Kindergarteners in Teresa Santos’ class thrive in an environment that raises the bar on expectations for independence. Teresa, a kindergarten teacher at Harold H. Winograd Elementary in Greeley, Colorado, implemented playlists as a key ingredient. A playlist (for our purposes) is defined as a student-facing page that contains the tasks to be completed. It’s frequently in list-like form and includes digital content lessons, paper/pencil assignments, and other stations to complete. Teresa’s playlists include icons to cue students on the task.
For example, a book icon is beside a reading task. Students color in the icon to indicate they’ve completed the task. There can be empty spots on playlists which allows room to write in tasks that come up during the week - key for differentiating. In Teresa’s class, students receive 2 new playlists each week, one for reading and one for math. As a teacher with our youngest learners, she’s tackling the question of how to develop structures which support personalized learning.
How has it helped students?
If we think about control of path, pace, place, and time as important elements to consider when personalizing learning with students this playlist hits the mark. Students assume more control over the path and pace of their learning. Students choose what task to do and how long they’re at the station or center. For example, when listening to a story, a student may decide they need to hear it again and will elect to stay for another reading. “Feel confident with it,” is a frequently heard direction from Teresa when students are deciding to move to a new task or station.
It also provides opportunities for student to own their learning. It “makes their box bigger” with support. Students know they have more responsibility and rise to the expectation that she’s set for them. “I picked it because it’s my favorite,” responded one student when asked about his choice. “I listened 2 times because I didn’t understand it the first time,” said another. Students have the opportunity to help each other. When one student couldn’t exit an activity, another student responded, “I can help you,” and did so! Students’ level of engagement is so high that they ask about upcoming playlists.
How has it helped the the teacher?
As students are monitoring themselves and are more in control of their learning, Teresa is able to meet with small groups for targeted focused instruction. The playlist allows her to flex groups, as well. Depending on the daily instructional targets, Teresa is able to select students for particular nuggets of instruction knowing that the playlist supports those at digital content as well as other centers or stations. Teresa has also gained time with students. When she is engaged in targeted small group instruction, the other students are focused on their playlist. The need to redirect or answer questions is minimal.
Most importantly, it’s provided time for Teresa to know her students individually. Increased time with students in small groups working on their individual learning targets opens the door to deeper understanding of their strengths, confusions, and goals.
What you don't see
Behind the scenes, Teresa has made many intentional decisions. She started the first day of school teaching her kindergarteners critical routines and procedures for independence. Where to find materials, how to ask for help, and how to talk with each other are all parts of the model. Successfully navigating learning situations requires students to know and use their classroom structures. Transitions are a component in which her young learners excel. Transitioning between learning activities typically occurs in 1-2 minutes. Materials are returned, centers cleaned up, and computers logged off all happen quickly with her independent learners. What strikes you is their sense of purpose as they go about their work of the day.
- Begin by determining what routines you want students to be able to do independently and then teach to that routine. Care of devices, logging in/out, how to get and give support, and how to access important materials (documents, manipulatives, etc...) should be considered. Be explicit with your feedback - and celebrate approximations and successes.
- Start small and work from there. Beginning with a single content area or class section allows you space to develop and then iterate as you and your students discover what works in your room. Teresa started with Literacy and established a base. From there, she added Math.
- Be transparent with students and peers. Let them know what you’re trying and why. Engage them in the process. At the end of class ask students what seemed to work well, and what was challenging. Enlist a teaching partner or instructional coach to come into your class and give you feedback.
- Learn from your early steps and mis-steps. Don’t give up!
Lessons learned and next steps
As suspected, students rise to the expectations adults have for them. Teresa has shown that clear routines, explicit expectations, and support and feedback produce results. What happens when we expect kids to do the task? How happens when we persevere when it gets messy or hard? What if we consistently give feedback around the critical routines - especially positive feedback? Students in this class are showing a high degree of control and independence over their learning. The confidence exhibited as students go about their daily work shows us the value in this work. Developing confident independent learners who have ownership over their learning is definitely the right target!
Playlists will continue to evolve. Further differentiation of tasks will include depth of knowledge (DOK) as well as student ownership of how learning is demonstrated. The important first steps have been taken - the journey continues!