goals, I realized I didn’t have a solid way to track their progress. Due to my nontraditional role as an educator, I didn’t fit into the grading system that other teachers used. My administrators were looking for concrete data that I did not have.

Personally, I’m horrible with computers and technology. Never had a knack for it unless you count logging in to email and Googling what vegetables my dog is allowed to eat. Finding a digital way to track data was imperative since I couldn’t create my own system. Initially, I took two full days to set up a spreadsheet with rubrics and mastery levels I determined. That project was inefficient and unhelpful as it still required me to determine mastery levels and calculate student achievement individually. All teachers know there simply isn’t time for that. In attempting to compile data on my own without a grading system, I was losing time with students and my priorities shifted from Reading Specialist to Data Analyst.

I’m not the type of person to commit time in my day to search for education tools, make an account, and give them a test drive. I don’t have time for that. This time though, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and did the research. Eventually, I found something I could work with: Kiddom, a personalized learning platform that is easy to use, standards-based, and free.

Somehow, I stumbled onto exactly what I needed to track intervention goals and data for my specific classroom needs. What I didn’t realize was that the right education technology tool could boost my own craft as an educator. I’m actually personalizing learning now, so for me, it’s not just a buzzphrase anymore.

Wait, What’s Standards-Based Grading?

In a nutshell, standards-based grading places the emphasis on the material that students learn rather than how much work they accomplish in a given amount of time. It allows for students to demonstrate their mastery of a particular standard, objective, or skill and then move to something more challenging. It’s all about the progression from developing to mastery. Once mastery level is reached based on a given assessment, a more complex skill or standard is introduced while previous standards are interwoven for additional practice.

If this practice sounds like something you’d be interested in learning more about, Google it: there’s plenty of resources out there about this instructional practice.

How I’m Personalizing Instruction

In the past, to personalize instruction I spent hours building and updating spreadsheets, writing and rewriting rubrics, and writing and rewriting personal learning goals. With my newfound tool, I created individual standards based on my students’ needs and over time, I started noticing a significant shift in my own practice as an educator: I was spending more time working directly with students. This resulted in me recalibrated my teaching style and simultaneously pushed students outside of their comfort zones. It’s funny how fast I could adjust when I devoted more time to analyzing data, rather than simply updating it. The rubrics that I created and saved in Kiddom allowed for quick determinations of next steps.

Now I could start thinking deeper about skills progression. My students were no longer left working on goals they’d already mastered. They weren’t waiting for me to play data analyst, update my spreadsheets, and then give them relevant work. I could monitor their progress easily on a daily basis. As I saw students moving through the mastery levels of each rubric, I shifted their goals and materials to match the level. It meant no student was stagnantly working on skills they already internalized: they were always being challenged!

Any changes to student groups were easily decided upon based on what level students had achieved according to the individual standards. It was nice having a tool do the sorting for me. No more individual post-it notes with names, available periods, goals, and reading levels on a white board. Instead, Kiddom’s dashboard grouped students based on overall mastery level as well as mastery of specific standards. I could visually determine which students needed to be together in a more challenging setting without taking an entire day away from actually working with the students.

The Kiddom dashboard presents student mastery data in a variety of visual ways. Easy to access for all users but most importantly, students.

Deepening Reflection and Sharing Data

Getting students to use their own rubrics to grade themselves was an incredible experience. It was refreshing to see students take ownership over their learning. My students assessed their own mastery level and articulated what still needed to be achieved based on the rubrics. They saw their achievement data through multiple visuals, making it accessible for all readers. They didn’t have to decode any of the data without the visual support of charts and graphs. This not only allowed students to quickly see how they are progressing but administrators and families could also see growth as well. My high school has a high population of non-English speaking parents, which means letters home can be lost in translation.

Kiddom compiles student report cards making sharing data easy.

More time with students is always a win. This upcoming school year, I’ll be able to start strong and waste less time creating and updating spreadsheets and “trackers.” I encourage all educators to do themselves a favor and do the research. Figure out what education technology tools are out there trying to solve the problem you’re up against. Don’t recreate the wheel if you don’t have to.

By: Ann Leghorn
Reading Specialist
Brooklyn, New York

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