Personalized Learning and Mathematics Teaching and Learning
Personalized learning is one of many
instructional approaches to support mathematics teaching and learning. However,
a consensus on the definition of personalized learning is lacking, which leaves
a range of ideas on what it might entail. These may include (a) customization, (b) student groupings, and (c)
flexibility of instruction. Customization focuses on tailoring experiences and
instruction for students’ needs, interests, goals, and backgrounds. This
suggests that personalized learning should have some humanizing aspects focused
on knowing and understanding who students are as people and as learners of
mathematics. Discussions on student groupings in personalized learning range
from one-to-one (one-on-one) to small groups to whole-class experiences. Too
often one-to-one and whole-class approaches are positioned in contrast; in fact,
they can be complementary for deepening students’ understanding of mathematics
and for supporting them to develop a positive personal relationship with
mathematics. Flexible instruction includes not only pacing of instruction but
also time and space for students to engage with mathematics.
learning is often part of an instructional approach that supports the needs of individual
learners. Many perspectives on
personalized learning have focused primarily on improving test scores and
achievement while ignoring the humanizing and social aspects of mathematics
teaching and learning. For example, I have been exposed to several
approaches to personalized learning that focused on tailoring mathematics tasks
and problems to learners to find solutions with little emphasis on how they make sense of mathematics,
how they use their mathematical understanding to find solutions, and why their
solutions do or do not make sense. Personalized learning can be a space in
which learners give voice to the ways they think mathematically, represent and
discuss their mathematical ideas, and use mathematics to make sense of their
worlds. Personalized learning can help learners see themselves as doers
of mathematics by providing supports for developing understanding and perseverance,
as well as for engaging in collaborations with peers to unpack mathematical
Imagine personalized learning as each and
every student being provided with a personalized teacher of mathematics who
understands his or her needs, knows his or her interests and background, and is
highly knowledgeable about mathematics teaching and learning. Imagine students
having broad access to their personalized teacher to ask questions and that their
personalized teacher is able to extend their mathematical thinking. While I
recognize that one-on-one instruction is unrealistic, I still grapple with whether
this condition of having a personalized teacher for personalized learning would
be enough for students to be productive learners of mathematics in a democratic
society. I grapple with this because I find value in students being connected
to other students who are diverse in their thinking about mathematics, have
diverse backgrounds to bring different perspectives about mathematics
representations and ideas, have varying worldviews, and are co-learners for
clarifying and critiquing one another’s mathematical ideas. My grappling makes
me think about ways that personalized learning is connected to ambitious
mathematics teaching and about how personalized learning could support
individual learners while creating spaces for individuals to engage other
I often draw on
the eight Mathematics Teaching Practices in NCTM’s Principles to Actions:
Ensuring Mathematical Success for All (NCTM, 2014) as a framework for unpacking mathematics
teaching and learning. Below are descriptions of the teaching practices with
questions to ponder that are related to personalized learning for mathematics.
1. Establish mathematics goals to focus
Implement tasks that promote
reasoning and problem solving.
Use and connect mathematical
Facilitate meaningful mathematical
Pose purposeful questions.
Build procedural fluency from
Support productive struggle in
Elicit and use evidence of student
I encourage you to use the questions above
to begin discussions on personalized learning in mathematics teaching and
learning. I am interested in learning about the promises and challenges of
personalized learning. Please share your successes and challenges on
National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics (NCTM). Principles to
Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All. Reston, VA: NCTM, 2014.
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The everyday connection between the Mathematics Teaching Practices (PtA, NCTM, 2014) to personalized learning is beyond important, it's critical. Appreciate the establishment of this connection in this President's Message.
This is very good.
Thank you, Dr. Kankey
Dr. Yankey, I am sorry for mispelling your name in my previous post.