“All good schools will say that they offer personalised learning, but the sweet spot is when a teacher’s deep and evolving knowledge of a student is combined with a range of opportunities for them to explore, experiment, occasionally fail, and find their true passions, which they often didn’t have the faintest inkling even existed,” Mr Puttock said. But what does personalised learning look like? How do students learn?
At BSB Shunyi, an NAE school where Mr Puttock was principal for five years, teachers continually strive to help students learn through individually tailored combinations of activities. This may include using learning technologies, identifying their own problems with peers and coming up with creative solutions, supported self-study and experiential learning opportunities outside the classroom.
Teachers change the activities or approaches to learning regularly and optimise lessons to each child’s individual learning preferences, strengths and areas for growth.
“They [teachers] learn to ask students the right questions to get the right kind of feedback,” Mr Puttock said.
“We invest a lot of time and resources developing our teachers on areas like continuous assessment. At the end of every lesson we make sure they can judge whether each individual student has made progress in that lesson.”
To make personalised learning truly effective, teachers need to underpin this with the process of setting goals together with each student. This allows teachers to discover their difficulties and needs while encouraging them to own and take an active interest and responsibility for their learning.
“We flip it [the learning] away from me as the teacher towards you as the student,” Mr Puttock said.
“Personalised learning allows me to get to the root of what you need rather than what I want to give you.”
And gone are the days where it is simply accepted that a student is particularly strong in a subject and permanently weak in another, Mr Puttock said.
“Of course students have their individual strengths but these develop and evolve in time,” he said.
This is because personalised learning recognises progress isn’t a straight line, students are not ‘bad’ at a subject, rather they may not be very good at it yet.
Once students understand this, it starts to develop a growth mindset.
“We take teaching down to an individual level. So I’ll know what it is that you need to help you achieve,” Mr Puttock said.
“If we know you’re not very good at maths we’ll ensure you’re brought up to what a healthy, numerate global citizen is going to need — it’s the complete opposite of one size fits all. Personalised learning allows you to fly in the things you’re already good at but helps you with the things you’re not yet good at.”