Personalized Learning in Elementary Mathematics: Strategies for Success

Tools and approaches that deliver measurable impacts on learning

New approaches to elementary mathematics curriculum, instruction, technology and assessment are providing opportunities to personalize learning for each student, creating highly effective, student-centered learning environments.

In this web seminar, the director of curriculum at McGraw-Hill discussed ideas, strategies and resources for delivering a positive, measurable impact on student outcomes through personalized learning in K6 math instruction.


Janet Pittock

Director of Curriculum

McGraw-Hill Education

Janet Pittock: We need to look at how we can help teachers, educators and learners be successful. I propose we use a learning systems approach and some personalization to meet these needs. What we are used to in a traditional classroom is only one building block: the core program. We hold that close, and we follow that page to page, and it has been our bible.

The problem is that we end up with assessment results that aren’t great. But with the learning systems approach, we start with the building block of goals and professional development. Goals are not only standards, but also the core competencies you want.

What kind of 21st century things do you want? What kinds of attitudes do you want students to have? Do you want them to have a growth mindset? There are a lot of goals that we have in a mathematics class, and they’re not all addressed by a core program. We also therefore need ongoing professional development that will help teachers navigate the needs of students, and that will help them understand how to manage time and resources so that we can meet more students’ needs.

Another thing that’s become increasingly important in a learning systems approach is assessments. We’re not talking about only the summative assessments that evaluate how a program has worked, how teachers have been effective and how students have learned, but also ones like placement assessments, diagnostic assessments and formative assessments. These aren’t too time-consuming, and they are important because only if you know what your students need can you address their needs appropriately.

Therefore, another piece of the puzzle is adaptive software. There are many, many good pieces of adaptive software. One of the things they all have in common is they attempt to place a student in their zone of proximal development. Regardless of their chronologic grade level, we want to place students where they need to learn. Then as they work, we gather information to help them move ahead quickly. That’s what happens in adaptive software. It’s like having a personal tutor for each student. Adaptive software can be the backbone of a learning system. It meets students’ needs, and it provides data that allows teachers to more successfully know what the students’ needs are and then apply additional resources to meet these needs.

There are many implementation models. One is the classroom rotation model, and it’s the model with which most elementary school teachers are familiar. Many teachers use this, particularly in English language arts classrooms, and it’s also very applicable to personalizing learning and meeting individual student needs in a math classroom. Part of the rotation model is moving through the core program with the students as a whole. There’s still room for that.

Then there’s the rotation model—Station 1, Station 2, Station 3. Station 1 in all cases could be adaptive technology. This means every student is working on the exact material they need with the necessary support provided by the software. Each student would be working on something different; each is getting the material they need to be successful. This is working on weak foundations. The adaptive software is strengthening those foundations so that on-level work is more achievable for all students.

Station 3 is practice materials. This is based on what we did in whole-class instruction. In an innovative classroom, it could be to fill any of the needs that the teacher and the students have together decided require more practice. It could even be done in small-group project teams.

That leaves Station 2, which is for consultations. One of the things teachers grapple with when they start doing personalized learning is that they feel they don’t have time to consult with students about how to become better independent learners. In Station 2, you can make space for those kinds of ongoing conversations. You meet more frequently with students who are grappling with learning independently, and meet less frequently with students who are on track.

The important thing in personalized learning is that students are moving around and teachers are not spending their entire time at the front of the room being on stage. There’s more time for teachers to make connections with students. There’s nothing that can replace the relationship a teacher has with a student. This kind of rotation model, and allowing software to take over some of the instructional duties, gives teachers time to do something for which they’re uniquely suited.

To read the McGraw-Hill Education complimentary e-book Personalizing Elementary Mathematics by Janet Pittock, please visit

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, visit

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