Student learning playlists are a unique way to personalize learning for students. Many educators are taking various versions of this approach to differentiate learning for their students.
I first heard about learning playlists through reading articles and posts about Alt School.
On Alt School’s website, they describe their playlists with the following explanation,
“Playlist is a set of tools that enables educators to manage what each child does to meet his or her personalized learning goals, and functions as a customized workspace for students to cultivate agency by managing their own work. Educators create, sequence, and remix curriculum units to curate Playlists where students can view assignments, communicate with their teacher, and submit work generated on- and off-line. Education teams provide feedback and assessments that update students’ Portrait in real time. Playlist allows educators to help students accelerate in any areas where they are already advanced, and work on areas that require more attention and development.”
Immediately after reading about this, I loved the idea but wanted to take our own spin on it based on our students’ needs and the separate set of technology resources we had.
Hence, to get started with learning playlists, I knew I wanted to try this with a few students in a small group first. I thought that this would give me more information on what worked and what did not work before I implemented the design with an entire class.
The lovely Ms. Montgomery, who teaches 4th grade at my school, is always such a risk-taker; She is willing to try anything and everything to help her students succeed. Before starting the learning playlists, Ms. Montgomery and I first met to look at student data and achievement. Through this, we decided to begin learning playlists with a few students who needed more challenging learning activities.
Before moving any further, we met with the students to ask their input. Although Ms. Montgomery and I initially steered the students to goals that would most benefit them, our students decided to create a brainstorming list of goals they wanted to work on. After looking through their previous work, and thinking about the area in which they needed the most guidance and extension, this particular student chose to focus on “main idea and details” and highlighted her choice.
What I love about the brainstorming doc is that students can continue to go back and add thoughts or goals to work on at another opportunity. See a student-created sample below via Google Docs:
Here is a sample playlist:
First, I started learning playlists with two students who had two different learning goals. We met weekly face-to-face for one hour, but in between these sessions, students can ask me questions on a classroom I created through Recap.
Let me break down the organization of my playlist format:
- At the top, students type their name next to “Learning Playlist”
- Goal: Students write in the goal/target they decided upon with the teacher.
- Track: Tracks are learning activities that can be online or offline. Some are videos, creations, games, podcasts, hands-on activities, and more. If the activity is online, hyperlink it.
- Track Info: This gives directions on what to do or more information about the activity as a whole. Students also can hyperlink things they have created that display the track into this box as they go.
- My Thoughts/What I Learned: Gives students a place to reflect, pose thoughts, or ask questions.
- Track Completed: Students place a “Y” if they have completed the track; Students have said this helps them remember where they are at. Students can type an “N” if they have not completed the track yet, or some leave the box blank to show that it is not yet concluded.
- How Will I Show What I Know: Before students go through the playlists, they think and jot down a cumulative project idea to start after their learning playlist tracks are complete. Students can review and modify their idea for this project as their learn more about their target. For example, you can see in the picture above that this student initially chose to do a 5 paragraph essay. But once they had more skill in the area, they decided they still wanted to produce a 5 paragraph essay, but to take it a step further, they would also create a podcast to show their learning in a way they have not attempted before.
- Add your own track: Gives students a chance to start finding sources and researching potential activities that transcend learning.
Gradual Release of Learning
When we began the learning playlists, we as teachers created and culminated all of the track ideas for the students. Although I think it is important for the teacher to guide, oversee, and to embed expert curriculum resources, I realized that there is HUGE value in students also being partners in the process.
Therefore, as I continued to use these playlists with students, I would show them how I created videos to make content resources and how I vetted tracks online and offline that were worthy of their learning. Although there were bumps along the way, it lends itself to excellent teachable moments on research, creation, valid and worthwhile sources, and more. Furthermore, students WANTED to lead their own learning which is a craft that is invaluable.
In addition, time management is a skill that improves for students as they determine, through trial and error, how to pace themselves to finish tracks and complete goals without a teacher “timing” them.
Important Notes and Adjustments
- Start individualized learning playlists in student small groups first.
- Create Google Calendar schedules & share with your students so they know when the face-to-face meeting times are. Again, during these meetings, you will discuss learning playlists progress, provide guidance, and students will share what they have created. Feel free to alter meeting times and scheduling based on your student needs.
- Have students begin with one goal/playlist at a time until they become familiar with the concept.
- The tabs at the bottom of Google Sheets allow you to organize all of the different playlists in ONE sheet! Students can name the tabs based on their learning goal to keep it organized.
- Playlists can be fitted to a mixture of grade levels, learning standards, curricular areas, and student needs. Playlists can be a supplementary resource to help bridge learning gaps, or it can be a device to extend learning to a new dimension!
- Hold onto student playlists examples. Many of these playlists can be customized and shared with other students who need an extra boost in similar target areas.
- Student-Created Adjustments:
- Once a student completes their first playlist, that particular student will then show another student how to determine a learning target and how-to-begin a learning playlist of their own.
- Students can display their learning in a variety of ways, even if it is not addressed on the learning playlists. When students think of a new way to show their learning, they can add a new track to a different row in Google Sheets. If the project is not online, they can quickly describe what their project is in the box. If the project is online, students can hyperlink their creations and ideas.
- Students share their work with friends and family using the sharing settings of their Google Sheets.
- Students have now started creating playlists on skills like “collaboration” to help themselves grow in non-curricular areas and to team with multiple students on one playlist.
Ms. Montgomery just e-mailed me today to share how much her students continue to be empowered by our learning partnerships and playlists. Students talk about their learning playlists constantly; They are overjoyed to help lead their learning! Most of all, they have a blast creating and thinking outside of the box. On Friday, students even asked if they could skip recess to work on their playlists!
As you try learning playlists, feel free to take what will work with your students and modify or supplement anything that your specific students need.
- Make a copy of my learning playlist template on Google Sheets here.
- Education Week shows how Nathan Hale Middle School uses algorithms to provide personalized learning for each of their students.
- Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy discusses how she has used learning playlists here.