Personalized Learning in Action

Over the past year, I have been blessed to support the Davis School District in Utah with their personalized learning initiative across the district. It has been exciting and challenging work as I have been mentoring principals, facilitating workshops, and providing teachers feedback where schools are all at different places as they work to create more personal experiences for learners. In a sense, I have had to model what these strategies look like in practice while empowering teachers and administrators to take more ownership of their own learning. It’s a tough ask of our kids to do this if we as adults aren’t willing to do the same.

During my time in the district this week, I saw first-hand how job-embedded, on-going, and targeted support leads to amazing changes in practice. First, I have to provide a backstory. In the fall, I was slated to visit numerous schools across the district. Snow Horse Elementary was not one of them. However, the principal at the time advocated fiercely that she wanted me to visit, and arrangements were made. A few district administrators and I visited classrooms in March 2019. We did see some solid examples of station rotation, but overall there was a great deal of room for growth with a school-wide shift to personalized learning. You can read more in detail about what this looks like HERE.


The district office later arranged for me to facilitate a two-hour workshop that focused on the key elements and structures depicted in the image above. After the session was completed, a team of second-grade teachers stayed after to begin planning on how to implement what they learned immediately. I was pleasantly surprised to hear only a day later that these same teachers requested me to come back to Snow Horse Elementary while I was still in town to see what they had accomplished. Below you will see some of the changes that we made to personalize learning a mere 48 hours after the workshop.

In the fall, I revisited the school and had someone on one time with the second-grade team at their request. I was able to answer some of their questions and provide feedback on what they had been working on. Fast forward to January 2019. I once again had the opportunity to visit classrooms across the school. I was so pleased to see significant growth across all classrooms and was so proud of all the teachers. However, the second-grade team blew my mind with what each of them was doing. We saw personalization in every classroom.

In some cases, you could see the teachers co-planned while others went down their own path. We saw learners were grouped by ability, accessing choice boards digitally on their iPads once specified tasks were completed. 

Teachers were even able to monitor progress in Keynote and push kids to other tasks if they stayed on a choice too long. When finished with a task, the students dragged an “X” over it. 

In other cases, learners submitted video and audio evidence through Keynote in both ELA and math. 

Another teacher had essential questions mapped out for the entire week and daily reflections where kids supplied evidence of what they learned. Voice was honored through the effective use of Nearpod during a whole-group lesson.

As I continued to process what I saw, I figured it would be best to capture from each teacher why they decided to change, how they specifically changed, and what has been the result in terms of these changes. Below are their reflections.

Ranell Whitaker

Our 2nd-grade team was so excited about the first visit you had at Snow Horse Elementary. You had some pictures of choice boards that you showed us during your presentation that really inspired me. I had been doing Daily 5 in my classroom for several years with a very rigid schedule and exact assignments that every student was to complete within their 15-minute time frame. I felt that it was going ok, but I never felt like there was enough time for me to work with a small group or one on one with students. The students were also frustrated because some weren’t able to finish assignments within the given time, and some students had too much time, and either didn’t know what to work on or started to distract and disrupt others. 

I looked at the choice boards you showed us and knew we could implement something similar. The night of your presentation, I went home and created my own choice boards for the next day for math and language arts, and we started implementing them the very next day. My students LOVED choosing what activity they would work on, and when they would work on it. I noticed the students were more engaged and excited about what they were doing because they had a CHOICE! And best of all, I stopped hearing “teacher, what should I do now?”!


I did start with a more structured approach to the choice boards, and each student had a printed-out version to cross off the items they completed. After several weeks of trial and error on choice board activities, I now feel that the students have exciting activities and games that help them excel and achieve their goals, all while they are choosing the activities that challenge them. The activities include reteach, extra practice, and enrichment. I have also allowed the students to use the amount of time they need for their activities with no problems. When they finish one activity, they are excited to start on a new choice. 


Just about a month ago, we decided to go digital with the choice boards using Keynote. It was a game-changer. Students are now able to have their choice boards right on their iPads and show their work by uploading photos of their work or inserting a screenshot right on the choice board. I send them a new choice board for the week each Monday, and then on Friday they airdrop it back to me or send it in Apple Classroom. I am no longer making a million copies of worksheets and choice boards for the kids to turn in. They turn in one choice board at the end of the week, and I can see exactly what they accomplished in the time that they were given. If I notice a student has not completed much on their choice board, I am able to pull them aside and talk about how they are using their time and how they can improve. If a student is picking the same choice each day, I can speak to them and challenge them to try something new. I am also easily able to assign students specific choices as a “must do” if I feel it necessary.


Overall, this change has really opened me up to work with each child in my classroom EVERYDAY. I can pull a group as needed, and the students that I pull can get right back to what they were doing when they finish working with me. I am not trying to cram as much as I can into their brains in 15 minutes, and students can spend as much time as they need on a task (which they want to finish so that they can move on to the next activity they choose). I also don’t feel the pressure of a time constraint as I did with timed rotations. I am thrilled with the choices my students make to challenge themselves and am so happy with the growth and progress that they have shown in the last few months. My students have learned the joy in accomplishing a task and have gained a lot of responsibility and accountability in their own education. 


Jonna Sutterfield

When you came to visit back in the fall, what you had to say was exciting, and frankly, I just believed in it. It was eye-opening to think, yes students can make their own choices in how they want to learn, and more importantly, it opened up avenues to let students explain their learning at their level. It has given confidence to my students to be able to show me their way of understanding. That day struck a chord with my team and me, and we were so excited to implement personalized learning.

Today you saw how our Math usually goes. The students started out where I wanted them on their own levels. For example, a small group, challenge problem and had a must-do to perform. Once they completed that, they were then off to their own Digital Choice Boards to complete activities on their own. Within the Math Choice Boards are a variety of activities they can choose from. They know where to find more challenging stuff, extra practice and games, etc. to further their learning. For the most part, students will always be choosing wisely, and at times I feel I need to encourage some to try something new or others just to make choices!


Their choice boards are all digital, and they have them on their iPad. They do a daily check-off, and on Fridays, send them back to me. I do a quick check (I usually know what they are doing daily). So, it is more of a double-check. I don’t grade them, except for participation. These choices are for them to implement what we are learning in class on their own and practice that.


My number one thing that I take away from personalized learning, that I share with others, is how much it has opened me up to meet the needs of my students. I have been able to pull small groups daily to reteach or even check for understanding. I love that I can immediately see their learning right then and there. They are roaming and trying new things and learning how to work on their own and sometimes with partners. With me being more accessible, I love that more of my students’ learning is being reached, and I have a greater understanding of their learning, and it helps me to find more ways to challenge them and encourage them to try something new.


Also, the students are more engaged in what they are doing, and Math Choice and Daily 5 Choice are some of their favorite times. They get excited to move around and do a variety of learning.


Thank you again for your time at our school. It has been fun getting to try new things and see results!


Erin Fuller

I absolutely love my math choice boards. After we jumped in and made our first-choice board, it was amazing to me how much the students loved choosing how they learn. I also love how it frees me up to help each child, either by challenging or reteaching them. 

During my math block on Monday, we started a new chapter on 3-digit addition. To begin my block, I always do an explicit lesson by starting with the essential question. I use Keynote to make my math choice board. The first slide states the essential questions for the entire week. The second slide is the actual choice board that they work off of each day. The third slide is the most important one for me. This is where they show me what they know each day. I either have them video themselves explaining the concept or do an audio recording answering a question from the lesson.


On the choice board, the middle row includes the things that the students must do each day. I want them to practice fluency, do independent practice, and 10 minutes in our differentiated math program each day.  On the top and the bottom rows, I have built-in choices that they can use to take their learning to a higher personal level. I have put x’s, checkmarks, and picture place holders on this slide, so they can show me what they’re doing to learn during the week. If there is something that I want a specific student to do, I will circle it on their board to let them know I’m looking forward to seeing that completed. I changed it to a weekly board rather than daily, so they can only do one activity a week instead of spending every day doing the same thing. I have worked hard to challenge my high kids with activities to enrich them as well as activities to help fill in gaps with my low kids. Another thing I love is where they can check off if they worked with me because I needed them to or if they chose to get extra help on their own.

The last slide is so informative to me. I can quickly see if they get it by answering specific questions for me. This is the most valuable part to me because I can see which child gets it and which child doesn’t immediately. If I am worried about them before the end of the week, I just grab their iPad and listen to the video they made that day, and I can give immediate feedback. This is also helpful if I need to talk to a parent about a concern. It is also beneficial to have when a parent tells me that their child is bored and isn’t being challenged. I can show them their choice board and talk about how they are choosing not to challenge themselves.


My choice boards, not just math but also my Daily 5 Choice boards, have changed my teaching. I know where my students are, and I know what they’re doing to learn. This frees me up so that I can work one on one or in small groups on what they need, not just what I think they need after a full group lesson. I have never been able to immediately tell where each of my students was academically.



Jana Vanhorn

Today in my classroom, I created a Nearpod for my students. This week we are reading about different regions in the world, and I wanted to build some background knowledge before we started reading stories. The Nearpod included virtual field trips, open-ended questions, drawing pictures, and more. I have found that during a typical classroom discussion, I get the same students who participate and the same students who “check out.” My students LOVE learning through Nearpod. They are more likely to be engaged in the learning and I get a response from every student. As a teacher, I have found that it is so valuable to get a response from every student because there is usually at least one or two who don’t understand what to do or how to answer a question. I can now quickly have a conversation with them to get them back on track.

Whether personalizing the pedagogical strategies or instructional approaches, these teachers illustrate how implementing innovative approaches can have a positive impact on not only their practice but also the learning for their kids. When it is all said and done, they actually took some information provided to them and charted their own course forward. You might even say they experienced personalized learning themselves based on what they are now doing across their grade level.