Opinion

How do teachers know if they are getting personalized learning right?

Four keys to success

Students attend classes at Brooklyn LAB school

With myriad definitions of personalized learning and little agreement on which one is the best, leaders and teachers struggle to know if they are doing personalized learning “right.”

It is often hard both for the teacher in the classroom, as well as the leader or coach observing him or her, to understand if all of the essential components for personalized learning are in play, and if what has been designed and planned for is actually being implemented.

Through working with thousands of teachers and designing hundreds of instructional models, all with the intention of changing what teaching and learning looks like to provide for a more personalized experience, Education Elements identified four core elements that should exist in every personalized learning environment. Focusing on these four elements transforms classrooms in a sustainable and measureable way.

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The first area is integrated digital content, which allows for a differentiated paths and paces

Digital content does not replace the teacher; rather, it works alongside the teacher to better support student needs by providing remediation, practice, and/or extension.

Second comes targeted instruction, in instruction which is aligned to specific student needs and learning goals. Teachers use information to identify specific student needs and provide instruction to meet those needs. Teachers employ small group, 1-1, strategy group, or other targeted instruction to create a learning environment where all individual needs can be met.

The third element is student reflection and ownership, which gives students frequent opportunities to reflect on what they are learning and their success in learning. Students make goals to improve their learning outcomes and have opportunities to make autonomous choices for their learning. Students have authentic choice and ownership over their learning.

The final element is data driven decisions that inform instructional decisions and groupings. Teachers use data to inform instructional decisions in their classrooms. Students are provided with opportunities to review their own data and make learning decisions based on this information.

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While the elements are interdependent, we know that few teachers can do all four well from the beginning. So instead, we recommend that districts and schools select one or two to focus on, and the others to more slowly make progress against. Viewing each of these as a spectrum from getting started to going deeper to all in makes the change more manageable and allows for differentiation among teachers, just as we are building for differentiation among students.

Coaches and leaders know what to look for in each classroom and can help teachers to meet their goals, not just through targeted feedback during observations, but also through professional development designed to address each of the core four areas and delivered either as a pre-planned cadence or as just-in-time professional development based on need.

The Enlarged City School District of Middletown, NY was recently featured in a report by NGLC for their use of the “core four” as a tool to measure impact throughout the year, rather than waiting to measure success only by test results at the end of the year.

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They also developed a set of videos with teachers demonstrating and talking about each of the elements. The Metropolitan School District of Warren Township, Indiana, convened educators across the state for a summer institute focused on personalized learning and centered around the core four. These are just two examples of districts across the country that use the core four as a guide and a tool to support the successful transition to personalized learning.


To use the core four, we recommend articulating the goals of your personalized learning program, assessing the readiness of your teachers, and conducting professional development that addresses all four but goes deep on one or two.

Throughout the year, continue with a focus on a few but develop higher level understanding of them all, offering teachers who are ready to do more the chance to do so. You will find high fidelity implementations, teachers that are getting the support they need, and students who are experiencing teaching and learning in a new way, with corresponding boosts in student achievement and engagement.

Education Elements has created an official guide to using the core four, including definitions, suggestions, and spectrums teachers and leaders can use to measure progress against implementation of each element. You can download it here.

Anthony Kim is the CEO and founder of Education Elements and the author of Personalized Learning Playbook, Why the Time is Now.

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Anthony Kim

Anthony Kim is the CEO and founder of Education Elements, a group that helps schools and districts apply blending learning models. See Archive