Personalized Learning and Special Needs Students

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    Technology — when employed properly and meaningfully — can help educators deliver personalized instruction. It can help facilitate timely interventional responses, involve parents more in their child’s learning, empower school leaders with data to support teachers, and either break down problems or make those problems more complex, based on the individual needs of the student.


    The ISTE/Intel Education book Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology explores the techniques and technology that allow at-risk, on-level, and advanced students alike to each work at their own pace, with teachers notified when special support or intervention is required.


    “Smart” learning technology utilizes data analytics and cognitive learning science to enable customized learning experiences. It provides tools that allow teachers to get instant feedback on students’ performance and understanding; and creates individualized coursework for students based on learning style and ability. In its ideal state, personalized learning allows all students to sustain significant progress, whether they are considered at-risk, exceeding grade-level expectations or at any point along the continuum.


    At-Risk Students


    Personalized learning creates a second chance for at-risk students to realize and be actively engaged in their academic success. It begins by honoring the real-world lives of students and integrating their cultural relevance into curriculum, instructional practices, and support.


    Personalized learning allows the accumulation of a dynamic data warehouse: enabling schools to collect and store data from various silos. This could instantly alert teachers to students who aren’t performing at grade-level, and provide digital resources in order to adapt instruction to compensate and take action on local and systemic educational inequities.


    This data warehouse allows educators to create a dynamic curriculum that both challenges and engages at-risk students while preparing them for academic success. It’s a competency-based and standard-aligned approach that doesn’t tell teachers what to teach but rather how to engage students on a deeper more meaningful level.


    Students with Disabilities


    Adaptive learning tools help bridge the gap between the general curriculum and the needs of students with disabilities. They foster student engagement by allowing students to interact with information in diverse ways. This not only allows flexibility in how subjects are presented, but also in how students can demonstrate their knowledge and skills.


    So teachers faced with the challenges of teaching students with disabilities should, first, take into account the different learning styles of all students with disabilities then learn about accessible technology and the role it plays in the classroom: in particular, the accessibility features available in the technology already used in class. Based on this assessment, teachers can create and adapt teaching, learning and assessment materials (especially text into accessible formats) and explore the range of accessible technology, resources, and peer-to-peer support available.


    Apart from the obvious benefits to students and teachers, personalized learning can help combat the risk of social exclusion that students with disabilities often experience by replacing physical access with virtual access to many learning experiences.


    Gifted Students


    A student who performs far beyond his or her grade level—despite being forced to comply with a lesson plan not tailored to his or her skills—will more than likely become disenchanted with school at some point, losing their motivation to learn.


    But the resources available to educators are limited, and it is difficult to dedicate time to an individual student when 30 others (often more) are clamoring for attention. This is where personalized learning comes into play. Driven by both emergent and existing technology, personalized learning can challenge gifted students with a differentiated curriculum without taxing valuable class-time or tapping limited resources.


    Technological tools can be divided into five main educational areas: literacy, content delivery, and demonstration of learning, information resources and social networking. 


    • Literacy tools such as eBooks, blogs, and discussion forums can provide gifted students with the opportunity to learn using their preferential learning style and topic.


    • Content delivery for gifted students—through tools such as learning management systems—can help teachers to ensure differentiation for all students through authentic learning environments with multiple levels of learning.


    • By utilizing Web 2.0 tools such as podcasts, wikis, aggregators, and YouTube, gifted students can demonstrate their learning in multiple ways.


    • Digital information resources provide gifted students with immediate answers.


    • Although often overlooked by many educators, social networking provides gifted students with a previously unavailable network of gifted students, educators and experts.


    English Language Learners


    There has been much discussion about what constitutes appropriate content, instruction, and assessment for English language learners. As educators have grappled with this issue, it has become clear that these learners must have the opportunity to learn the same academic content as native English speakers. Differentiated instruction provides the path to getting them there.


    Firstly, the more a teacher can learn about each English language learner’s background, the better prepared that teacher will be in providing appropriate instruction. Think of ways to help students understand key material and display their knowledge in ways that match their language proficiency.


    Here are key attitudes and approaches to keep in mind when teaching English language learners:


    • Provide information that the beginning English language learners can understand.


    • Make lessons visual.


    • Link new information to prior knowledge.


    • Determine key concepts for the unit and define language and content objectives for each lesson.


    • Modify vocabulary instruction for English language learners.


    • Use cooperative learning strategies.


    • Modify testing and homework for English language learners.


    Above all, don’t underestimate English language learners. These students are highly motivated and want to learn English. It’s important to provide them with a good support group and to ensure that their first experiences help them to keep their goals high. Making ELLs a whole-school priority, encouraging collaboration, and keeping class sizes manageable are simple measures that can make a big impact. 


    Helping All Students to Thrive


    The Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology guidebook (brought to you by Intel® Education) was designed to help today’s educators better serve every student, regardless of ability and aptitude.


    All students come equipped with a natural, inexorable urge to learn and explore. By providing as many choices and chances to learn as possible, personalized learning allows students to merge this inherent desire to seek and absorb information with academic standards.



    Do you have any tips for reaching at-risk students, students with disabilities, gifted students, or English language learners? How do you personalize lessons to meet the diverse needs of students: each with their own unique talents and challenges?