Personalized Learning in KPBSD

Where do you want your learning to take you and how can KPBSD help you get there? #PLinKPBSD

Standards Driving PL in KPBSD

Often one of the myths surrounding Personalized Learning is regarding the misconception that students are given completely free reign Myth Buster - Fact: Personalized learning is driven by the standards we teachover what they study. This is not the case at all. In fact, teachers are bound more than ever to the foundational skeleton of the content areas: The standards! The Alaska State Standards guide all the work that we do as educators. It is what we are bound to teach. It is what our state has determined to be what our students need to know.

With Personalized Learning, we are innovative about the ways that we approach and monitor student progress on the standards, but the standards remain the foundation of education. Amy Angleton, Language Arts teacher at Skyview Middle School who has contributed to this blog in the past goes says it in more depth…

Amy Angleton Profile Pic“The first step to be innovative within the confines of parameters such as standards is to understand the parameters deeply. State Standards are an essential basis for education. Without standards, educators would have no framework for what their students need to know at specific levels in order to prepare them for the next levels. Think of utilizing standards like you would learn a sport. When someone learns a skill in a sport there are foundational skills that a player needs to have before they are able to progress and play the sport as a whole. To learn these skills they practice them slowly and perfectly hundreds of times to create muscle memory. Teachers create muscle memory with the standards. When a teacher knows the standards deeply they do not have to look at them every time they create a lesson that is innovative and creative. They create lessons that address the standards automatically because they have muscle memory, they have become automatic. Of course (just like in sports) it is important to refresh every now and then just to make sure you are on the right track.

After understanding the standards deeply, then teachers can create checklists and essential skills students will use and be familiar with that are based on standards without using them directly. Then, innovation can really begin. Once a teacher has the end goal set, the skill that students need to master, there are unending possible ways to teach a student to accomplish that goal. There are unending possible choices to give students to take ownership for their own learning. There are online portfolios and projects and videos and explorations that students can all do. This is the exciting part, the moment that teachers articulate the end goal to students is the moment that innovation can begin.”  

We see this playing out all over KPBSD! Amy is at a middle school, but if you look at West Homer Elementary, you will see “I can” statements I can statements charton their walls. An “I can” statement is the standard that you are trying to teach put into student-friendly and actionable language. For example, the Alaska State Standard says, “ Add up to four two-digit numbers using strategies based on place value and properties of operations.” The “I can” statement for this is “I can add double digits. I can name the place a number is in. I can tell if it is addition or subtraction.” The student knows exactly what they are trying to accomplish!   

At the high school level, we find teachers like Meredith McCullough at Kenai Central High School using standards-based grading. Students monitor their progress on the English/Language Arts standards during the course of the semester and provide evidence for their achieving the standards in regular conferences with their teacher. Even at the high school level, standards are put into student-friendly language that students can easily use. This is a clear example of Student Ownership and Reflection, one of the Core Four components of Personalized Learning. Students can progress at the pace that is healthy for them and understand the scope of their work to get credit for a course. This also allows the teachers to provide the resources and assistance that students need to master the standards.

The myth of PL being a free-for-all is clearly busted! Standards drive our work. Teachers and students all over the district use the standards as the basis for what we teach and study. This provides a clear foundation district wide and means that students are receiving their education with fidelity.

Where are we in Our PL Journey?

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has been working with Education Elements for a year now. And in that time, there have been great strides made toward expanding the teaching and learning practices that we have in the district. An unintended consequence of taking a very reflective look at how we do business was that the innovative practices of teachers around the district have come clearly to light. You see, education is often a very individually based profession. Educators are so busy doing their portion that they rarely get to hear about what others are doing or share what they are doing in their own practices. Exciting to see the unique things that students, teachers, and principals are doing across the district!

Our work with Education Elements is set for a 3 year duration culminating in a sustainability phase that continues indefinitely into the future of our work. We are one year into that 3 year stretch. There are 3 waves (or groups) of schools moving through this process as mentioned in the previous post “The Long Runway”. Each wave moves through a series of 5 trainings and 3 site visits in their work with Ed Elements.

Here is where we are in this journey…

Wave 1 is wrapping up their work with Ed Elements here at the end of the school year. They are moving into the sustainability phase of the personalized learning work. We are spending our efforts developing long term processes for continual reflection and iteration (changes or updates) to the work that we do.

Wave 2 is halfway through their training series. They are spending the bulk of their time right now designing personalized learning structures and strategies for their classrooms and schools. They are deep in the work of trying out more personalized approaches with their students and empowering students to be reflective learners that more fully own their education. Even though the work is still in progress, teachers like Carlyn Nichols and Laura Niemcyzk are diving head first into innovative practices.

Wave 3 will soon be having their first site visits and delving into the first of the training series that Ed Elements offers. This wave consists more completely of the large high schools and so will have perhaps the largest shifts in practices. It is exciting to highlight teachers like Kristin Davis at Kenai Central High School, Eric Pomerleau at Soldotna High, Kim Leslie of the Distance Education program, and Sean Campbell at Homer High School among so many others for paving the way to more personalized education at the secondary level.

As we look forward into the remaining time of our partnership with Education Elements, the waves will continue through the training series and in another year or so, the entire district will be into the sustainability phase of this work. It will be amazing to see what the collaborative structures for reflecting and sharing our practices are as we move forward.

Other aspects of our PL journey include the updating of the curriculum and resources that are available for teachers to use. The process has begun to move each content area through a re-design/update of the curriculum and collecting the resources and materials that teachers will need to implement it. The final component of this is the technology support integration aspect. As the PL practices become solidified and the resources/materials needed are identified, it will be the natural next step to build the technology component of the PL scene in KPBSD.

For a brief and visual overview of this post, please check out the Riding the Wave infographic. So much progress made… much more coming! Exciting times in KPBSD!

PL in the Bigger Picture

The implementation of Personalized Learning in KPBSD is directly related to the 5-year strategic plan that our school board put in place this year. PL is allowing us to more directly meet the vision and mission through guiding principles listed on the district seal (right). Using the Core Four, we can clearly see how each aspect integrates with these principles of ready, rigor, relevance, and responsive. When considering the guiding principle of “ready”, student reflection and ownership provides for building both grit and perseverance, while data driven decisions allows educators to monitor academic indicators and benchmarks. If we are doing both of those Core Four aspects, our students will indeed be “ready”. In fact, all of the guiding principles align to one or more of the Core Four aspects.

AK Ed ChallengePersonalized Learning is bigger than just KPBSD though… There is a statewide effort at play here. Districts around the state are heavily invested in building PL capacity. This is largely due to efforts to meet the Alaska Education Challenge. The Governor has put this challenge in the forefront of how districts are doing business through 3 very clear commitments – Increase student success, Cultivate safety and well-being, and Support responsible and reflective learners. When we consider the commitment of “Increase Student Success”, this aligns directly to KPBSD’s guiding principles of “ready” and “rigor”. The principles are in action on the ground in PL through data driven decisions, targeted instruction, and flexible content and tools.  Likewise, we also find that KPBSD is dedicated to focusing on the commitments of the AK Ed Challenge through personalized learning. Consider how KPBSD’s work crosswalks with the 3 Commitments in the image below!

For more about the Alaska Education Challenge and KPBSD’s Strategic Plan, please refer to the links below:

DEED AK Challenge

AK Challenge Report

AK Ed Challenge White paper

KPBSD Strategic Plan

KPBSD Key Performance Indicators

Crosswalk image for AK Ed Challenge and PL in KPBSD



PL Abounds in KPBSD

At the end of January, the Wave 1 schools had their first Learning Walks where the Education Elements team and the School PL teams visited classrooms to celebrate the personalized learning being

Student tracking chart for standards

Data Driven

implemented.  This was the first on-the-ground check in since the Wave 1 schools started the transition to PL.

Students working in a small group with their teacher.

Targeted Instruction

The Learning Walk process consists of the teams visiting classrooms and taking notes on a shared tool to highlight PL practices.  The Ed Elements team visited over 50 classrooms across the nine Wave 1 schools with the focal point of those visits being centered on the Core Four:  Targeted Instruction, Data Driven Decisions, Flexible Content & Tools, and Student Reflection & Ownership. Each of the Wave 1 schools have selected one of the Core Four as a primary focus, so the evidence they gathered was specific to each school’s goals.

The evidence and notes from the team were collated into a school level report for the school’s review and use.  Each school report gives highlights of observed PL in classroom and school-wide trends, along with questions and ideas for schools to consider in the next steps of their PL journeys.  All of those school reports were then compiled into a District Summary which highlighted districtwide trends. Some of those trends include:

Evidence of PL Models – Learning Walks reveal that teachers have committed to implementing PL instructional models and a wide range of tactics across the Core Four.

A playlist of options for students choice to be built into a lesson.

Student Choice

Student Engagement – Not only did the team observe high levels of student engagement across the classrooms, but many students were able to articulate what they were working on and why.

Student using multiple content options.

Flexible Content

Student Choice – With a large focus on student reflection and ownership, we saw several classrooms providing students choice – particularly in order of completion or pace through a set list of activities. Students are demonstrating a strong level of independence!

Use Flexible Content and Tools – Teachers are seeking out content that addresses the objectives and needs of their students. Not only are they making use of the digital content that is available, but they are also providing a variety of activities that are not digital – these include hands-on and various practice materials.  Click here for more ideas in this area that do not require technology or devices.


PL on the Ground and Running

Often, phrases like “What does Personalized Learning look like in the classroom?” are heard bantered back and forth as we move farther down this runway.  Well, there are a 1,000 answers to this as each teacher, each group of kids, and each scenario is unique. In this post, we will take a brief look into just one possible scenario for a glimpse of what is possible by sharing the practices of Amy Angleton, an English/Language Arts teacher at Skyview Middle School.

Amy has taken the weekly schedule for her classes and created a consistent rotation schedule for the students. Each day of the week offers something unique for the students. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, they move through stations in the classroom that include independent work that includes technology integration for delivering some content, collaboration with other students, and application of the writing process with one-to-one conferencing with the teacher.

Let’s dive further into the  conferencing, because this is the heart of the beauty in this. Amy has the opportunity to meet with each student individually to guide, support, teach, and reflect with the student about themtheir needs… their successes.  This type of student reflection and goal setting is directly connected to the Core Four of Personalized Learning discussed in previous posts. She meets with them anywhere from 1-3 times individually along with all the general class time interaction.

Amy Angleton Profile Pic

Amy Angleton, ELA @Skyview Middle


The benefits for Amy and her students are crystal clear.  She knows her students on a personal level that has never been achieved before this point in her career. This is all about them and their individual needs! This makes grading into teaching and offers so much more opportunity for investment from the students. It is important to note that the logistics of shifts like this take dedication to really figure out a system, but no one says it better than Amy herself, “I can honestly say that I have never felt more effective as a teacher than I do with one-on-one conferencing.” 

So there you have it… an on the ground example of one way PL might look in action. For more on Amy’s story with one-to-one conferencing, check out this teacher feature!

Data Strong – Speaking of the Core Four

Data Driven Decisions - Frequent Data collection informs instructional decisions and groupings.

Of the Personalized Learning Core Four discussed in the last post, KPBSD has many strengths! One area that practices are particularly strong in is Data Driven Decisions. From the highest levels of the KPBSD machine to the small group specialized work with students, we are monitoring and utilizing data to drive our work.

Data Driven Decisions, as explained in Considering the Core Four, simply means that we frequently collect data to inform instructional decisions and student groupings. It also means that we use data purposefully, both at the student and teacher level, that we use formative (as you go) assessments to inform our decisions, and that we are developing a culture of openness toward use of data and feedback.

From a district level, one example of this is using progress monitoring assessment data to keep track of student growth. This data is usually more meta in scope – districtwide and occurring throughout the school year.  We use this information to guide the choices that are made regarding both district and school improvement. Such data is crucial in helping the district to identify trends and needs, then helping guide decisions in allocating support, materials and resources.

For the school level, this means meeting the needs of students through data use. The data here is usually specific to the school or a specific group within a school. School staff monitor how their school is demonstrating learning and use data to make intervention or support plans. Teachers and specialists use the afore mentioned progress monitoring to group students based on their needs, and even further alter their instruction for the student by frequently reviewing the data and letting it inform them of student needs. This allows for closing gaps in student learning efficiently.

For the student level, this means that students themselves are learning how to review the results of the assessments that they take to see how they are progressing in their own learning goals. The data here is specific to the student as an individual and students are beginning to diagnose for themselves what they need to move forward. This is the most pure form of driving learning… Student Driven.

Considering the Core Four

As we begin the final stretch of the semester, it is a great opportunity to consider The Core Four. The Core Four are the areas that we focus on when building personalized learning in our educational practice. Using them as a focus is both a methodical way of reflecting on our teaching and administrative practices, as well as, planning new strategies to implement. As the waves of schools go through the personalized learning transition, the PL teams from each school are working with their staffs to determine, for their school, which of the Core Four they are particularly strong in and which ones are going to be an area to focus efforts. So, what are they exactly?

Flexible Content and ToolsFlexible Content and Tools means that we have a wide variety of content and learning tool options that are both adaptable and responsive to student needs. It also means that the options provide opportunities to create, remediate, introduce material and practice, that the content is curated (selected) by teachers, and that students have the opportunity to contribute content.

Student Reflection and OwnershipStudent Reflection and Ownership means that we are continually asking students to reflect on their learning and take active ownership for their educational choices. Additionally, it means that students are learning to think more about their choices, that we are offer them opportunity for choice in their learning, and that student designed goals and direction are supported.

Targeted InstructionTargeted Instruction means that we align instruction to specific student needs and learning goals. Further, it means that we focus on small groups of students or 1-1 conferencing, that we use data to identify those groups, and that we vary instruction based on group needs.

Data Driven DecisionsData Driven Decisions means that we frequently collect data to inform instructional decisions and student groupings. It also means that we use data purposefully, both at the student and teacher level, that we use formative (as you go) assessments to inform our decisions, and that we are developing a culture of openness toward use of data and feedback.

Building each of these four areas more deeply into our practices is an ongoing process and looks more like a spectrum of growth than a set point of achievement. There is always room to grow! Check out what examples of what the spectrum looks like for each of the areas here. For more in-depth information about the Core Four, check out the Ed Elements White Paper.

The Long Runway

In following up from the previous post, What to Expect When You are Wave 2, it is time to take a look at the grand scheme. In the infographic here, you will find the timeline for the 3 waves of schools going through the PL implementation process with Ed Elements. This is the bigger picture of the time frame along with a more in-depth understanding of when things occur in the process. The previous post shared the overview of what a wave of schools can expect to occur, so now… here is the when!

This is a timeline of the PL implementation process in KPBSD

.pdf version linked here

What to Expect When You are a Wave 2 School

In continuing to expand our instructional capacity with Personalized Learning, our Wave 1 schools have forged a path that now Wave 2 schools are about to embark upon. There is much to be said for the contributions of Wave 1 guiding the iteration of our district’s process. As we build momentum and formally engage Wave 2, here is an infographic that lays out the process of what a Wave 2 school can expect over the course of this school year and the Fall of next year.

What to expect when you are Wave 2

.pdf version linked here

PL and Blended Learning

Forging ahead as a district in our Personalized Learning journey and beginning book talks expanding our knowledge, Blended Learning is one piece of the Personalized Learning pieit might be useful to consider why three of the four books being offered are on “Blended Learning”. The question to address is this: if Personalized Learning is the pie in the sky, the whole enchilada, the big kahuna, then why Blended Learning? Quite simply, the foundations of blended learning is in shifting mindsets, using groupings and rotation models, planning instruction based on quality data. As it turns out, these are also the foundational tenets of Personalized Learning!

Blended Learning, as it explains nicely in this article by the Christiansen Institute, is a “modality of instruction” that incorporates technology as a key piece of the structure. This incorporation provides more resources and often eases the teacher’s burden for things like collecting data and assessment. This format of instruction started KPBSD’s foundational shift toward PL in many ways.

Personalized Learning is a much broader term that is really a philosophy of pedagogy – a way of doing things. Unlike Blended Learning, Personalized Learning doesn’t require technology to be meaningfully incorporated into a school or district’s way of doing business, although certainly a factor to be taken into account. So, the reason that there are three Book Talks offered on blended learning is to provide the foundational shift support – the mindset, if you will. We are talking about station rotations, flexible content, data and assessment options, student accountability and engagement, and an all around mindset shift toward building school culture around these topics. We need all these things as we continue on our PL journey.


« Older posts