What is Personalization?

Ask any educator, and they will tell you the world of education is swimming with acronyms no one can remember, along with the latest and greatest trends that seem to quickly fizzle out. It is exhausting and, frankly, defeating to try to keep up with the buzz words and best practices that come and go as we attempt to make a difference with kids. In completing my Master’s Degree, I admittedly spent a great deal of time reading, researching, and writing about one of the aforementioned “buzz words.”

Personalization or Personalized Learning, as defined by the Glossary of Educational Reform, “refers to a diverse variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students.”

Why does a strategy meant to be “personal” require such a wordy definition? Why isn’t the definition: making learning personal? Getting to know your students? Building relationships with kids? Talking about strengths and struggles? Helping kids learn more about themselves? Allowing kids the freedom, flexibility, and support to learn and grow in their own ways?

I have a student who is incredibly bright, with a depth of knowledge that greatly surpasses many others his own age. He has a beautiful ability to express himself with words, and is one of the most reflective students I have ever encountered. Alongside these strengths, his quick wit and polite demeanor make him incredibly charming. With all of these traits, one would think a 12-year-old boy would thrive in a school setting.

It is easy to look at others and pass judgment about what should or should not be easy for them. For this student, school has been an incredible obstacle for a very long time. He is fairly quiet, and due to some shyness and serious anxiety, he likes to stick to himself a lot. He internalizes the pressures around him and struggles on a daily basis to focus, complete tasks, and to simply enjoy himself. In the past, it has caused frequent absences, missed deadlines, and low grades, which causes more disappointment and stress, a never-ending cycle.

I could talk for pages about the progress this student has made in the last year simply through the power of talking. I mentioned before how reflective he is. The ability to identify areas of need is a huge step in being able to improve. Instead, though, I’m going to focus on just the last month of school. A few weeks ago, we had parent-teacher conferences. At this student’s conference, the conversation was not a very optimistic one. Like usual, at that point in the quarter, he was feeling behind in most areas. As we racked our brains about how to develop more confidence and motivation in him, he happened to mention how he likes Fridays because he gets to create a must-do sheet, which helps to keep him focused throughout the day (what had been another barrier for him not so long ago). Bingo!

The year and a half struggle to complete nearly any task has almost entirely been obliterated with the creation of a blank checklist. That’s right, a checklist. He starts each morning by writing down one or two things he wants to accomplish in each of his independent work times. Something as simple as setting the goal, writing it down, and seeing it in front of him has opened a world of success – success he has never experienced before. Things aren’t perfect, and they never will be, but wow, the difference. I conferenced with him yesterday and had to hold back tears as he told me how school is actually fun now.

Sometimes the answer is so simple. It’s not always simple to get to it, though. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes talking. It takes building a relationship. It takes trust. It takes trial and error. That’s personalization.

I asked this student permission to share about his recent experiences in the ARCTIC Zone. His response: “You can write about me in your blog. Maybe some other kids will get some ideas that could help them, too.” ❤



2 thoughts on “What is Personalization?

  1. Paula Tracy says:

    Priceless! It’s amazing the different ways to arrive at student success. I am so happy for this student, his teachers, and the other students who are encouraged by this strategy.


  2. Maggie Schoenfeld says:

    The definition of anxiety: fear of the future. Ask me why I know:)…
    You helped this young man discover how to keep his focus on the present.
    What a small, HUGE difference personalization can make!


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