According to the most recent data, student-teacher ratios in public schools currently average 16 to 1 — with some states as high as 24 to 1 — meaning regularly adjusting lessons on an individual basis is, for most teachers, aspirational at best.
Here are three ways schools can overcome the challenges of large classes to implement a more personalized approach to education.
1. Use Classroom Technology to Fill the Gaps
While innovation in learning technology can provide significant relief for oversaturated classrooms, it does not automatically fix the problem. Even if 35 students are equipped with personal devices in order to learn at their own pace, often a lone teacher bears the responsibility of ensuring everyone is on track and engaged.
When a teacher is able to check in with individual students, he or she usually will not have the bandwidth to stay very long.
Where classroom technology can shine, however, is making a teacher’s time more malleable.
Personalized learning tools such as Chromebooks or online learning modules are well positioned to make productive use of students’ time, allowing teachers to utilize their time for meetings with small groups and individuals. This boost in efficiency can make all the difference for a student.
Online tools can foster mastery of basic skills; for instance, a refresher lesson in algebra. More complex issues, such as a student’s lack of confidence in their learning ability, are better suited to face-to-face interactions with a teacher.
2. Increase Cross-Curriculum Communication with Standardized Exams
Personalized education requires cross-curriculum communication. For students who do poorly on math word problems, a teacher may need to address not only their algebra skills but also their reading comprehension.
In supplemental education, it is common practice to conduct comprehensive testing to assess new students upon intake and design a personalized plan using that information.
While some educators agree that approaching education holistically is necessary for true personalized learning, several schools do not have the processes to assist educators in executing this philosophy.
Schools across the nation already do annual assessments through standardized testing. These end-of-year exams currently help administrators gauge how the general student population is doing on average. Studies have found that, when used as a baseline, standardized tests hold untapped power to personalize learning year over year for individual students.
Many test providers offer reports on performance at both the class and the student levels. School districts should ensure these reports are provided to teachers, along with data analytics training so they can effectively use the information. Armed with these data skills, educators new to the profession and veterans alike can gain a better understanding of where their students excel or are challenged heading into the new school year.
3. Offer Personalized Incentives for Students to Help Them Learn
What motivates one child to stay quietly seated may discourage a classmate.
At Sylvan Learning, teachers are encouraged to reinforce positive behavior by giving tokens to students. Using this approach, students have improved their math and reading scores by 151 and 198 percent respectively.
Note that this system doesn’t reward academic performance: We incentivize individuals based on their personal histories and what motivates them best.
For example, we give tokens to teens who are struggling with a certain topic but refuse to give up, or to younger students who are having an exceptionally focused day.
Tokens are redeemable at the end of each session or can be saved up for bigger items. The prizes available appeal to all ages, from gas station and Amazon gift cards for the teenagers to candy and toys for younger students.
Motivational systems are not about giving everyone a trophy. They are about inspiring day-to-day success through attainable incentives and rewarding behaviors that will set students up for long-term academic success. Teachers can reward individual students or the entire class for the same purpose.
Using these three steps, teachers can extend their reach in the classroom and give each student the attention they need to flourish academically.