Curious about personalisation, but don’t know where to start? Here are five easy ways to personalise your classes.
In a recent post, we looked at the history and theory of personalisation in education and the transformative effect it can have on your students. But not all classrooms are very well suited to this approach. If you’re still tied to standardised teaching and following a rigid curriculum, it might seem like a big challenge.
Our aim is to help you introduce personalisation in your classroom, no matter how many students you have or how many curriculum constraints you face.
So here are five easy, low-impact ways that you can use to implement personalisation this term.
1. Hold grade interviews
Take a tip from teacher Catlin Tucker: instead of simply giving your students a grade, get them to advocate for the grade they want. Tucker recommends holding structured interviews of three to five minutes, where students come prepared to prove why they deserve a certain grade.
It can be a nerve-wracking experience for students. But you can give them time in class to prepare for the interview. It has a number of advantages; they’ll be developing the important skills of self-assessment, negotiation and reasoned discussion. Students also benefit from the increased motivation that comes with knowing that they’ll have a face-to-face conversation about their performance every six weeks or so.
This does involve a time investment. In fact, these interviews can work out as a couple of days, depending on how many students you have. Tucker suggests conducting the interviews on a one-to-one basis while the rest of the class is doing project work. She acknowledges that most teachers are pressed for time, but argues that for her class, it’s worth the increased engagement and focus.
So the next time you’re due to assess a project or a topic, give grade interviews a try and see if they work for your class.
2. Rethink your classroom layout
The classic classroom layout, featuring rows of desks, looks very out-of-date in the 21st-century. By incorporating different learning zones and seating options into your classroom layout, you can adapt the physical space and develop a more personalised approach.
UK primary teacher Kevin McLaughlin reorganised his classroom into five different areas, and encouraged his students to move between those areas depending on what activity they were engaged with. Instead of the traditional classroom set up with the teacher at the front, the whole classroom is more fluid and dynamic, with lots of movement and discussion. For more details on his layout, check out his article here.
If you want some design inspiration, have a look at this article on flexible seating, with examples that range from beanbags to standing desks, and ideas on sourcing and funding a variety of seating options.
Teacher and blogger Erin Klein also suggests redesigning your classroom space in collaboration with your students – why not ask them how they think they should use the space?
So throw away your seating plan and allow your students to help you decide how the classroom space works. You might just see a difference in discipline and focus.
3. Gamify your lessons
Gamification – that is, bringing some hallmarks of play into your lessons – has been proven to improve student motivation and engagement. By giving your students the chance to repeat ‘levels’, earn points and master skills, you’re offering them a more personalised experience. A gamified lesson puts them in the role of active director of their own learning. So how can you gamify your class?
There are a few different techniques which don’t require technology and involve only minor adjustments, such as second chances, reverse grading, levelling up, bonus points, and skills mastery.
Take the first example – offering students second chances. In some computer games, students repeat actions until they’ve passed the level. This gives them an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and put the knowledge gained into practice. Apply this principle to your classes. If your students fail something, let them have another try at the activity. The chance to try again and succeed will help your students to see failure as a step on the path to success.
For more tips on gamifying your lessons, check out our blogpost on how gamification engages students.
4. Use your available technology to make activities more personalised
A one-to-one teaching environment, where there is a laptop or tablet for every child, is the ideal scenario for delivering personalised lessons. The technology offers you the opportunity to deliver your lesson in a variety of ways, and students can access personalised activities related to your topic. That being said, it’s not common to have this level of access to technology in the classroom. However, many students do now have smartphones.
We’ve talked about smartphone use in schools before – but a strong case has been made for integrating smartphones into the learning process to boost student engagement. The best way forward here is to discuss it with your students. If they can use their smartphones in class without being distracted by social media or messaging apps, then they’ll reap the benefits – but they have to sign up to this agreement.
You can start small. For your students’ next report, offer them the choice of turning in a traditional written report, or making a PowerPoint presentation. If they’re feeling adventurous, they could even film a video with the information. You might be surprised by how enthusiastic and creative your students will be.
5. Let students lead the way
Instead of the traditional Parents’ Night set up, where teachers and parents discuss a child’s performance, you can put your students in the driver’s seat.
With your guidance, have each student schedule a meeting and invite their parents. Give students time to prepare to present their work. In the meeting, the student should explain what they’ve been learning, show a portfolio of their work and share how they feel their performance has been. During the meeting encourage them to set goals for the future.
This act of self-reflection is a powerful way to involve students in the learning process. See this article on The Atlantic for more insight into student-led conferences.
These are just some small steps and changes you can make to personalise your classroom and your students’ learning experience. But as we know, when it comes to teaching, small changes can make a big difference!