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The teacher’s guide to personalized learning plans

The realm of education is full of buzzwords. And one in particular that has recently gained popularity is personalized learning. But what exactly does it mean, and where do personalized learning plans (PLP) enter the picture? Let’s find out!

What is a personalized learning plan?

iNACOL, an organization that’s looking to bring education into the 21st century, defines personalized learning as “[t]ailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests — including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn — to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.”

A personalized learning plan is formal documentation that’s completed for each learner. Just like a map guides travelers, a personalized learning plan helps map out the concrete steps that go into the personalized learning of each individual student.

Those with educational training, may find it easier to think of a PLP as a mini Individualized Education Plan that’s used for any student regardless of special needs. In that sense, a personalized learning plan helps students:

  1. Identify where they currently stand academically
  2. Realistic goals for the future
  3. Identify their learning preferences (visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic)
  4. Learn how to track their progress in school
  5. Plan the next steps they should take to achieve their academic goals
  6. Assess and repeat

Some districts require formalized documentation or a more rigid structure for personalized learning plans. Others do not. Check locally to ensure you’re following the required steps.

student working on a computer

Who is involved in the creation of a personalized learning plan?

Multiple individuals are involved in the creation and implementation of a personalized learning plan. But while the focus tends to be administrative — teachers, parents, and school staff — an effective PLP should really involve the student as a key player in this conversation.

Consider this group to be the vehicle that drives personal learning. Could a tire come off? Yes, but there are repair shops that can be visited along the way. Thus, all members need to be willing to revisit that plan when unexpected issues arise. Ultimately, the vehicle uses multiple systems to take the riders to their destination. That, too, is the goal of all of the individuals involved in a PLP. The student, teachers, and family work together to ensure the student reaches their destination.

When setting short- and long-term goals, be sure to include the student’s short-term aspirations as well. Ideally, short-term goals should be points along the path toward the larger, long-term goal.

What’s included in a personalized learning plan?

A starting point. Students come with varying skills and aptitudes, as well as areas for improvement. Knowledge of our learners is key to designing a successful plan. Consider multiple sources of data, including unit test scores, project-based learning assessments, reading level growth, and self-assessments to determine their starting point.

An ending point. In turn, the data you collect about your student can help determine the end goal for the learning plan. Consider where the student is now in relation to where they’d like to end up academically. Reasonable end goals are attainable and ideally align with curricular standards as well as district goals.

Student input. Students need to be involved in the creation and implementation of their personalized learning plan. Consider how the student sees themselves in the following areas:

  • Strengths: What does the student say that they do well?
  • Areas of improvement: What does the student say they need to improve on?
  • Learning styles/preferences: How does the student like to learn? What sort of material captures their attention and sparks their curiosity?
  • Student interests: What does the student like to do? Read about? Spend their time on?
  • Goals: What does the future look like for the student in their eyes?

Teacher input. Educators have key insights that can help implement and refine a PLP. A few areas to consider that might benefit from educator insight include:

  • Strengths: What areas does the teacher(s) see as relative strengths? When and how is the student excelling?
  • Areas of progress: What areas does the teacher see as a possible area of focus? When and how is the student struggling?
  • Reflection on progress: How quickly has the student progressed? Why? What is or isn’t working in terms of instruction?

Parent/guardian input. Guardians see their child in an entirely different way than other adults in the child’s life do. Therefore, their feedback is invaluable. Consider the parent’s perspective on:

  • Areas of student strength/weakness: What does the parent see their child doing well on easily? What does the parent see their child struggling with? What does the child seem to like or dislike at school?
  • How they actively partner in learning: Consider what is the parent willing to take on as part of the PLP. Remember, the partnership of the personalized learning plan extends beyond the classroom and actively involves the child and the home.

Action steps for your personalized learning plan 

All members involved in the development of a personalized learning plan need to have a clear sense of where they’re headed and what needs to be done that detail what needs to happen (and by when), how information will be communicated, and what comes next in the order of steps to take.

For example, suppose a high school student is interested in studying computer science in college. A student action step might look like this:

Carson Jones will enroll in Computer Science for the upcoming spring semester. In the meantime, he’ll choose a programming language that interests him (such as C#, C++, Java, Python, etc.) by October 5 and communicate his selection via e-mail to the PLP team. Carson will then study the materials compiled by Mrs. Moques on a daily basis from October 15 to December 15.

The necessary steps for an educator might look like:

By October 12, Mrs. Moques will compile a list of available books and online resources on programming concepts and projects and share them with Carson via Google Drive. She may also want to consider contacting Dr. Bridges in the technology department to enroll Carson in a coding boot camp to take place before the end of the fall semester.

A parent/guardian’s action steps might look like:

Mr. and Mrs. Jones will help Carlson practice logic and problem-solving skills five times a week for 10 minutes in the fall semester, utilizing Khan Academy and other free online resources.

And here’s a concrete ending (or rather, intermediate) point:

The PLP team will revisit the data and goals for Carson on December 18 at 2:40 pm. New action steps will be created for the spring semester, such as how Carson plans to prepare for the AP Computer Science exam while he takes the course.

Buzzword or not, personalized learning is powerful

Personalized learning plans are trending for a reason — they’re a useful educational tool that, if used properly, can help prepare students for success. And after all, helping each student learn, grow, and succeed is the goal for most educational institutions. If that can be done with input from the student, family, and educational system, everyone will be better off.

Photo credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com; cherylt23; khamkhor / Pixabay.com

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