"How many more minutes until recess?"
When I first started teaching (15 years ago), I must've gotten that question fifty times in the first day alone when I taught first grade all day. It's a simple, yet complex question. Almost a trick question, really. If I say the time, they won't understand the meaning of that. If I say "soon", they'll still not understand and think it is happening right now. And if I say, "School started ten minutes ago, it's not for a long time," well....they'll cry.
How do I instill a sense of time to someone who says, "Tomorrow, I went to the park. It was so fun!"? Back then, first graders needed to know how to tell time by the hour and half hour. I would teach, they took a test, end of story. But did they actually learn it? Do they understand how an hour is different from a minute, is different from a second, is different from a day? Surprisingly, some did. Of course, I differentiated the instruction to match all needs, but was it enough?
Personalized learning is different from differentiation. Personalized learning shows its appearance in many different ways. It might be each student using a computer program to teach math ideas, but at each students' own pace, while the algorythm is constantly restructuring the student's needs based on correct answers given. Dreambox Learning, is an example of this type of software. And Personlized learning might even look like each student is doing something completely different while the teacher walks around to support each student on their learning journey. It should also allow students to own their learning at their own pace with their own interests, strenghts, and talents taken into consideration.
And all this takes time.
Currently, as we are all on staycations, I am using Zoom and Seesaw to run my lessons for my first grade readers. I have found that Seesaw is an excellent way to differentiate student learning for these students. I am able to upload specific skills for each student based on their reading level. I am able to listen to their reading while giving specific feedback. But giving them the autonomy via Zoom isn't time well spent at the moment. I have 20 minutes with them. That's it. Only a few magical moments to teach phonics and comprehension before sending them off on the rest of their day, and hoping the lesson sticks as they work on their Seesaw lessons.
I will be teaching fifth grade next year. I am hoping to create lessons that will support student autonomy, critical thinking, and leadership. Through Google Classroom, research websites, and visual and performing arts, students will be able to create their own pathways to learn and present.
And again, it all takes time.
Sarah Magallano teaches 5th grade. She also coaches teachers on integrating art & engineering into their lesson plans.