Preparing the Text Generation
How technology enables individualized student planning.
Schools want every one of their graduates to be prepared for college and a successful career. It's an ambitious goal-one that requires an educational approach that can be tailored to fit the needs of each learner.
Individualized instruction and planning is nothing new, but digital technology has vastly increased their flexibility and effectiveness. In fact, each year, more states are mandating or promoting individual learning plans (ILPs) for middle and high school students. They go by a variety of names-personal success plans, individual career and academic plans, and graduation portfolios, to name a few-but they all seek to align middle and high school coursework, postsecondary preparation, and career aspirations and provide each student the support he or she needs to make successful transitions between educational stages and from school to the workplace.
Before the digital era, ILPs were typically written out on paper and stored in student folders. They had limited impact on achievement and provided no data for decision makers. Electronic individual learning plans, however, make it easy to develop structured personalized plans that students, families, teachers, administrators, and counselors can access instantly.
ILP models can differ, but the most common characteristics include an academic planner (which often extend to the year after high school); identification of academic, career, and personal goals; career exploration; a résumé builder; and a means to review and update the plan. Other, less common features include opportunities for personal reflection; personality and learning-style inventories; identification of areas of strength and need; action plans with deadlines; community service learning; and referrals for learning support.
Online ILPs help educators track the specific supports each student is receiving, whether it's academic, counseling, or some other type of intervention. Moreover, online plans facilitate sharing and communication among students, parents, and school staff, as well as data collection for policy makers, taxpayers, and other stakeholders. The wealth of longitudinal information can inform decisions and keep debate centered on student outcomes. By putting technology to work, we can give students ownership of their own outcomes and educators and stakeholders the means to support them.
Implementing an online ILP usually requires boosting the comfort level with technology-and for change in general-among both staff and parents and guardians. These four best practices keep student achievement at the center of the process and help parents, guardians, and staff see a return on their investment of time.
- Emphasize the individual in the ILP. Most ILPs include validated assessment tools that help each student identify his or her personality type, learning style, career interests, and other information useful for individual planning and goal setting. By engaging members of the text generation through an interface they understand and prefer, an online ILP helps them develop and monitor their goals and gain the insights they need to be successful, and it helps educators tailor interventions to each student.
- Create a support team for each student. Within the planning process, technology should facilitate collaboration and enable interaction between each student and parents and guardians, peers, teachers, administrators, counselors, mentors, and other community members. When students are supported through consistent encouragement and communication, the school and parents and guardians can set high expectations, knowing that each student has an action plan for meeting them.
- Make the ILP a living document. A key advantage of online ILPs is the ease with which they can be monitored and updated. Most states that mandate ILPs require that a student's plan be revised annually, at a minimum. Ideally, every student and his or her support team will view the ILP as a work-in-progress, a place to document successes and reflect on challenges for future improvement.
- Use ILPs to analyze and improve practices. Online ILPs can serve as a repository for key data about each student through high school (performance data, courses, goals, exploration activities, extracurricular activities, etc.) and beyond (postsecondary enrollment, performance, and completion). Collectively, they can be used to track student and system performance over time, giving educators a powerful tool to learn about and improve policies and practice. Both the individual student and the district or school should use this wealth of data to create a feedback loop for continuous improvement.