Elementary Classes Get Personal

During “office hours” where I spend half of a day inside buildings, one of our energetic principals said, “you need to go and see my 6th-grade team; they are doing great things with personalized learning!” So, I ventured into their classrooms, and they eagerly started discussing their new furniture order. Our district is undergoing a significant renovation to 8 buildings and building one. Part of the project is bringing flexible furniture into the spaces. For the past two years, our district spent time studying learning space archetypes, based on the work of David Thornburg, discussing Caves, Campfires, and Watering Holes. The visual below provides a useful explanation – click here to download the PDF version.

Caves, Campfires, Watering holes

Three of the teachers wanted me to help them envision their space, and like being in the room with Ben Schulcz, I felt the passion and energy once again. Needless to say, the energy was contagious and I if I felt it, the students did as well. It was evident through our conversation; these teachers had no desire for a traditional classroom. Yay! We discussed couches, lounge chairs, whiteboard tables, and ways students can feel comfortable while quickly rearrange themselves when the lesson called for it. These ladies clearly had a vision, so my real charge was offering moral support and affirming that their choices would fit in the space.

Traditional Math Class? Nah.

While speaking with Kim Grubich, a 6th-grade math teacher, she said, “I’m near the end of my career, but I love what I’m doing, and will never teach as I did in the past.” Kim participated in a group called FUSE, a cohort of teachers focused on fusing technology and math led by two of our Teacher Leaders (Kathy Kallmyer and Cary Harrod) the previous year. She uses Ten Marks and other creative blended methods for helping her students understand math. 

When asked the question, “What if you were required to teach math as you did before going through FUSE?” She locked her eyes on mine and said: “I’d quit!” Wow. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that conversation.

Social Studies & English Language Arts Gets Personal

Next, I visited Meghan Treglia’s room, a 6th-grade Social Studies and English Language Arts teacher. At first, we discussed her amazing cave space she wanted to improve. Her goal was to maximize every area and create spaces students would love. We worked through the logistical elements and before we knew it, students were pouring into her room laughing, dressed up in costumes, eagerly finding their learning team. A group of students boastfully asked Mrs. Treglia if they could work in the hall. She gladly allowed them, while reminding them to behave. She trusted her students. The students were showing mastery of their topic in whatever method appealed to them. Students were visibly having fun yet I could feel their commitment to their personal project or team. When Meghan and I discussed her instructional strategies for personalization, I asked her what had the greatest influence on her. She said “Meraki.” At Meraki, an organic group formed by Cary Harrod, 5th and 6th-grade teachers across our district study personalized learning. Soon, I’ll be interviewing Cary Harrod to learn more about the Merakis. Through this work, Meghan read many books inspiring her new instructional strategies and created a variety of artifacts to help guide her students. When I told her how great I felt the artifacts were, she quickly stated, “Stacey and I worked on these together. This is our work.” Ahhh. A high functioning team collaborating to provide a better experience for our students. Does it get any better? Below you will find samples of their work. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and was unable to get into Stacey or Kim’s rooms while students were present, but I’m confident the experience was similar.

Personalized Learning – Meraki Style

I wanted to learn more about what inspired these passionate ladies, so I asked. Stacey’s (English Language Arts teacher) reflection:

Below are some books I’ve read in the past 18 months or so. These books have definitely contributed to my mindset about personalizing my classroom.  However, what probably propelled my growth in this direction the most is collaborating with the Merakis WHILE reading these books. Since this time last year, I’ve spent countless hours talking out ideas with a very open-minded, driven, supportive group of educators. We challenge each other’s thinking in positive ways, and it moves us all forward.  I’m energized to try something new every time I leave a Meraki meeting because I know that there is no failing in Personalized Learning (PL). The growth mindset foundation of PL turns “failures” into learning opportunities through the cycle of feedback and reflection. This is the Merakis’ process too, so we’re always learning and growing to help our students.  When I met Pernille Ripp (Teacher, Author of Passionate Learners) at Nerd Camp last summer, she said, “This is how I always believed learning should be. Now, there’s just a name for it!” I feel exactly the same way. I am fortunate to work in Forest Hills where this mindset is embraced and know I’m lucky to have found 6th-grade ELA collaborators throughout the district who inspire me to grow in this practice every day!   For me, I know there’s no turning back.  I cannot imagine teaching any other way – student engagement and agency to learn has never been better!

-Stacey Reeder

Inspiration Booklist:


Feedback, Reflection and Planning Record – Students plot their course, reflecting while teachers and parents also have the opportunity to provide their feedback on what he/she has read.

Responding to Reading  – This artifact provides a variety of ways for students to show comprehension through methods such as writing, multimedia podcast, video review, content illustrations, comic strips, book talks, collaborative options, and student designed options. My favorite is the Student Designed Response where students can show what they know in a way that works best for them!

Kim uses a Math Grading Rubric to assess student work. The students receive specific feedback on any task to help guide them towards understanding what needs to be done to reach a higher level on the rubric. Students us the Math Learning Advancement Ticket to show growth from any task to improve their rubric score.

Feedback is critical in the learning cycle we use in class; students learn at different paces and might need more time or experiences to show growth. – Kim Grubich

Beads for ReadingEncouraging Kids to Read Through Innovation

Meghan and Stacey, through inspiration from the Ohio Writing Project, used a small towel rod to house rings ready for beads. Students earn beads by reading a variety of genres. For instance, students earn a hot pink bead for reading Narrative Non-Fiction or an aqua bead for Fantasy. By housing the rings on a rod, some social pressure to read exists while the desire to earn a variety of colors may motivate another. On Friday’s her students participate in a “Readin 4 Beadin Celebration.” Students grab their clip if they are ready to earn a bead from reading the book, along with completing a relatively short Response to Reading activity. They have an opportunity to discuss their book in over 30+ different ways, many including technology, and others requiring none. Pop in the classroom and you will hear songs like “Celebration” and “Happy” while students get up one by one and share the book they read, what they loved about it, and recommend it to someone, before grabbing the color bead they deserve.

It is such a neat way to hold the students accountable and celebrate their small victories…and who doesn’t love another event centered around reading that gives the students one more reason to chat about books?!

– Meghan Treglia

Tech Hack: Note in the responding to reading options, some options require technology tools. The teacher isn’t formally teaching these skills. Today, YouTube and Google provide everything they need to be successful. The onus doesn’t need to be on the teacher to teach students everything they need to know. Self-directed students take charge of their learning and learn what is necessary to achieve their task.