Rachelle Dene Poth is an educator who is taking an innovative approach to personalized learning. She talks to Hoonuit about how she is rethinking the traditional classroom.
We all remember the teacher from the Peanuts comic strips. You know, the one who did nothing but stand at the front of the classroom, droning on to Charlie Brown and his friends in unintelligible nonsense? Luckily, today’s lesson plans are a far cry from the interminable “wah wah wah” Charles Schultz depicted, thanks to talented teachers equipped with countless tools that help ensure they’re getting through to every child. Today’s educators are emphasizing a more personalized approach to learning that ensures each student is given access to the resources and attention they need. And as new technology continues to emerge and evolve, educators have found unique and innovative ways to implement digital resources that serve to make their classrooms more engaging learning environments.
We recently caught up with Learning Ambassador, Rachelle Dene Poth, a teacher in the Riverview school district outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about how she implements personalized learning techniques in her classrooms. A Spanish, French, and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) teacher, Poth teaches grades 8-12, developing lesson plans that offer students the opportunity to take control of their education through project-based learning and new technology initiatives.
When she realized that some of her students were struggling to complete assignments, Poth was inspired to find a way to make herself and her lessons more accessible. “Students were either losing their papers, they were absent, or they couldn’t do the homework at night because they didn’t understand it,” she says. “I was noticing this problem with accessibility — this disconnect between the classroom, the assignments, and the overall learning objectives.”
Poth began using a Learning Management System (LMS) and online messaging tools to help make assignments and resources readily available to students. “It was a way to help each individual student and to have a conversation or connection with them,” she says. “I told them if you have questions and you don’t know what to study, send or post a message and I can send the resources.” The response from students was positive: with easier access to the resources they needed to succeed, students were able to take ownership of their learning and ultimately, more control over their own success.
Poth also implements technology to help engage students inside the classroom. For example, in her Spanish classes, she has helped connect her students with students in Spanish-speaking countries so they can communicate directly over video, offering a more immersive, authentic learning experience and teaching students to use technology for a purpose.
In striving to implement personalized learning, Poth has had the opportunity to rethink what a classroom can and should look like. For example, she’s been able to pay closer attention to each of her students’ individual needs by cutting down on in-classroom lecture time. “I totally broke down my traditional classroom setup where students were lined up in rows while I stood and talked in the front of the classroom,” she says. “Instead, I’ve worked on creating more flexible learning spaces.”
Now, Poth says she frequently sets up stations in her classrooms so that students can split up and engage in different activities on their own or in small groups. “That shift has actually given me more time speaking to and interacting with students,” she says, by turning what might have been a forty minute lecture into a series of small group discussions and one-on-one conversations.
When Poth first introduced project-based learning, she says that some of her students were nervous. For many of them, it was the first time they hadn’t been told exactly what to learn and how to learn it. But over time, her students have embraced a classroom environment in which they’re encouraged to chart their own paths. “The biggest thing for me is giving students the opportunity to decide what and how they’re going to learn,” she says.
For educators hoping to cultivate a more personalized approach in their classrooms, Poth has some valuable advice: “Think about the areas of your job where you’re spending a lot of your time,” she says. “For me, it was trying to find a way to be more available to students.” Poth says educators struggling to make themselves available to students should consider implementing a virtual space where students and teachers can connect, students can ask questions, and teachers can offer resources. “Students know they can go there and find what they need, without losing learning time,” she says. “I think that’s really important.”
With new technology emerging every day, Poth is always looking for new tools to help students engage. But that means first learning how to use those tools. With the help of two Hoonuit modules, Poth has most recently been delving into AR/VR technology and learning how to apply it in the classroom.
Interested in learning how you can master new technology skills to better implement personalized learning in your classroom?