Personalized Learning. Chromebooks or iPads? BYOD. Standards-based grading. These are all buzzwords in the world of education that inspire much debate, including in the classrooms where future teachers are being educated. As students preparing to become teachers, we are not always aware of topics up for debate in the education field since the schools where we observe do not necessarily implement any of these controversial topics. Many of these topics come back to the use of technology in the classroom; how much technology should we be using during or for our instruction and how much technology should we allow our students to bring with them to school?

Schools purchase Chromebooks, iPads, laptops, tablets for their students to use to aid the learning process. Some schools debate whether to tell students to ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD). Some might ask, ‘If a device can be used to help further education, why should we stop students from bringing it to school?’ This raises questions of fairness and providing students with equal opportunity to access technology for their education. As we increase our use of technology for homework assignments, what happens to the students who do not have internet access at home? In the case of BYOD, what happens to the students who cannot afford a device of their own? Schools who employ the policy of BYOD must address these questions. Of course, how much teachers actually use these devices varies from place to place. Some teachers might encourage their students to use them every day while others might only make use of them for special projects. The goal of using technology is to supplement instruction so that students might learn content more in-depth.

Learning content more in-depth provides greater opportunity for a deeper understanding of a topic. Standards-based grading seeks to allow students to do this. In standards-based grading, instead of assigning students letter grades of A, B, C, D, or F for their assignments, teachers label assignments by content and then grade students’ mastery of content with labels such as ‘Advanced’, ‘Proficient’, or ‘Needs Improvement’. Of course, just labeling students’ work as such will not necessarily help them improve. Explaining to students the rating for their work is necessary. Students need to master their content before they can move on to the next topic, in general helping them to better understand what they are doing. Some students will move faster than others, which is why personalized learning becomes important.

Looking on the internet, many websites have positive things to say about personalized learning, which is tailoring curriculum and instruction to help students propel themselves through course material. Students tend to be more motivated when they get to have a say in what they learn. Does this mean that every student gets to choose topics that he or she deems worthy of study? No. This would cause chaos in the math classroom, as students would likely skip many topics. Rather, personalized learning in the math classroom might mean that students get to choose how quickly they master course content and what type of instruction they would prefer to learn portions of the content. None of the websites gave practical insight for implementation of a personalized learning classroom, but undoubtedly, the teacher would need to remain flexible and continue to learn as the students learn since the learning would be more exploratory.

As 2014 progresses, it will be interesting to see which of these ‘next best things’ in education will grab hold for the coming years. One thing is for sure, teachers will need to remain flexible and continue seeking answers for the best ways to use technology in their instruction while helping their students master content. Whether teachers use the technology to teach the content in innovative ways or whether they will use technology to teach the same content in essentially the same ways they have always taught it remains to be seen.

by Emily McMahon