When new students arrive in the learning environment, it is essential that we learn the skills, interests, strengths, and challenges of these learners so that we can help construct a meaningful and relevant learning experience that will allow students to achieve their goals.
The Personal Learning Framework starts this process through the Identity stage. Focusing on identity helps both the learner and instructor to develop a positive relationship that can lead to a dynamic learning experience.
The first step in the Identity stage is to help students create a biography. This paragraph identifies the student, some of their strengths and challenges, and goals they may have for the school year. Many teachers already include this activity or something similar during the first days of the new year. Formalizing this process, and making it a part of the personal learning plan is an easy and effective way for teachers to begin the process of understanding the strengths and challenges of new students in the classroom.
Here are some additional resources contributed by Lindsey Halman of the Edge Academy in Essex.
The second element of the Identity page is a self-portrait of the student. Self-portraits serve two primary purposes. First, it helps teachers recognize students and provides context for student interests. Self-portraits can provide insight into how the student perceives themselves, strengths they may bring to the learning environment, skill with technology, and graphic design.
The second segment of the Identity phase moves from the individual to the relationships and community connections of the student. Through a series of exercises and graphic organizers, educators can help students identify networks of support, strong, positive relationships, the positive character traits that make good relationships.
To do this, educators are encouraged to have students complete an exercise where students create a relationship web. Follow these simple steps to build the relationship web:
Once students have provided evidence of their individuality, strengths and challenges, and the positive and supporting relationships that are present in their lives, teachers can help students to identify the principles and values prized by the individual student. Remember that this comes out of your work in the identity phase; students have reflected on themselves, their relationships, and the positive characteristics of those relationships. Now, they should be encouraged to isolate those principles or values that they find most important.
This step is important for a number of reasons. First, by self-identifying their principles and values, students will begin framing their performance, decision-making, and growth through the lenses of those principles and values. True, after a year or more of middle school, during which students and their relationships may experience significant change, these principles and values may change. However, these can provide critical bearings for students navigating the middle level.
Additionally, these principles and values can be used to examine a wide range of student experience at the middle level. Whether role playing in teacher's advisory, examining character's in literature, or conducting a historical investigation, students can view the world, and analyze their growth through the perspective provided by their principles and values.
Finally, by identifying these principles and values, students can transition into the growth stage where they can begin setting goals based on the principles and values they have identified in the Identity phase of the personal learning plan.