Personalizing in 5th Grade Math

I do love a team that can visualize, research, and implement quickly. Today I’m highlighting the 5th Grade team from Lewis and Clark who is running at warp speed to develop and implement their ideas for math personalization. Meet the teachers:

These amazing educators are also being supported in this project by Jamie Ackart, Innovation and Learning Coach and Dr. Kyle Palmer, Principal.

This team’s goal is to personalize math by adding more choice and voice to meet the needs of all learners. The team started by breaking down their standards into Learning Targets and brainstormed multiple pathways students could potentially use to learn the concepts. They shared these resources as examples to serve as a foundation to the learning, not as a ceiling. As students become more confident in the personalized process, their teachers are hoping to see learners meeting and sharing expected outcomes in new and unpredicted ways.

In this post, we will check out three structures in place for personalizing in these 5th grade classrooms:

(1) Personalization Time 

Personalization can be achieved individually or within small groups. There is a tePersonalization 2acher on hand to answer questions and serve as a mentor ensuring students are meeting their long term goals through providing checkpoints and feedback.

Students are able to work at their own pace and are reminded of scheduled coaching and seminar sessions being run throughout the personalization time.

You might see students working on their Chromebook, accessing provided math manipulatives, discussing and working problems with other students, watching a video, or a combination of these as well as other learning activities.

When I was at Lewis and Clark, the students discussed their own
personalized learning progress and identified most of the challenges that are probably going through your head right now. Personalization.JPGStudents articulated that some are really good at motivating and monitoring their progress and some are not. They understood where they needed to go in math and felt they had a clear path to achieve their goals. Students were in agreement that they enjoyed being in charge of their learning and this knowledge made them more motivated to do the work. Through real-life applications, students now see math as it applies in other situations.

Students have plenty of face-to-face time with teachers, and daily schedules serve to help meet individual needs. Here is an example of their schedules:

Scheduling F2F Instruction.JPG

What I find interesting is that students only have to attend the sessions which meet their needs for gaps in learning. No student is ever turned away, but how liberating must it be to understand that progress is promoting the attendance in sessions which best meets individual needs.

(2) Coaching

Teachers work in small groups and one-on-one to give individual assistance to target learner needs.

Coaching 3.png

(3) Seminar

Broader topics are taught as mini-lessons to help students practice concepts as a support of personalization time. Multiple strategies for discussion and sharing are utilized.


Why does this system work?

Team dynamics. This is a high powered professional learning community that leverages their trusting partnership to engage in heated debates over the best way to reach students. When approaching personalization, this team continually seeks out connections with outside sources to help build their understanding and solid plans for moving forward.

After speaking with two of the teachers, I’m awestruck with their capacity to analyze the learning that is happening as a means for reflecting and adjusting. I find myself nodding my head and getting excited as I hear them talk about the future of educating 5th graders! Maybe it is the perfect storm for educational reform or maybe it is just four people who know they can make a difference for kids. Either way, they are a team to watch!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how important a supportive leader is to the change process. When you have a leader who will learn with you and support what you are trying to do as you work through the ups and downs you have a rich learning environment for both students and staff. As I walked into the office one Friday afternoon, I watch Brandon, in a very animated manner, sharing additional planning and learning the team had done with their building principal, Dr. Palmer. A couple of great questions later, you could see the connection and interaction this team has made with leadership through clear communication. When unyielding support is present, changes to the learning environment are free to happen.

Want to learn more? Be sure to connect with the teachers on Twitter as well as check out Brandon’s blog as he intends to share their learning process…the ups and the downs.

I’m really excited to watch as this team progresses in the personalization process! It makes me wonder:

What are others doing to personalize learning?

10 responses to “Personalizing in 5th Grade Math

  1. This team has been amazing to work with because they have a relentless desire to transform education for their students. Each day reflective conversations are happening about what worked and what didn’t and the process is continually evolving to create an even more personalized experience for students.

    Math was an easier starting place because it’s more black-and-white. We’ve been trying to get a system in place that we can apply towards ELA, but that, however, is a whole different beast!

    I think the biggest part of their success so far has been the fact that they have really started with a manageable piece and have truly scaffolded this process to teach students how to personalize. These kids have never experienced anything like this and even though it’s tempting to see how they would do with full choice, this team has shown the restraint to make sure the students understand the process before they open up the choice completely.

    It’s amazing to watch this team truly tackle the idea of personalization and bring it to life in a fifth grade traditional school setting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Jamie! It is so nice to hear from the people who are actually doing the work! Making connections for kids is amazing and I’m looking forward to what you are working on for ELA!


  2. We are definitely learning and refining the system regularly, but both the teachers and the kids are really enjoying this! The teachers love how we are able to focus on the kids who need our support, without holding back those who don’t. And the kids love having a sense of ownership and freedom, while still knowing they have the support of teachers whenever they need it. I’m really looking forward to seeing students demonstrate their understanding in creative ways!


    • I was so impressed by your students’ ability to reflect on what is working well and what they struggle with in terms of personalization! At some point, it would be great to hear from students (written or video) and their ideas about (1) why personalization is a good thing and (2) what would they change about the system? Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!


  3. It has been an amazing process!

    Now that we have done it, I ask, “How can we ever go back?” Now only how, but why. Why, knowing how powerful and individual it is, would we want to? It truly is reaching each and every student. The opportunities for learning are only bound by the students themselves. Talk about empowered! Talk about exciting!

    When Jamie told us about this new trend, I haven’t been able to think about any other way of teaching. I think I may have said I wanted to be the Trailblazer for something that sounded so amazing for so many students. Boy, I am glad I did!

    Has it been easy? No way! Has it been a lot of work? Oh, yes! Is it pushing the edge and breaking down walls? It better be, WE better be. It has been worth every minute spent setting students up for success, every question asked on how to make this better, every second-guess if we are doing the right thing, every engaging (and hard) conversation we have had.

    We are a very open and trusting team. If we weren’t I don’t know if what we are taking on would be half as amazing as it has been. I could not be more happy than I am to take this journey with them!


    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Angela! It is so important to recognize that personalizing requires a LOT of time and commitment on the teacher’s part! I love how you refer to the mindset change that has occurred and that is evident with the team approach to planning and implementing! I can’t wait to come back and visit to see how the program grows and morphs. Your team is one to watch!


  4. Thanks Tracey for sharing a snapshot of what we’ve been doing! Like Angela said, it has been a lot of work. More than the work, it has been a lot of thinking and tweaking! We do whatever it takes…

    Appreciate you getting this out to so many people. People respect the heck out of you…they listen to what you say and read what you write! Thanks for sharing our journey! And don’t be a stranger!


    • You are too sweet, thank you for the huge compliment! I can’t wait to get you connected with some other teachers who are asking some really great questions! I’m looking forward to hearing what the 1st year teachers say after their visit as this is not a traditional classroom. I can’t wait to come back and check out the system as you continue to learn and modify!


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