HELP!!! Personalized learning – how does this work??

Since being awarded a Race to the Top grant, our county has set personalized learning as one of their main priorities in the strategic plan.  All middle school students in our county will have tablets over the next couple of years which will be used as a tool to help personalize learning.  We as teachers have been trained on the use of the tablets and the students will be receiving them in just a few weeks.  Thrown in with the tablet training has been information on how we need to use the tablets to help us personalize learning.

Ok, so my concern is, if I am truly supposed to personalize learning, how the heck does it happen?  In all the training, I have heard very few ideas about how to make this happen in my classroom.  We’ve heard about what it is, how important it is and that this is a main focus and reason for us getting the tablets.  I have read some articles about how the ultimate goal is to create an environment where the learner is in charge of his/her learning and the teacher is a partner.  The learner is deciding what and how to learn, designing projects and the teacher is giving feedback.  It sounds wonderful but I don’t understand how to get there.  How do the twenty or so students I have in a middle school classroom teach themselves French (as complete beginners) and decide what they will learn?  I was not taught French this way.  I didn’t get to decide what vocabulary words I was going to learn or what grammar to work on.  It was taught to me in bits and pieces.  I practiced the concepts I was taught and somewhere along the way I learned how to communicate in another language.  This idea of allowing the students to decide what they’re going to learn is a totally foreign concept to me.

I can understand flipping the classroom.  I can understand giving the students choices for projects.  I can even understand how you could give students choices about how to learn something using a tablet (i.e. give them the choice to watch a video about how to conjugate verbs, read instructions, or sit in a small group with a teacher to explain and model).  What I don’t understand is how students would just pick and choose what they want to learn.  So, if a student is more interested in sports and another is interested in animals they would be studying different vocabulary words?  Another student wants to learn only how to write French but another student wants to learn only how to speak – how does that work?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this can’t work.  I’m just saying this idea of personalized learning doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t know how to move my classroom into something that looks like this.  If anyone out there has ideas on how this is done in a foreign language classroom, please post links, videos, anything!  Help!!!

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