Is There a Magic Bullet on the Horizon?: Taking a Critical Look at Personalized Learning and Innovation
As we tear off the last page of the 2017 calendar, I am once again reminded that I am getting older! I finished my student teaching 19 years ago this month and what I have learned since then is overwhelming to be sure! One of the most important is to be a critical consumer of information and reflective of how to truly engage in continuous improvement that will impact students for the better.
As we all do, I have my biases – as a student, teacher, parent of three uniquely amazing kids, wife of an educator, and Director of Teaching and Learning at the SEEC – which have shaped who I am and how I engage in conversations about “the next big thing”. 😊
To be clear, I spend my days (and nights) trying to help schools make connections between seemingly competing initiatives and striving to develop supports for educators and schools that are practical, reasonable and doable. The questions I am faced with most often is “What is going to make the greatest impact?” and “How do we do it?”
In the complex world of education, the answers to these two questions are not always clear and to complicate things further, they are most certainly contextual to the school or system involved – which means simply that just because it works in one school doesn’t always mean the exact same thing will work in another place.
So what do we do when faced with the new opportunities or flexibility to make positive changes in our schools? My hope is that educators engage in critical analysis of research, evidence-based practices and establish a solid foundation on which to build.
There has been a lot of BUZZ surrounding Innovation, Personalized Learning, and Competency-based education as the direction schools should move to prepare students to be Choice Ready in our state in the past year and a half. As we exercise our critical thinking muscles and make decisions about what this means in our schools and for our kids, I provide some resources to consider below.
First, the Renaissance recorded webinar, Practical Ideas on Personalized Learning (start at 6:30) provides a solid review of the US Dept. of Ed definition of personalized learning which states:
Personalized learning refers to instruction in which the pace of learning and the instructional approach are optimized for the needs of each learner…In addition, learning activities are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests, and often self-initiated.
- Differentiation – changing the approach
- Individualization – changing the pace
- Student Agency – meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests, often self-initiated
The second article, Is Standardization the Answer to Personalization? (Educational Leadership, ASCD, March 2017) contends that standardization of processes and tools can support personalization. New idea? The article states, “Oddly enough, this idea has been around since the time of Jean Piaget and John Dewey, two of the fathers of progressive education. Piaget and Cook (1952) reminds us that learning is most personal when we can meaningfully assimilate new information into an already existing schema. Dewey (1938) helps us see that learning is a social, interactive, and collaborative process…”
Third, is a webinar by one of my favorites, Rick Stiggins, assessment guru extraordinaire, on Achieving Student Agency with the Perfect Assessment System. It highlights how Assessment FOR Learning (Formative Assessment) is essential in personalizing learning for students. At the heart of Assessment FOR Learning is student agency – students making meaning of their own learning – which involves: providing students with a clear and understandable vision of the learning target; using examples of strong and weak work; offering regular descriptive feedback; and, teaching students to self-assess and set goals.
Fourth, is a presentation on education innovation by Kirsten Baesler, superintendent of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction; Ted Dintersmith, an entrepreneur, education reform advocate and producer of the documentary “Most Likely To Succeed;” and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. It took place on Oct. 12, 2017, at the Bismarck, N.D., Event Center during the Department of Public Instruction’s annual Fall Educators Conference.
And finally, a short blog in reaction to the growing focus and reports on personalized learning and the challenges that may need to be considered for implementation entitled, Three versions of personalized learning, three challenges.
All of these resources are presented simply for your consideration – there are certainly many, many more that could have been chosen. While I think it is safe to say that no “magic bullet” exists, sometimes the magic happens between and with those who are willing to engage in critical analysis of what exists and what could be. By building systems that meet the needs of all students we ensure that they will be prepared for life beyond our walls.