By George Yeager and Sarah Evans
At a recent Personalized Learning presentation, we participated in a coaching session with Bena Kallick on a writing project we were currently working on with our third-grade students. We were hoping to learn how we could increase personalization within the project.
We had initially believed that this series of lessons, which included student choice and varied expectations for learners, had been personalized. However, after reading Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind by Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda, we learned that there was an important difference between differentiated instruction and personalized learning.
At our school, each grade level participates in a global studies program. Our third grade students study a country in Africa and we invite our students to choose a topic for independent study that enhances their understanding of that country’s culture. We then guide students through the process of writing a narrative that incorporates their knowledge of their independent study as well as their understanding of the cultural, geographical, and political topics related to the African country we are studying.
Students also learn to develop characters that use the Habits of Mind to solve problems. This year, we are reading the junior novel, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba. The students were inspired by Kamkwamba’s innovative spirit to bring electricity to remote villages in his country, so they integrated the story theme of creating an invention to solve a problem into their own writing pieces.
Depending on the amount of time we have, we often involve the students in co-creating a rubric for the narrative. We also invite parents in to read the students’ published pieces and sample cuisine from the country we are studying on a school-wide Global Studies Day. This particular year, however, we knew the students would not have time to complete a well-written published piece before our Global Studies Day, which left us without an authentic audience and purpose for which to write.
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