3 steps to creating a personalized literacy environment in the digital age

By Karen Adamec for Renaissance, an ACSA Partner4Purpose


Like many schools across the country, my school, Dr. Martin Luther King Elementary School, a Title 1 school in Providence, Rhode Island, is beginning to explore teaching practices and digital learning tools that help students develop the skills they will need to thrive in our tech-driven world. Teachers across the country are transitioning from an industrial-age model of teaching and learning to a methodologies-aimed focus to prepare students for the digital information era. Based on these efforts, the computer-to-student ratio at my school has changed from 1:6 schoolwide to 1:1 in grades 2–5 and 1:3 in our kindergarten and first-grade classrooms in just three short years.

However, it has become abundantly clear that although digital learning tools have incredible potential to enable personalized learning, we must consider much more than simply ensuring that every student has access to a computer. In my role as a literacy coach, I work closely with my school’s leadership team to develop and implement our comprehensive instructional plan. We’ve learned there is no step-by-step or how-to guide for creating an approach that reaches all learners while addressing 21st-century skills. We have discovered that it takes a shared vision, commitment from all stakeholders, professional development, and time for classrooms to successfully implement a student-centered approach that aligns to standards, fosters independence, and motivates students.

Here are three key concepts guiding our transition towards incorporating digital platforms into personalized learning.

1. Student choice and voice

Collaboration and project-based learning are key components in a personalized learning model. They lead to high levels of differentiation and engagement as students expand on their interests. When students exercise choice with the appropriate guidance, they learn to take ownership of their learning. Since personalized learning begins and ends with the student, digital platforms that rely on teachers to customize learning experiences based on their knowledge of their students will have the greatest impact on agency, motivation, and achievement.

2. Real-time, actionable data

Data use is fundamental to personalized learning. Teachers need timely, robust data to understand students’ strengths and areas of need, discover how to target supports, and measure progress over time. Actionable data allows teachers to engage in personalized conversations with students about what learning strategies are supporting their success and how to adapt strategies when they are not meeting their learning goals. Students also need access to real-time data to help them become aware of their own performance, reflect, and set goals. When students have access to real-time data, they feel in control of their learning and exude confidence in their abilities to continue to grow.

3. Professional development

With current technology, it’s critical that teachers are given time and resources to learn how to use digital platforms to meet learners where they are, teach them all in the ways in which they learn best, and facilitate optimal learning experiences for all students. Teachers need a lot of opportunities to deepen their understanding of personalized learning, plan and collaborate with colleagues, and engage in hands-on experiences with digital platforms. Although the student is the center of personalized learning, how teachers cultivate technology to meet their students’ needs leads to success with this instructional model. Teachers can never be replaced by technology; rather, they are guides who will shape educational experiences for students, helping them engage with learning tools that will enrich and support deeper learning.

I’m proud to work in a school district that is committed to personalizing learning to meet every student’s educational needs. Providence Public Schools has moved toward greater school-based decision-making about budgets, programming, and curriculum. After piloting myON our school will invest in the personalized literacy environment as one instructional resource that will help us transition to a more personalized learning approach.

Student engagement in reading was the most notable result of the pilot. Students reflected on their real-time data, saw their growth, and became motivated to improve. After considering which digital platform could best support student choice and voice; provide real-time, actionable data on student proficiency, progress, and habits; and offer various ways for teachers to personalize instruction, we chose myON as our student-centered, personalized literacy environment.

We live in an age in which students have seemingly infinite access to all types of information with the click of a mouse or the touch of a screen. Teachers must be able to prepare students for an ever-changing world. With the right digital platforms, teachers can support data-driven learning like never before, personalizing learning to students’ interests, passions, strengths, and needs.


Check out more EdTech resources here, and  to learn about some of today's most innovative classroom and education administration methods, join ACSA on November 8-10 in San Diego for our annual Leadership Summit, a world-class premier professional development event. The Summit is a gathering of educators at all levels of administration in celebration of the profession. For 2.5 days, this event provides opportunities for invaluable networking, offering professional development on current critical leadership and educational issues.

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