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Personalized Learning in the Classroom Comes in Many Forms

At Rocketship, we have always valued personalized learning as a core part of our instruction, integrating blended learning programs into our instructional model to meet the needs of each and every Rocketeer.

In a typical classroom, you will see one teacher teaching the same content to 25-30 students. In this whole group structure, it is near impossible to tell what content every student is comprehending and what gaps in understanding specific students may have. At Rocketship, we define personalized learning as an instructional approach where whole group instruction is more purposefully utilized (i.e. social-emotional lessons that are developmentally appropriate and require a large group or team), and Rocketeers engage in learning that is targeted to their individual academic and personal needs. While technology allows us to efficiently assign aligned content and track growth, online tools do not solely define our personalized learning model. Rather, the authentic partnership of teacher insights, student agency, online tools, and data systems allow us to really give each learner what they need to succeed. Thus, personalized learning lives in all parts of the day, including, but not limited to: small group instruction, peer group projects, pull out groups with ISE (Integrated Special Education) specialist, leveled homework, Tier II interventions in the Learning Lab, and online learning programs (OLPs).

Some of our Rocketeers start with us well below grade level or face challenging situations at home. For this reason, we are constantly looking for ways to make our personalized learning as beneficial as possible to our students, in order to get them ready for college. This means innovating and trying new personalized learning models. One of our current focuses is integrating online learning programs (OLPs) into both our STEM and humanities classrooms to allow for more small group personalized instruction for our students, which research shows is greatly beneficial to student achievement.

Personalized Learning in STEM Classrooms

In STEM classrooms, teachers use OLPs such as Front Row, Reflex Math, and DreamBox to increase the amount of time available for differentiated small group instruction. We use DreamBox and Front Row because they are both aligned to Common Core standards and continually adapt, inside and outside of the student’s grade level, during programming. Reflex math is a math fact fluency program that complements the other two by teaching and reinforcing students basic math fact skills so they can be successfully used in the other programs and in class.

Teachers set up a rotational model during their flexible grouping portion of the STEM block where students rotate between 2-3 stations (including OLPs) while teachers pull small groups. This rotational structure allows students to learn in different forms, both collaboratively and independently, and keep moving so energy levels stay high. In lower grades, many of our teachers primarily teach content in small group sessions to provide more one-on-one attention and hands-on math tools to our youngest learners.

We choose to use OLPs for a number of reasons: OLPs provide additional aligned practice to our content, preview new content, and build background knowledge in preparation for exploration with teachers. For example, as a third grade teacher you can assign standards related to fractions from the upcoming unit in DreamBox for students to preview the content before actually learning it with you in a whole group lesson. On Reflex math, students can practice their math fact fluency (an essential skill to build on for more complex math later on) through engaging games. OLPs also provide personalized practice that can be below or above grade level based on student needs.

In our quest to constantly innovate in order to best meet student needs, we work with our schools to pilot new programs. We believe that the only way a pilot will be successful is if school leaders and teachers are invested and excited about the product. One of our newest California schools, Rocketship Rising Stars, and our Milwaukee school, Rocketship Southside Community Prep, have chosen to pilot Zearn in their STEM classrooms based on Zearn’s success in other schools. These school leaders are responding to the needs of their students and using a proven program to try something new. Zearn is an online learning program that teaches a personalized rigorous curriculum based on Eureka math and EngageNY. Teachers implement Zearn in two models: half the students are on Zearn while half are with the teacher in a small group lesson, or two thirds of the students on Zearn while one third are with the teacher in a small group lesson. This allows teachers to customize lessons and focus on content and skill gaps. Zearn is unique from other math OLPs in that it provides entire lessons for students from the introduction of the topic, through skill practice to the final check for understanding. These lessons include a math fluency warm up, guided practice, independent practice and exit ticket, the same components as an offline teacher taught lesson. Students have aligned workbooks that they use to show their work and evidence of learning while on Zearn. Because students are learning new content online, teachers are able to pull targeted small groups for remedial or advanced instruction. Instead of the teacher teaching the new content to students in a large group setting, they are able to teach entirely in small groups while the other students engage with new content on Zearn. Many of our students come to us one or more grade levels behind in math and Zearn and other OLPs allow us to meet the needs of all of our students through personalized online learning and teacher-led small group instruction.

Personalized Learning in Humanities Classrooms

In our humanities classrooms, teachers are using OLPs to provide personalized practice during guided reading and literacy centers. Teachers set up a rotational model with five to six groups that rotate between guided reading with the teacher, OLPs, independent reading, phonics activities and other personalized independent activities. One OLP students use is myON, an online independent reading program. This year we are working to elevate our myON practices to be more rigorous and purposeful by assigning STEP level-aligned reading projects within myON and rolling out annotation notes so students can show evidence of learning. As students are reading texts online, they are filling out their annotation sheets and recording things such as character feelings, character motivation and main idea which push students beyond just passively reading the online books.

Another OLP we use is Lexia Core5 that specializes in adaptive phonics and reading fluency practice. On Lexia, students play matching games, letter sound sorting activities and real time remedial lessons on certain words or sounds they struggle with. This is especially helpful for our 3rd-5th graders who may have gaps in phonics knowledge. At these grade levels, phonics is no longer taught in the whole group setting, so Lexia is where they get to practice phonics. Lexia provides interactive, differentiated lessons and continually adapts within the program. Both of these OLPs provide targeted practice for our struggling readers and allow our already fluent readers to challenge themselves.

Eliminating the Achievement Gap

Our main focus at Rocketship has been and will always be our students. We use online learning programs and other tools to meet students where they are and have made extraordinary gains with students who come to us one or more grade levels behind. As we continue to grow as a network of schools, we are determined to continue iterating and refining our personalized learning model to eliminate the achievement gap within our lifetimes.

Keya is a part of Rocketship’s Achievement Team, supporting the implementation of online learning and the personalized learning initiatives throughout the network. Previously, Keya was a Kindergarten teacher, first at a public school in Oakland and then at a start up charter school in San Francisco. Keya grew up in Hong Kong and attended the University of California, Los Angeles where she studied International Development and Chinese. After graduating, she joined Teach for America and began her career in Education. Keya now lives in San Francisco and enjoys discussing all things early elementary, trying new food, reading and traveling.


Published on April 10, 2017