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Personal Learning Plans and Learning Arcs

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

2020 taught us that students might lose access to the physical classroom, but they should never lose access to instruction. There are so many reasons why a student may not be able to be in the physical classroom during a “normal” school year. These barriers to learning can be broken with technology. It’s essential to recognize that asynchronous instruction is the future of education.

I know many educators who would roll their eyes at that statement, but I want to be very clear – I am in no way suggesting that we no longer teach students live. I believe building relationships with students is essential for their ability to learn in the first place. I believe mindfulness is the core of successful education because it teaches students how to control their emotions and find their calm in the chaos that is a post-2020 world. We need to create options to ensure that learning is accessible for all. Anytime we have to interact with students is extremely valuable, and we should build those relationships and bridge learning gaps that only happen through authentic conversations.

But how?

The first step is the most dreaded, time-consuming, tedious, AND most essential. You have to put all of your content online. I know that it makes us all cringe to think about all that work. However, if you do it right the first time, we shouldn’t have to do it year after year. Your lessons will all be finished in advance, ready to go so you can focus on building relationships and guiding learning which is why we all became teachers in the first place. If you need help with this process, check out my resources on creating digital notebooks. Many schools have received CARES act money to help with curriculum development. It might be worth making this into a proposal and submitting it to whoever’s in charge of finances at your district to see if they would be willing to compensate you for your time and doing this with the agreement that you make this assessable for other teachers in the district.

I recommend creating all content in the Google Suite, such as Google Docs, Slides, Forms, etc. This protects you if you move schools you don’t have your content and a learning management system that’s not at another district. It’s also protection if your district changes platforms. It’s the equivalent of having a master copy that we once had on paper. Be sure to back up your content by sharing your school account with your account and then making a copy. I recommend a whole google account just for this purpose. After creating your actual content on Google Drive, you will need to plug it into your learning management system. I use weekly modules.

The next step is to create a weekly learning arc that works for you and your students. In my school, we are on block scheduling. I meet each group of students three times a week. Block scheduling is a recent change for my school; we were seven periods five days a week before that. I still lumped instruction into three chunks per week.

Meeting 1: Build Background Knowledge and Introduce Project.

The first meeting of the week is the most teacher-centered of all of our weekly meetings. I introduce students to our project and build any background knowledge they need to access the learning. Like most project-based learning instruction, most learning is delivered to students through interaction with the content. I try not to speak for more than ten consecutive minutes and give plenty of opportunities to ask questions about the assignment before moving forward. This is also the day that I refresh students’ personal learning plans.

Meeting 2: 1-on-1 Conferences or Small Group Instruction

The second meeting is to clarify questions that students might have about the project. I try to meet with each student individually on this day, but realistically that can’t always happen. Sometimes I use station teaching to make sure I work with a small group to clarify any learning gaps and build relationships with students. Some might call this a student workday, and I am intentional about my check-ins with students. I often break down my standards for the week into learning targets, write them on a list, and check off these targets through informal student conversations.

Meeting 3: Showcase Knowledge and Share Learning with Peers

The last meeting of the week allows students to show what they know by sharing what they have learned for the weak. This is the due date for everything for the week. Sometimes I can run this as a show and tell, and sometimes I do a gallery walk. There are even times where students have to work asynchronously on this day because I am in meetings. In those days, I have students use the discussion portion of our learning management system by posting their projects and commenting on their peers. No matter our format, I want to give students a way to share their learning with classmates.

Here’s the real kicker for a lot of folks. I have my students working on different lessons at different times. Sometimes students don’t complete the module I’ve created, and they just aren’t ready to move on. This is where the personal learning plans come into play. Personal learning plans are a way to manage asynchronous lessons.

I replace each number with a student’s name. When a student clicks on their name, it takes them to another page with each assignment laid out week by week with clickable links that lead directly to the assignments. As they finish an assignment, they let me know, and we grade it together during our one-on-one check-ins. Grading becomes an agreement of work completion and quality between the student and teacher. As things are graded, they are checked off the list. This keeps me organized and students accountable.

This is how I manageable the unmanageable task of teaching in a post-2020 world.

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