Personalized Learning: Engagement on Fire
Students must be engaged to learn. In my experiences in ten years of teaching in a variety of settings, I have seen many students fail because they have not connected with the content. For some students, they have not found a reason to believe the class is relevant to their lives or for others, they have not developed the grit necessary to persevere when assignments are challenging. I have also seen that students tend to engage more if their learning is personalized so that it feels pertinent to their lives outside of the classroom.
I have 100 Spanish students (8th grade through seniors) and 23 seniors in a remedial reading class in English this year. With so many students, at all different levels, I want to use technology to help differentiate student learning. Some of the main ways I am trying to address these issues of student engagement and differentiation involve students using technology in my classroom. Schoology and Senor Wooly are two online resources that have revolutionized my teaching. They enable me to personalize learning, to target students’ interests, and to allow students to work at their own pace so they do not get overwhelmed and give up when classwork becomes difficult. (For my English class, I’m using www.readtheory.org because it allows students to work at their own pace and I can track their progress.)
One of my largest barriers to student engagement is unreliable access to devices with the internet. I have amazing web resources, but my students are trying to wait until they get home to do their classwork because they cannot find an available computer that works. Students must have easy, reliable access to these websites in order to benefit from them. Some of my students can use their cell phones for internet access, but, for various reasons, many cannot. Some students do not have a personal cell phone; sometimes phones break or parents do not want students to use them at school. Some students are simply too distracted by the ability to scroll through their photos and text their friends to use their phones for school work and they request a laptop in order to limit their distractions. Our school has computer labs, but they are full of students taking computer classes. We have a cart of 22 laptops in our library that any teacher can use, but it is not available for my use all day, every day. I also do not have administrative rights to update these devices.
My students need reliable access to modern technology in the classroom in order to fully engage in and be successful in 21st century coursework. My students have short attention spans and they get frustrated easily when they can’t answer a question or get technology to work. Many of them like using technology, but they struggle to use it effectively for academic purposes.