Monday, April 21, 2008

Personalizing learning - success for all. It is possible.

Facing up to educating the great diversity of human capabilities is the future challenge for educators.

Choose randomly any ten children of the same age - they will vary greatly in weight and height. In any age based primary classroom you will find a range of five years based on knowledge, capacity and achievement, let alone reading age.

For too long we have based teaching on similarity and at best have divided students into groups for our convenience to teach them. This however is a long way from really facing up to individual differences. Our schools, particularly at the secondary level, still reflect their mass education genesis

Teaching a prescribed curriculum to a class will always favour some and neglect others. In the future teachers, if they are to personalise learning, will need to value and identify the talents and interests of the students who differ.

The dilemma of variation has been captured in the fable below, written in 1939!

'Once upon a time , the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a "new world". So they started a school. They adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals would take all the subjects.

The duck was excellent at swimming, in Fact better than his instructor, but he only made passing grades in flying and was very poor in running.Since he was slow in running, he has to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his web feet were badly worn and he was only average at swimming. But average was acceptable, so nobody worried about that except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much work in swimming.

The squirrel was was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the tree-top down. He also developed " charlie horses" from over exertion and then got a C in climbing and a D in running.

The eagle
was a problem child and was disciplined severely.In the climbing class he beat all the others to the top, but insisted in using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceedingly well, and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administrator would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum.They apprenticed their child to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.'

Sound familiar?

Must all students be shaped to fit the conformist requirements of the school? Is it possible to personalise education to give credit to the variety of innate talents that students bring with them? To confuse the issue even students with special talents often find it easier to go along with the crowd. Unfortunately our current school system favours students who happily do what is expected of them rather than those who think with originality and depth.

Cultivating individuality is one of the toughest future challenges teacher will face. As one American church leader said, 'We will either help our young people to find great dreams to work and live for, or they will give us nightmares to live with'.

It seems we know , or care little, about how to encourage and amplify the talents of all students. Respect for innovative approaches and pioneering effort is still more rare than it should be in our classrooms but there are teacher and schools that do provide a glimpse of what might be.

Until a new conception of education is in place we will continue to turn out frustrated, alienated and often angry young people.

The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum, with its direction to see all students as 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge' gives school a lead but will they have the courage to follow?

A great link for inspiration

A new Zealand secondary school personalising learning

Blogs on personalised learning.


Anonymous said...

Great little fable with a powerful message - I have seen it adapted to New Zealand animals. Thanks for the link.

Bruce said...

You are right.It was adapted for New Zealand( using NZ animals) and published in a NZCER SET publication. I couldn't find the SET fable. Still a powerful story though!

Anonymous said...

All unfortunately still so true!