To teach students life skills they can use outside of the classroom while pursuing rigorous learning objectives
"I have this philosophy with the kids where if something isn’t working for them or they want to do it a different way they can advocate for their needs. [...] So we kind of have that shared model that this is the work you need to get done but if you can find a different way to do it or to show me your learning and understanding then I’m totally fine with it."
Hannah Robbertz, a 3rd grade literacy teacher at Asbury Elementary, is one of many teachers at the school who is committed to personalized learning (PL). For Hannah, it is important that her students play an active role in their learning and are able to tailor it to their unique needs, interests, and strengths. She encourages students to speak up when something doesn't meet their needs or when they have a new idea they want to test. To her, PL means that "students are getting what they need and what they want every day [through] choices about how they're learning, choices about how they're showing their learning, and [...] the resources that they need."
Hear Hannah talk about the PL practices she uses in her classroom:
Some of the practices that Hannah uses to infuse PL into daily classroom life include:
Hannah works intentionally to scaffold voice and choice for students. Giving students too much freedom at once can be overwhelming and lead to irresponsible choices. At the beginning of the year, she gives them several concrete choices for how they can demonstrate their learning. This introduces students to the idea of being able to show their learning in different ways and gets them thinking about how they like to show their learning. As the year progresses, students have more freedom to make decisions about their learning and advocate for what they want.
Learn more about how Hannah sets up the classroom for student voice and choice:
One of Hannah's main PBL units focuses on the big bad wolf and how wolves are portrayed in different books. Throughout the project, students learn about literary concepts (protagonists, perspective, point of view, etc.) and have discussions applying information from the texts they read. At the end of the unit, students put the wolf on trial to decide whether or not he is guilty of being bad and take on different roles from the texts that they read. Hannah brings in guest speakers from the Defenders of Wildlife and the Rocky Mountain Wild Animal Sanctuary to enhance the lesson. The class also takes a field trip to the Sanctuary and uses a courtroom at the University of Denver to bring the trial to life. In past years, they've taken a virtual field trip to the International Wolf Center in Minnesota instead of going to the Rocky Mountain Animal Sanctuary.
Hannah designed the unit by starting with the standards and then creating an over-arching question and adding in real-life connections. By drawing upon community resources and engaging students in the trial process, she hopes to teach them how to form arguments and consider other perspectives.
Hear Hannah talk about the goals of the unit and her approach to bringing the standards to life:
Hear Hannah talk about how PL has affected her students. She believes that her students are learning more applicable skills that they will use regardless of what they want to do later in life. She also sees students wanting to get engaged in causes they care about and take action to advocate for themselves and others.
We talked with two of Hannah’s students from last year to get their opinion on the big bad wolf unit. Hear them talk about how they liked the unit, the skills they learned, and the advice they have for teachers.
Hannah talks about the lessons she has learned in doing this work and the advice she has for other teachers. She believes that students should drive this work and teachers should facilitate this by being flexible and open to trying new things. She advises other teachers to take small steps in getting started and aim to gradually spend less time teaching at the front of the room.
After student teaching at Asbury, Hannah was hired on as a full-time 3rd grade literacy teacher, which has been her job for the past three years. Hannah always knew she wanted to be a 3rd grade teacher. From the moment she understood what a job was, she had her sights set on this career. Her lessons began small, often occurring in her basement to an audience of stuffed animals, and have grown into student-driven units that engage community partners.
To connect with Hannah, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to Asbury teacher Hannah Robbertz, PL lead Desi Kennedy, and principal Alicia FaJohn, Imaginarium staff Sophie Gullett and Elisa Bowers, and the students taking ownership of their learning.
A huge thank you to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation whose Next Generation Systems Intiative (NGSI) grant has been instrumental in helping Denver Public Schools design, study and scale personalized learning.