Personalized Learning: increase student autonomy

Mrs. Meredith McCullough, Kenai Central High School
English Teacher

By the time I meet my students in high school, many believe their educational paths are set. This fixed view of learning creates unnecessary challenges and limitations that impact students for their entire lives, and is the reason I reevaluated my beliefs about teaching. The truth is this: my role as an educator is to teach students that they are capable of writing their own destinies and to help them discover tools which will benefit them long after they leave our school district. I turned to personalized learning and standards-based grading in my classroom because those strategies augmented my efficacy and gave my students greater control over their lives and learning, one of the key steps in becoming an adult.

Using standards-based grading in my classroom revealed a new world of student reflection and understanding. Students are capable of recognizing their own learning gaps and can therefore choose assignments which will either deepen their understanding of skills they possess, or allow them to self-remediate and practice those skills which require greater growth. As part of my grading system, students review their data and negotiate their grade in my class. To an outside observer, this looks like utter chaos. However, this process has allowed me to have honest conversations with students about their abilities, their goals, and how to continue to push their learning to the next level. It has resulted in more authentic learning. My students no longer care about what grade they received on an assignment; they are more concerned about what feedback they received. This shift in thinking is revolutionary, especially as students now regularly utilize that feedback in future iterations of their work.

Meredith McCullough PL Advanced French class and carnival masks KCHS

Perhaps the greatest benefit of personalized learning and standards-based grading is increased student autonomy.

My students are eager, capable, and hungry to earn respect by proving themselves to the world.

Channeling this passion and energy is a continual challenge, but drives me to become a more effective educator. I refuse to allow students’ full potential to go untapped. Offering them choice, offering them opportunities to fail forward and to improve on their skills, offering them unconditional support and the unshakeable conviction that they can rise to their highest selves is my gospel. Student autonomy is paramount if a district intends to produce adults who will think critically and empathetically.

After eight years of teaching, I can state without reservation that our students do, and will continue to, rise to any challenge held for them. Trust and respect for our students and their personal learning journey is the future of education and one I am proud to be part of thanks to the support of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

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Meredith McCullough 2017 Kenai BP Teacher of Excellence (1)

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