Thursday, May 18, 2006

'Personalization' - the new buzz word?

  Posted by Picasa I recently heard our Minister of Education use the word ‘personalization’ in a radio debate. It is a word that as been used a lot in recent times but it the first time I have heard it from the Minister. I wonder if it is to become anew buzz word.

It was used a couple of years by David Milbrand, the UK Minister of Education, at conference in Birmingham organized by the National College for School Leadership. There are a number of excellent publications anyone interested in the idea can download.

Personalized learning is not new according to Dean Fink, who attended Milbrand’s address. 'No matter how you dress it up', he writes, 'it basically means adapting the school to the unique needs of the students as opposed to the traditional practice of making students conform to school'.

He continues that it is a revolutionary and exiting idea but, he repeats, it is not a new concept. It was the basis of much of the innovative thinking in the late 60s and 70s and, for a while, the idea of helping each learner realize their unique needs ‘shone brightly’. But, he continues, it was extinguished by political ineptitude, the power of the traditional model, and attrition. In Canada, in particular Ontario, a similar movement at the same time for a while seemed to point the way to exciting new thinking but suffered a similar fate.

For those who have been around long enough a similar scenario was played out in New Zealand. The first Labour Government influenced by the late Dr Beeby led the way. The sixties and seventies were exciting times to be a creative teacher. Unfortunately creativity was eventfully rejected by politicians in favour of a measurable accountable 'top down' standardized curriculum. And, anyway, little of the personalized philosophy ever reached the secondary schools which, to this day, remain locked in their Industrial Aged ‘mindsets’. It was, at best, a half finished revolution.

What are the chances of personalization being a significant movement in the first decades of the 21stC? Fink believes it is an opportunity worth seizing and a ‘chance to shake off the shackles of conformity and compliance, and imagine, create, innovate, do something'. But he has his doubts, there are he believes ‘four bumps on the road’ to get past we are to achieve the dream of personalizing learning.

His first concern is that we need principals who are ‘leaders of learning’. Up to now principals have become distracted with managerial concerns. Achieving personalized learning will be impossible unless something goes and Fink view is that it ‘should be most things that get in the way of heads being ‘leaders of learning.’’

The second ‘bump on the road’ is that for many principals the idea of personalized learning is rather scary , because they have been trained to be efficient managers’ and will now have to become expert at teaching and learning.

The third ‘bump’ is the standardized curriculum forced on schools by ‘brute sanity’ that schools have had the greatest difficulty applying to ‘non standard kids’. A personalized approach will have to work, at least for while, in this standardized 'compliance' environment.

The last ‘bump’ is most difficult of all. Is the community ready for personalized learning? ‘Good schools’ are seen by middle parents as those schools that are successful for their children. Most middle class parents like schools exactly as they are and, Fink says, ‘it will be a huge sales job to overcome the inertia of the smugly satisfied elites’. And this includes the powerful traditional schools as well!

So the promise of personalization will be challenge to implement but with 20% of all students currently failing, and with a growing issue of disengaged students at the early secondary level, the time is right to at least develop some innovative personalized alternatives in every community.

This would be an excellent challenge for a transformational government, a Minister of Education, and all educationalists to lead, if we really want to develop our country as a creative 21stC society. The new NZ Curriculum, to be delivered next month, provides the opportunity and freedom to develop such flexibility.

The question is, do we have the wit and imagination as a country, as politicians and as educational leaders, to take up the challenge?

Personalisation will have to become more than a 'buzz word' if we do!


Amber-Lee said...

I knew I had read this pretty inspirational stuff from this Liberation Theologist so I hunted it out. He said...
"Too many schools have allowed themselves to become slaves to curriculum and achievement demands and in the process have shortchanged students, students who have failed to develop their passions, talents and gifts. Worse still many students leave alienated and embittered.

In the meantime creative teachers worldwide are being 'burnt out', caught in the wrong system, while others sadly, just do their best to make sense of what they blindly imagine is sensible. "

Personalising the Curric. is not just about fostering the interests of students but it needs to foster the passions of teachers and get them enthusiastic about what they are teaching.
As a country we are developing a new curric...... MOE get specialists in and they develop full and comprehensive currics for their subject. The trouble is that the cumulative effect of all these Curric Statements is unworkable expectations, burnt out teachers, disengaged students, and an assessment schedule that is irrelevant and counterproductive to quality teaching practices.

We need to have the balls to personalise our own Curric.....sort it into 3 piles - 1/ the need to know pile 2/ the nice to know pile and 3/ the who cares pile.
Personalising our Curriculum and developing our response to the overcrowded curriculum is one of the most rewarding things we have done at our school.

P.S. What great stuff is coming out of england at present Bruce Re Curric e.g. the english response to Queenslands New Basics and Tasmanias Essential Learnings.
PPS the quote came from a B.Hammonds Newsletter

Bruce said...

I am really enjoying your comments but I think I probably pinched the quote from someone else - but it really relevant.

And you are right, before you can get passionate learners you need passionate teachers!

Our new curriculum is nothing new - it is back to the future! But who cares, it is better than the over-crowded one we have currently.

Amber Lee said...

Bruce I would be really interested in what great stuff is coming out of England at present Re: Curriculum design e.g. the English response or version of Queenslands New Basics and Tasmanias Essential Learnings.

Bruce said...

England seems to be a mixed bag - I really enjoy the material on personalizing learning from their innovation unit but their schools are still having the pressures of league table to put up with and recently phonics has been made compulsory!

Most of the things 'we' like are not 'mainstreamed'- and I don't know what the UK version of New Basics is.

Our new NZ curriculum looks excellent - but a bit Deju Vu to me; sort of 'back to the future'! 'The status quo, what you know, that's latin for the mess we're in.'( A quote from Ronald Reagan!)

Just keep whats works and stay true to your own beliefs I reckon is the only way.

Anonymous said...

Be great if schools could work together to develop personalisation - to focus on developing the talents of all students rather than being sidetracked with achievement targets.

Bruce said...

Personalisation would be possibe in primary schools but it would be too much for specialist subject centred secondary teachers with their timetables and bells.!

And anyway it is sure 'Deju Vu' for teachers inspired by the creativity of the 60 and 70s. I guess there are only a few of these pioneers left!