Individualized Learning and Student Success

How do I create the best learning environment
for my students?

The importance of personalized learning

When asking this question, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of factors that contribute to student success. By now, we’ve learned that it’s impossible to separate an individual from their social and cultural contexts but we’ve also learned the converse — that we shouldn’t be making negative social inferences from those same contexts, lest we fall into the common trap of deficit thinking (Desai, Gorski). While we’ve learned that politicized boundary-drawing in educational zones may relegate students to schools that don’t achieve as well, we’ve also learned that a sense of personal and collective efficacy can go a long way to challenging underachievement (Green and Waldman, Protheroe).

All of these interconnected ideas can make it quite difficult for teachers to know where to focus their efforts, but all of these arguments point towards the need for teaching that focuses on students’ varied abilities and backgrounds.

Individualized classroom content in technology-assisted classrooms that focuses on delivering information in an understandable and fun manner is able to help level the playing field across students of different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds.

So, what creates the need for unleveled individualized learning?

At the most basic level, the idea of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) answers this: each student has a different base of knowledge, meaning that what each student can do on a basic level is different, but, additionally, each student has a different ZPD, where they can learn given a little scaffolding (Kayser). Each student has a different ZPD which is influenced by the experiences they have in every level from their microsystems (Kayser). For example, a student whose microsystem is made up of hovering or overattentive parents might be a lot less able to do the same tasks with the same knowledge base as a student who grew up in an environment that fostered more individualism or, in this case, intellectual curiosity. Putting these two different types of students in the same classroom makes it a lot harder for both to succeed–each needs a different approach, not usually able to be provided in a traditional classroom setting, especially with the large class sizes schools are increasingly being faced with. The only way for all students to experience the high level or gifted learning environment while allowing teaching to
each individual’s ZPD is to individualize classes, as Redwood does, focusing on more effective forms of sorting students.

Teaching to the needs of the individual student improves learning

The secondary benefit of individualized attention in classes can be seen easily when
examining the academic outcomes of diverse socioeconomic groups before and after the switch to an unleveled system. Take Charlottesville public high schools, for example. Whereas earlier, students were grouped by their standing as advanced or not, in the unleveled classes, high-level instruction was pushed into the entire classroom, while allowing for grouping not just by an arbitrarily tested gifted status or Honors/AP enrollment, but by groupings more relevant to immediate learning, such as differentiation by content, process, product, or interest (Burns).

The individualized part comes in knowing how to sort into the relevant groups. For example, sorting by content requires a knowledge of who’s struggling with what concepts, sorting by process requires knowing what strategies students are using to solve the problems they’re working on, etcetera. There’s no better way to do that sorting than by using a platform that directly accesses student learning information in real-time.

Given that gifted and high achievement programs are often segregated by socioeconomic status, the expansion of personalized and engaging instruction only serves to level the playing field for students who are traditionally excluded from those positive learning environments on socioeconomic grounds (Green and Waldman, Burns). While schools cannot control much of the politics of education or the diversity of their student bodies, they can ensure each student receives attentive instruction. Technology can assist.

The use of technology to assess student interest and preferred learning method allows lessons to be created that are individualized to the student. This is one of the most promising ways to improve student outcomes, given that it equalizes educational opportunities while allowing for student differentiation.

One of the biggest advantages of computer-modeled learning is that it
guarantees high-quality evaluation of student work that motivates students and keeps them on track with pointed lessons. Redwood’s interest matching algorithm tracks students’ progress and proficiencies, allowing students in all environments to learn with live feedback tailored to their specific interests.

Where Redwood steps in

Every kindergartner is expected to know how to count from 0-100 by the end of the school year per Common Core State Standards. Students using Redwood to learn this outcome count objects that appeal to them individually. One student’s counting lesson may be to count the number of 3D models of airplanes that appear in Augmented Reality on their screen while another student’s lesson may be to count the number of planets in a particular solar system.

Through personalizing the curriculum to the unique intellectual curiosity of the student, Redwood provides a research-backed method of instruction that is not only highly effective for students but is also transparent to parents, educators, and administrators.

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