Benefits of Individual Learning Plans
by Mary Jacob McKinley
As a teacher, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t succeed. Your role is to provide students with the best possible knowledge to prepare them for the future. The most effective way to achieve this is to understand and nurture the individual learning needs of each student. Advertisement
Differentiation is a popular buzzword in the teaching arena these days. It means modifying or tailoring the classroom experience to meet students’ individual differences and needs. Differentiation can be beneficial to both teachers and students.
This approach to education allows the teacher to zero in on each student’s unique strengths and challenges. The teacher can then assess these needs and formulate an individualized learning plan (ILP) for each student.
ILP vs. IEP: Understanding the distinction
What is an individualized learning plan, and how does it differ from an individualized education plan (IEP)? Although the end goal of both is the same, the strategy and approach differ:
- ILP: In this plan, the teacher assesses each student’s strengths and knowledge in a specific area. The teacher then develops a curriculum and establishes a well-defined learning plan for each individual.
- IEP: These documented procedures lay out the instruction, support and services that students with special needs require to reach their individual education goals. This method involves collaboration between a student’s teachers, administrators, parents and other professionals.
Both ILPs and IEPs apply differentiation, but only an IEP is a legal document. Students with special needs can benefit from differentiation as much as any other student.
How to implement differentiation:
Teachers must regularly adjust lessons based on their classroom schedules and needs; however, with careful thought and planning, the class as a whole will thrive. All students bring their own styles of learning and individual differences to the table. The teacher then analyzes this information and develops lessons utilizing the appropriate materials and tools.
Creating the same lesson plan for students of varying learning levels requires thorough preparation. Here are four useful strategies to keep in mind when developing an individualized learning plan:
1. Organize your classroom for the lesson
Children learn in different ways. Test different approaches to see how they fit the dynamics of your class:
- Homogeneous groups consist of students with the same knowledge or skill level. In a homogeneous group, students may feel more comfortable asking questions since their peers have similar abilities.
- Heterogeneous groups consist of students with varying knowledge and skill levels. Two key benefits distinguish heterogeneous groups:
- Students learn when they teach their peers
- Students are often more receptive to learning from their peers
- Learning centers allow students to explore, experiment and enhance their individual learning experience as they move through each center and work independently to complete each task. The teacher can then assess, adjust and tailor assignments accordingly. One method of successfully applying differentiation to a learning center is to set up separate loops and vary the content. The result is a more challenging and motivational experience.
2. Structure your content strategically
Before assessing the students and their individual learning plans, you need to gather and organize the information and tools you will need. Establishing a structured content plan upfront will make it easier to challenge your students appropriately. It will also minimize frustration and breakdowns. Here are examples of how to effectively structure your content:
- Break information down into smaller chunks
- Alter the difficulty level of questions
- Provide an assortment of graphic organizers
- Vary the vocabulary
- Issue different supplies for each specific assignment
- Provide picture dictionaries for English language learners
3. Pre-assess the individual learning needs of each student
It’s crucial to determine each student’s knowledge and skill level before a lesson or unit begins. You will need to assess the students to differentiate lessons for each, focusing on the lesson’s objectives and standards. That doesn’t mean you’ll have to make 30 separate lesson plans. Use this data to determine every student’s needs and ability levels, then sort your class accordingly. Pre-assessments can include:
- An online or handwritten quiz consisting of 5 to 10 questions
- Verbal questions and discussions (either individually or as a group)
- A graphic organizer with or without a word bank
- An exit ticket about an upcoming unit
- The first column of a Know, Want, Learned (K-W-L) chart
4. Develop a post-assessment and track the results
Post-assessments allow teachers to determine the extent to which a student has met the objectives of the assignment. You’ll need a baseline of what the student knew prior to instruction, and an indication of what they know upon completion. You can then establish appropriate ways to assess their progress. Students do not have to turn in the same “test.” Post-assessments are based on student-created products, such as:
- Newspaper articles
- Scavenger hunts
- ABC books
- Sock puppet plays
Rubrics can be invaluable tools in assessing a student’s progress. They provide students the information and skills they need to reach set goals using their strengths and creativity. A differentiated post-assessment is one of the benefits of an individualized learning plan.
By differentiating lessons, students can learn at their level and use their strengths to excel. Follow these four steps, and you’ll begin to differentiate lessons to meet your students’ varying needs. Be aware that this process takes time. You won’t be able to do this for every lesson, but it’s still a valuable tool to have in your teaching arsenal.
Whether you choose to differentiate a lesson or not, it’s recommended you establish a pre-assessment for each unit. You’ll then be able to track your students’ growth over time and identify their individual learning needs.
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