Friday, January 20, 2006

Personalizing learning for the 21stC

 Posted by Picasa I have been asked how personalized learning would be different from traditional teaching.

This is more an essay than a blog!!!

Personalizing learning would change totally how students experience school and would require rethinking at all levels. The most dramatic changes would occur at the senior levels of learning where basic power structures and buildings have changed little the last century.

Personalization is about fitting the curriculum to the needs of each individual learner and in the process empowering students to take a responsibity for their own learning. This in turn requires a changed role for teachers and asks them to focus on ensuring students identity, culture and concerns are paramount rather than ‘delivering’ a one size fits all’ curriculum. The underlying philosophy is a ‘constructivist’ one where each person is helped to ‘construct’ his or her own learning. This does not preclude a positive input by specialist multi skilled teachers whose role is to challenge student’s understandings and expose them to a range of possibilities to explore; in effect teacher and learners ‘co-construct’ learning.

In the early educational years this would not be such a difficult concept to implements as elements of personalized learning, introduced in the late 60 and early 70s are already present in most classrooms. For creative teachers it has always been the way they have worked. For many others it would be a welcome return to earlier learner-centred principles that have been all but lost in the implementation of the current confusing demands of a standardized curriculum with the associated assessment pressures.

At a ‘junior’ level student’s learning could easily be based around an ‘emergent’, or ‘negotiated’, curriculum. Such a curriculum could be built around student’s questions, interests and concerns and it will be over to the skills of the teachers to ‘temp’ students to explore areas they might at first not be interested in. It would also be easy to ensure the ‘big ideas’ of current curriculums are experienced in this process. Whatever is chosen, whether an individual or a collaborative task, needs to be an in-depth experience and students need to be encouraged to study fewer thing well so as to produce quality results. ‘Foundation skills’ of numeracy and literacy would be still important but would be integrated in realistic settings.

Students with identified learning problems would be given one to one tuition by teachers with diagnostic expertise to catch up. All students would be the appropriate ‘learning how to learn’ attributes in context and assessment will be based on what students can do, demonstrate or perform. All teachers would be trained in diagnostic coaching to provide appropriate help and feedback.

Teachers would see themselves as learning coaches able to use of a wide range of teaching strategies to ensure all students achieve success and gain in ‘learning power’.

With secondary students where teaching becomes more formal it would become more difficult to implement personalized learning. At this level and subject specialization and associated timetabling is the norm and specific curriculum requirements are ‘delivered’ by teachers in isolation from each other.

Although there have been superficial changes at the secondary level most adults would find that what their children experience differs little from their own time at school. The basic hierarchal power structure has changed little and students experience a school day based on control and conformity.

The possibility of personalizing learning to students needs is in conflict with secondary school culture, structures and timetables and the need for standardized assessment procedures. Such schools reflect the industrial era they were designed for and would require dramatic changes in mindsets of teachers, students and parents to be able to provide personalized learning.

This will not be easy but with 20% of our student failing we have no choice to begin the journey by establishing a network of small school resourced to develop new ideas to share with others.

Alternative approaches exist based on extending the student centred philosophy of earlier years but the demands of older students needs considerable thought. And in a ‘post modern’ era there can be no ‘one size fits all’ model. But this does not preclude some minimum national requirement to be implemented.

Each school will need to continually evolve or ‘construct’ their own education journey but by networking with other schools they can share expertise and ideas worldwide

I imagine a student in such a new school entering an environment totally different from the imposing structures of current secondary schools. Students would be ‘family’ or ‘whanau’ grouped years 7 to 10 and years 11 to13. Each ‘whanau’ would be staffed to plan learning experiences by a team of multi skilled teachers who would work together to plan integrated learning experiences. Within this groups of 15 or so students would meet daily with one teacher for the time that they are in the ‘family’. As well each student would have a individual learning tutor who will act as a ‘learning coach’ for the entire time and would plan out with each students their learning programme for the day, week, term or year, and how it is to be assessed. Positive relationships are vital.

As with the earlier years the vision of the school is to assist each learner develop their own particular mix of strengths and talents giving them as much choice and responsibity as they can manage. The student’s individual tutor will assist in all aspects, and arrange courses, activities and any remedial work the student might need.

Students will work either in groups or as an individual on self chosen tasks. The tasks will be negotiated with the tutor who will negotiate specialist courses or activities that will help the student achieve goals they have established.

Specialist teachers (preferably multi-skilled) will provide the learners with in depth content and work in coordination with the learning tutors. Specialist teachers would also work collaboratively with other to provide students with a ‘menu’ of options to select from, possibly different for various year groups. These options/ courses would integrate a range of content areas.

The learning tutor would help the student’s record their achievements (from wherever source) on their individual portfolio files on the school website. The various units from the current National Certificate of Achievement will be integrated. Many of the students studies will be based on real life tasks that they feel deeply about and their tutors will have to negotiate with people with expertise in the wider community to assist students.

Accredited community experts will be used to assess student work if required or student can be assessed using information technology if local expertise is not available.

Personalizing learning requires respectful relationship between all involved and will require a democratic collaborative school culture. Such relation ship based teaching will be more challenging to introduce in amore content based secondary school but it would make teaching more fun for the teacher and the learners.
Personalized teaching changes the roles for both teachers and learners. Teacher’s role would be to design open ended learning experiences for students to explore rather than deliver pre-planned units while students would take a growing responsibity for their own learning.

Learning tutors would not only negotiate with each student to plan their studies, ensure students are exposed to a full range of experiences, how their work is to be assessed, arrange for help to from specialist teachers, and negotiate studios or worship spaces. They would also need to ensure students have appropriate learning how to learn strategies and assist with presentation of their work to assessors and parents.

I their final year every student focuses on a personal inquiry project as a major task to be assessed by independent assessors. This, along with earlier project work (kept on electronic portfolios) demonstrates what learning has been completed.

In a personalized environment our students will have experienced a very different experience from that received in a traditional setting. In such an environment every students will have achieved their full potential. No students should leave disengaged as is currently the situation.

The world has moved from a hierarchical industrial era to one valuing community, connections, individuality and creativity. Personalized learning aligns schools with this shift and, if implemented, would transform education and the lives of both teachers and students and would ensure all students are able to contribute to a more dynamic society.

A government would be wise to establish such schools in all centres – even if only to look after the students that have little affection for what is being currently being provided.

There are no shortages of resources to assist – all that is needed is the wit an imagination to encourage such innovative but hardly new ideas.


International Baccalaureate
U K Departmnt of Education and Science
Big Picture Schools
Coalition of Essential Schools


Anonymous said...

A good read. Worth a try in New Zealand.I wonder if the government has the imagination?

All the piecemeal reforms so far haven't worked nor changed the basic outdated structures.

Anonymous said...

Well done, very comprehensive description of the important aspects of a personalized learning approach. Lets hope the 'powers that be' can see the learning power of such an approach.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if teachers have the imagination?

Anonymous said...

Blog or essay - still a good read.

Anonymous said...

Current school structures suffer from too much 'hardening of the categories' to be flexible enough for such futuristic ideas?