I can’t help but think about all the chatter I hear about personalized learning. Almost every conversation I have with middle school teachers eventually turns to the topic. They talk about student self-advocacy, computerized instruction, and student empowerment – all great things. But with this topic being such a conversation piece for middle and high school teachers, I have been wondering about the, shall I say, ‘lack of presence’ in early learning conversations. If personalizing instruction is good for older students, then what are the implications for early childhood students?
My initial thought is that the conversation is lacking in early grades because of the seemingly over-emphasis on technology-based instruction. So, I wonder, does personalized learning mean that students must interact with technology for their instruction? Could it mean that teachers personalize academic content based on students’ readiness to learn? I know that many early childhood advocates are hesitant to suggest that technology become an integral part of early learning, especially for students that are still acquiring language skills. But what if we thought about this a bit differently?
I seem to recall a few years back some brain research about the impact of reading to young children. After digging diligently through my files, I found the Making Connections: How Children Learn article. In summary, this article discusses the impact of reading to young children and its relation to the formation of synaptic brain structures. When children experience stories, their brains create synaptic connections that can be used as a scaffold for new learning experiences.
The summary goes on to say that synaptic formations are eventually pruned away (that’s what is happening when they hit early puberty) if they are not used. This pruning takes place to allow the more effective and utilized synaptic structures to become even stronger. So, my thoughts are turning to using this information to support the idea of personalizing learning for our younger, and I might even say, youngest children. If storytelling can establish synaptic connections, what types of connections could teachers make if they knew what students already know and what they are ready to learn? This leads me to think about establishing appropriate assessment for this purpose.
What could teachers accomplish with information about academic language acquisition, acquisition of sentence comprehension, reading skills, listening skills, and vocabulary development for each of their students? These are all areas in which early childhood teachers gather data during their encounters with children, but that data collection process is quite an undertaking when there are 20 students in a classroom.
I would think that [teachers] may even have time to read an extra book to their class.
With accurate information about these developmental milestones, early childhood teachers could spend time creating personalized learning plans for each of their students. They could use this information to help support different levels of content and experiences that each child would encounter during their academic day. Teachers could support novel experiences that would build synaptic development that would provide the scaffolding for additional learning. I would think that they may even have time to read an extra book to their class. Technology-enhanced assessment programs such as MAP Growth K-2 could provide the assessment information that teachers need, while allowing them to free instructional time to respond to the individual needs for each of their students. And wouldn’t this be personalized learning?