By Susie Retterath
This past fall I had the privilege of attending a professional development series titled Introduction to Personalized Learning by Dr. Jim Rickabaugh. After each session my mind was consumed with how personalized learning “fits” in an early childhood environment. After all, personalized learning is taking place every day in our play based classrooms, right? I started to give much thought about the 5 levers for change (Structure, Sample, Standards, Strategy and Self) to make system improvements in learning, from Five Levers to Improve Learning (Frontier and Rickabaugh, 2014). I settled on “Self” and began to think about what I could do “less of”, and in return do “more of”, to create a meaningful learning environment for children.
Then in January, Kate Sommerville, a professional development specialist at the Institute, presented Igniting POWERful Learners to the PreK – 4th grade teachers at Watertown-Mayer. This presentation clicked with me! These three questions nudged me further into learner centered practices:
- What happens when students own their learning?
- How will I bring personalized learning elements into my environment?
- What “one small step” can I commit to today?
Ms. Sommerville challenged those of us who implement a Morning Meeting (based on Responsive Classroom®) to hand over the planning of the meeting to our students. I decided to take the challenge and hand it over to my students. To be honest, it was a bit scary for me. I created a Morning Meeting plan that includes a greeting, share, and activity. I conference with one student each day to guide him/her through the planning for the next Morning Meeting. I am noticing that when learner voice is infused and learner choice is presented, confidence levels soar! Learners are engaged.
Here are a few examples of what students are planning and saying:
- One child chose to do the activity “What Did I Do?” ( it’s when you leave the classroom, change something about how you look, and return to the room for the other students to guess what is different.) She was sitting on the teacher stool at the front of the circle rug, and had a name list on her clipboard, along with the Morning Meeting plan. She would call for a student to leave the room, she then would cross off that student’s name on the list. As she confidently went through the list with her little legs crossed, she said “I guess I am doing a really good job leading Morning Meeting!”
- Another learner eagerly wanted to plan his Morning Meeting. Before he saw the planning map, he already knew what he wanted to do! At the end of the Morning Meeting, he said “That was fun!”
- One of my learners needed nudging, but one thing I know about him is that he loves dinosaurs. For sharing he decided to ask “What is your favorite dinosaur?” Together we searched YouTube for a dinosaur activity.
- My favorite student comment: “When is it my turn to plan Morning Meeting?”
- My favorite staff comment comes from the classroom paraprofessional: “This is really a good thing for the students. They are really liking this and it gives them leadership skills.”
In closing, when learners are given ownership of their learning, they develop the critical skills needed for success. This magic can and does happen in early childhood classrooms! I am committed to taking this personalized learning journey one small step at a time!
Susie is an Early Childhood Educator for the Watertown-Mayer School District in Minnesota. She has been a preschool educator for 31 years.
Photos: courtesy of Susie Retterath