Personalizing learning with technology power

Students use iPads to increase their reading level at Goodwin Elementary School. (Wade Spees/Staff)

We live in an exciting time. Technology is being integrated into every facet of our life, including the classroom, and it is unlocking the world for our students, teachers and families. While there may never be universal agreement on how we educate our future leaders, we all know that we cannot keep doing the same things and expect better results. At Charleston County Schools we know that our students are our future, and we take very seriously the call to prepare them for entering the workforce.

Recently, The Post and Courier ran an article that explored one facet of classroom technology (iPads) and focused on the amount of time spent on individual devices.

What the article missed is something we believe is worthy of correction: There is a difference between instructional practice and instructional tools. Strong instructional practice is at the heart of a successful classroom. iPads do not, in any way, replace teachers but instead are a powerful instructional tool to help students reach their potential and expand opportunities for learning.

A Race to the Top district grant has enabled the Charleston County School District to expand the implementation of strategic instructional practices, and with the support of technology, we are working to personalize learning for every student in our early implementation schools.

I know that many parents and community members would like to know more about what personalized learning is, what it means for students and how it will help them achieve their educational goals.

Personalized learning is a systematic approach to teaching and learning in which we work to blend the best practices in developing a supportive climate and culture with individualized instruction. It is rooted in the philosophy that all students can learn, that all learn in different ways at different paces, and that all are actively engaged and take ownership of their learning.

In fact, we already personalize learning in many aspects of our lives.

Think about sports. In a karate class, students move individually to the next belt when they have developed the skills needed to advance. This is not based on time or the age of a student but mastery of the skills.

The same concept can be applied to classroom learning.

We believe personalized learning can become a game-changer in student achievement, with the proper support.

We are taking what works from the way great teachers have taught for decades and adding innovative, research-based best practices to build a model that is both measurable and manageable as we continue to expand this opportunity for additional students in the district. It is not a canned program, but a philosophy that will continue to grow and improve based on feedback from critical thought partners including principals, teachers, parents, students and community stakeholders.

This system we are creating focuses on mastery of state standards and meeting the needs of the whole child including character development, career development and service learning.

The result is a student-centered environment where educators are empowered to use an array of strategies and tools to meet learners where they are on the learning continuum.

Personalized learning can happen anytime, anywhere.

It can happen in every school in Charleston County. It can be practiced in recreation centers and Sunday schools and corporate offices.

In fact, it is practiced in the homes of many of our students who have brought their “best practices” of learning and behavior home to parents and siblings.

Students will tell you themselves that personalized learning is the best thing that has ever happened to them, and they would not want to go back to a traditional classroom setting.

However, we know that anecdotal stories of amazing results and outcomes cannot be the only evidence we provide to our community stakeholders. We will soon share student achievement data, and we look forward to sharing our successes and our challenges with the community.

We are dedicated to this work because we believe that every student deserves an education personalized to his or her unique abilities, and to be supported in building 21st century skills needed for being successful in today’s global economy.

Our decisions to drive progress must be made in service of these students, and must support what is best for them. Sometimes that means stepping outside of our comfort zone.

But at CCSD our children come first and we must embrace any and all instructional practices and tools that help us meet the needs of all of our students.

Dr. Lisa Herring, Ed.D., is the Charleston County Deputy Superintendent for Academics.