The last several posts have talked about using this time of increased innovation and experimentation to try out more student-centered learning practices. Another way to center students in their own learning is to design personalized pathways that enable student choice as they progress through course skills or standards.
What is a personalized pathway?
A pathway is a strategy which provides a loosely structured array of activities that students can choose to engage with as they move along the “path” towards mastery. My brilliant colleague at BetterLesson, Tori Todd, has built out a strategy here with implementation steps, things to consider, and examples of what this could like in practice. She emphasizes the importance of goal setting, self-assessment, and reflection as keys to making this strategy meaningful.
Why would I use one?
For one, engagement is stronger when students have a choice in what they do. This is always helpful, but particularly in a time when many teachers have noticed low participation from their students who do have technology access, motivation may be an approach to getting students re-engaged with class activities.
This also promotes student ownership of the learning and builds up independent learner skills (like the aforementioned goal setting, self-assessment, and reflection). If we provide students with opportunities to make choices about the best way for them to learn, we’re saying we trust students as learners to make the call that’s right for them.
A note on this: We want to be sure to teach students how to engage with personalized pathways, make choices that correspond with previous assessment data, and reflect and adjust as needed. Sometimes, it may feel tough to let students make choices we see as mistakes, but we can guide the reflection process to help students learn from those mistakes on their own. Of course, we can also step in and offer more guided support as needed after students have had numerous chances to course correct themselves.
How could I use personalized pathways in my instruction?
Once students have a basic understanding of the skills or standards in your class and what mastery looks like for each, they will need to understand where they are in that mastery-based progression. They could get this information through grades or feedback on prior assessments or a 1:1 conference with you.
At this point, you can introduce a pathway template to students (more on that in the next section), and teach them how to fill it out. It’s helpful to tell students why each piece is important (i.e., promoting independent learner skills and supporting mastery of skills or standards). Reviewing the various learning activity options as well as assessment options with students can support them to make an informed choice.
I like to schedule regular check-ins with students. You can do this by commenting or offering feedback on their completed pathway worksheets or you can meet 1:1 in real time to talk about their progress.
You may also want to have some kind of paper or digital student tracker to keep track of which standard each student is working on and where each student is in their mastery of those standards. For teachers who use standards-based grading, this could just be your gradebook. For others, you may need to create something new like a spreadsheet.
For now, consider how you could integrate pathways into your instruction. In Part 2 of this post, I’ll share ideas for how you can build a pathway for your students. I’ll also share a free template you can use to get started.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.