Monday, January 16, 2017

Equity and Social Justice

Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday held on the third Monday of January, celebrates the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr., an influential American civil rights leader. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically." 

We decided to discuss social justice and how educators encourage equity and provide every learner a safe, caring  environment. The conversations were deep and heartfelt from so many educators from around the world. The big question around equity and social justice was:

 "How can learners develop the skills necessary to foster a better society?"

We used the Q1, A1 format with the following questions:

The questions encouraged participants to push the conversations deeper. We found ourselves wanting to reply or retweet many of the responses to the questions. First few questions were on classroom culture and activities teachers can provide that encourages a safe learning environment and then we delved deeper into discussions on issues that affect them, bullying, and turning social justice into community service.

Renee White @RaRaPenguin

"By finding a way as role model in classroom to afford each learner the same fair opportunity. Make playing field as level as can."

Caroline Wray @wray_cj

"First defining equity is a must. I think the classroom must focus on creating a learner led culture."

Rachel Salvatore @RachSal44

"Build relationships and provide safe spaces for our learners; let them know they are valued, cared for and respected."

Jeremy Bond @JeremyDBond 

"Take responsibility for building relationships with families and the community. Build your schools as community centers."

Mark Levine @LevineWrites

"We use authentic inquiry to learn history. Then we examine their world and make decisions on social justice today."

Lynn Spady @lynnspady

"I have found current events on @Newsela to be a great starting point. Learners pick the articles that they find interesting."

sbuhner @sbuhner

"Social justice should be embedded in units. History is a great place to start especially if connected to history of community. #authenticlessons"

Kathy Renfrew @KRScienceLady

"Digging deeper, Learning as an educator, bringing equity conversations to the forefront of the work with colleagues."

Mrs. Cheri Authement @mrsa_sci

"Discuss with class how to handle group work issues. Use humor in moments where students 'caught' to model how to talk it out if appropriate."

Meredith Johnson @mjjohnson1216

"Important to include different ethnic groups in order for more students to feel engaged in the conversation." 

Paul O'Neill @PaulONeill1972

"By removing artificial boundaries like classroom walls and schedules. Create situations where we can all learn together."

Todd Russo @MrRussoRH

"Ask students what they want to discuss and how. I always liked having students thinking and writing first, then talking with others."

Barbara Gruener @BarbaraGruener

"Encourage students to walk in another's shoes; perspective-taking #empathy is a great catalyst for mobilizing #compassion, #growth."

Michael Vose @KHS_AP

"True acceptance of diversity means accepting those with opinions and lifestyles contrary to our own. Hard message these days."

We tried to include at least one tweet from everyone who joined us. But the topic seemed to resonate with many educators some new to #plearnchat. There were so many great ideas that we had to choose just a few. Make sure you read the archive below so you don't miss any of the tweets and resources shared.

Congratulations to Lemarr Treadwell M.Ed @lemarrtreadwell who won our book, How to Personalize Learning.

Lemarr Treadwell @leamarrtreadwell is a 4th grade teacher at Pyle Elementary School in Fresno Unified School District in California. He facilitates the use of technology in a 1:1 Asus classroom, a MIE Trainer, and a Flipgrid Ambassador. Lemarr believes in building his Personal Learning Network (PLN) and is active in many Twitter chats. Here's a few of the tweets and a chart from Lemarr during #plearnchat:

"Teach students to "Stand Up" for what they feel is unjust. 
We provide the authentic resources and learning connections."

"Relevancy: Meaningful Work + Authentic Resources + Learning Connections = Equity
Add: Universal Learning Design (UDL)"

How to Personalize Learning is your practical guide to getting started and going deeper with personalized learning. Corwin has offered our followers a 20% discount code. Go to Corwin Press and use the discount code N169O6 for your own copy.

Save the Date, Monday, February 13th (4 weeks) for our next #plearnchat

4pm PST, 5pm MST, 6pm CST, and 7pm EST

Topic: Digital Literacy

We archived the entire #plearnchat about Equity and Social Justice below for your convenience and as a resource.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

10 Trends of Personalized Learning in 2017

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Personalized Learning continues to be on everyone’s mind. 2017 will see exciting examples and models of personalized learning that will be unique for each community. The idea of personalizing learning is not about creating one model that works for everyone; it is about creating an authentic model based on the needs of everyone in that learning community. We see the trends as a way to focus more on the distinctive characteristics of each learner and adapt the system and process as they learn, grow, and change. Teachers are learners too, and that means developing a support system for change. We divided the 2017 ten trends into five categories:
  1. Process: UDL, innovation and creativity as the foundation for personalized learning.
  2. Technology: Digital literacy plays a large role in personalized learning.
  3. Structural: How learners will learn at their own pace and build their network.
  4. Teaching & Learning: Learning is personal for both learners and teachers.
  5. Cultural: When teachers encourage equity and agency, culture in the classroom changes.
We decided to choose two trends for each of the five categories that we believe will be big this coming year. Each of these trend takes in so much around personalized learning that we see multiple directions teachers and learners can use these trends to grow and change throughout the year and beyond.


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1. Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is the framework to personalize learning. All learners bring to every learning experience a multiplicity of talents, interests, and needs. In fact, neuroscience informs us that each learner's uniqueness is as distinctive as their fingerprints. We see more educators referring to Access, Engage, and Express as they encourage learners to develop Learner Profiles, Personal Learning Backpacks, and Personal Learning Plans. Now that ESSA states that UDL is the evidence-based practice to personalize learning, it will be important to have examples and models of how educators are using UDL in their teaching practice.

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2. Innovation and Creativity

“Joy is a vital and inseparable part of effective learning.” quoted Dean Shareski (@shareski) from his book “Embracing a Culture of Joy.” How do we make learning more joyful and relevant to the real-world? George Couros' (@gcouros) book "The Innovator's Mindset" and Sir Ken Robinson's (@SirKenRobinson) book "Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education" opened our eyes about the importance of innovation and creativity. We believe that in 2017, teachers and learners will encourage innovation, take more risks, learn from failure, and will push themselves out of their comfort zone to develop a makerspace mindset. Both teachers and learners will create strategies and provide opportunities for tinkering using a design thinking process to bring curiosity, fun, and joy to learning every day.


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3. Future Ready

With so many discussions around being Future Ready from the USDOE Department of Educational Technology, we decided to investigate where and how did personalized learning fit. We reviewed several articles What do Future Ready Schools look like? from Edutopia, FutureReady Toolkit for Empowering Educators, and Building Culture and Leading Future Ready Schools via Eric Sheninger @e_sheninger so we could connect the dots. What we found was when learners turn challenges they have into strengths, they can enhance their strengths so they are self-confident in what and how they learn. ISTE has developed new Standards for Students to help learners acquire the skills they need to be future ready. To do this, learners develop agency so they will set their own goals using their Personal Learning Plans to explore careers and personal goals to determine what experiences they need to be ready for college, career, and life.

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4. Digital Literacy

Most learners today have more knowledge about technology than their teachers, but most have not had instruction on how and when to use technology appropriately. "Too often the focus is on learning the technology itself, with little time given to discussing what is or isn't appropriate." (What is Digital Literacy?) Learners will need to learn how to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in our digital world. Personalized learning means learners self-direct and own their learning. However, going online provides unknown dangers to anyone who does not know how to protect themselves in this environment. (Common Sense Media) Just posting on social media is more than creating your digital footprint; it becomes a digital tattoo. Teachers will involve digital literacy more in 2017 when learners are researching online and asking good questions about the content.


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5. Competency-Based Education (CBE) Policy

With the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the door has opened for states to pursue a comprehensive policy approach to support Competency-Based Education (CBE) at scale. (iNACOL). CompetencyWorks has recently compiled a set of guiding documents to advance CBE at the district level as well as for state policymakers to develop policy to support CBE. The concept behind CBE means learning is best measured by learners demonstrating mastery of learning targets, rather than the number of hours spent in a classroom. CBE is often described with the phrase, “Learning is constant, and time is the variable.” By redesigning the education system around actual learning, each learner is effectively prepared for college and careers in an increasingly global and competitive economy. If you would like to get a clearer picture of what competency-based education (CBE) looks and sounds like in a personalized learning system, check out this KnowledgeWorks video.

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6. Global Collaboration

We are all part of an active global collaborative community that creates conditions where everyone can flourish and there is a balanced view of the purpose of lifelong learning. In The Global Educator, Julie Lindsay (@julielindsay) illustrates the need for intercultural understanding and collaboration to personalize learning and to bring the world to our learners. If we can prepare our kids to be productive and compassionate citizens in an increasingly global economy, they will then improve their communication skills, collaborate effectively and be ready to participate in an increasingly multicultural world. Our ever changing workforce creates a critical need for innovation. Ken Kay, CEO of EdLeader21, remarked, “Today’s students need critical thinking and problem-solving skills not just to solve the problems of their current jobs, but to meet the challenges of adapting to our constantly changing workforce.” (Preparing 21st Century Students for a Global SocietyGlobe image from

Teaching and Learning

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7. Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) when focused on real-world issues makes learning relevant, meaningful, personal, and fun. Dr. Jackie Gerstein @jackiegerstein wrote in her guest post “Learning Should be Natural and Engaging” several suggestions for establishing context to teaching practices that included how to assess and connect to learners’ real life, explore previous experiences and use hands-on and experiential activities. PBL does those and more. Learners can start with empathy using the design thinking process. Are there any problems or issues that learners want to investigate or try to solve? Encourage kids to collaborate using inquiry to brainstorm questions they need to ask about this problem. [Power of Questions] PBL, if focused on the process not the product, shakes up traditional teaching methods to encourage learners to take more responsibility for their learning so they develop agency. PBL that focuses on the learners makes learning more personal because they have a voice and choice in what and how they learn. 2017 will see learners going deeper into learning using PBL and inquiry.

8. Personal Professional Learning

Teachers are learners too. 2017 will be the year where teachers decide to take charge of their own professional learning by reflecting on the process and demonstrating evidence of learning. We will also see a change in teacher evaluations moving from teachers being accountable of test scores to a collaborative community of learners based on the competencies mentioned in #5. Digital Promise has updated their site and strategies on how they offer opportunities for teachers to earn micro-credentials where they can demonstrate evidence of learning through the eyes of their learners. It has become clear that there is no "one size fits all" approach to micro-credentials, and Digital Promise has partnered with schools and organizations to come up with solutions for professional learning. Expect more information about the Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-Centered Teaching that guides educators in identifying the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that they need in order to create and thrive in effective personalized, learner-centered environments. More schools and districts will redesign job-embedded professional learning around the needs of each teacher by offering edcamps, book studies, and even meeting over coffee. Professional learning encourages personal growth by teachers developing specific goals with their own learning plans. Read what Pat Phillips just wrote about Personalized PD looks like in Bismarck Public Schools on Edsurge 1/4/17.


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9. Equity and Social Justice

Schools need to be laboratories for a more just society than the one we live in now. We live in a society that is diverse and, unfortunately, too many schools fail to confront the inequalities woven into our social fabric.[Rethinking Schools] Teachers have little control over class size, school practices, and planning time. One classroom at a time can become places of hope. The curriculum needs to encourage learners to “share their voices” with the world. We want to learners of all ages to see themselves as truth-tellers and change-makers. Social justice is not an "add on" for classrooms; it is a way of teaching and being that supports higher-level thinking and learning throughout our lives. [Edutopia] Since our society is changing, more voices will be sharing what they believe. However, they may not know if the source they read about is based on facts. Read Rusul Alrubail’s Five Ways to Advocate for Justice in Education and consider this quote from her: “We discuss social justice and equity in the classroom to help raise awareness that these issues directly touch our lives, and if we don’t speak up for ourselves, then who will?” 

Join our #plearnchat discussions on Equity and Social Justice on Monday, January 16, 2017 at 7pm ET, 6pm CT, 5pm MT, and 4pm PT. 

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10. Culture of Learning

Terry Heick @terryheick) shared that "learning is a culture" and that “a culture of learning is a collection of thinking habits, beliefs about self, and collaborative workflows that result in sustained critical learning.” [Edutopia]  Creating a personalized learning environment is about relationships based on trust and respect. This is the first step to build a culture where every learner is valued. Building a culture of learning is about weaving people, systems, and processes together with the values and behaviors prevalent in the classroom, school or district. The idea around building culture is more than continuing with the “status quo” or “how we do it around here.” Building a learning culture is about growth, change and lifelong learning. Build a learning culture doesn’t just benefit teachers; it benefits everyone in the school community. Culture building activities can be found in Chapter 9 of our new book, How to Personalize Learning, along with some pointers from Rich Czyz (@RACzyz) and Trevor Bryan (@trevorabryan) of the Four O-Clock Faculty team ( in the “5 Ways to Improve Classroom Culture”. Check out the conversations in our #plearnchat on Tips to Build a Culture of Learning from educators around the world.


We look forward to learn from you and how you are transforming teaching and learning. We hope that you join in the conversations and share your journey to personalize learning over the next year. We also encourage your input on these trends for 2017 and welcome your comments below.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Top 15 Posts from Personalize Learning in 2016

Happy New Year!

2016 has been an amazing year for us. Not only did we just release our second book, How to Personalize Learning in October 2016, many of our posts during this year have had over 10,000 hits each. All of the continuums we created with Sylvia Duckworth (@sylviaduckworth - ( in 2016 were in our top 15 along with some awesome guest posts. We really appreciate you, our readers of our posts and our followers on social media, so we decided to pull together the top 15 posts from this year and share them with you.

#15 - Personal Learning Backpack

Once a learner has indicated their strengths, challenges, and interests along with their preferences and needs in the Learner Profile (LP), then the teacher can work with the learner to develop a Personal Learning Backpack (PLB). This process is all about the conversations that you have with your learners. The PLB is the place to include what you both discover to support learning.

#14 - Putting the Power of Question in the Learners Hands

Starr Sackstein, @mssackstein, high school English teacher and author, shared in a guest post strategies from her book, The Power of Questioning and many other books that she has authored including her latest, Hacking Homework. A quote from Starr says it all: “If I had tried to plans this lesson the way I did earlier in my career, we probably would have missed out on a deeper level of learner inquiry that continued for several days.”

#13 - Learner Profile

Each learner comes to school with strengths and challenges along with a set of interests, talents and aspirations. All learners are unique and have variability in how they access and process information, engage with content, and express what they know and understand. Every learner can benefit from creating a Learner Profile using the the UDL lens of Access, Engage, and Express to understand how learners learn best and help teachers in designing instruction.

#12 - Continuum of Purpose: Fostering a Meaningful Life 

The purpose of learning is about learners being prepared for their future and reaching their fullest potential as lifelong learners. This means that they have a voice with the confidence to express their ideas and opinions so they are heard and taken into account in any situation. Establishing a clear purpose for learning encourages a desire to increase a deeper understanding of that purpose.

#11 - My Transformation as a Teacher

Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp, a 7th grade teacher, from Oregon School District, WI and author shared her story in a guest post about her transformation from traditional teacher to personalized learning. “Almost six years into my transformation as a teacher who embraces personalizing learning as much as possible, The drastic changes I made back then have now become insignificant in the best possible way; they are no longer terrifying, nor are they dramatic, but instead they are woven into the very tapestry of the way we function as a learning community.”

#10 - Continuum of Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy holds significant implications both for learners and educators in the journey to nurture high levels of skill and knowledge. Learners with a strong sense of self-efficacy approach complex and challenging learning tasks with a sense of confidence that if they use good strategies, practice smart persistence and utilize the full range of resources available to them, they can and will succeed.

#9 - Making the Shift to Our Classroom 

532002.jpgBrian Anton, @FHS_Anton, is a high school social studies teacher in Missouri who focuses on Project-Based Learning and shared his experiences in a guest post. “One of the most difficult parts of our jobs as educators is to create a learning environment where our learners are engaged and meet content and curriculum goals. From my experience, the single most important challenge that needs to be addressed to earn engagement in our classrooms is to develop a culture of learner autonomy--allowing and encouraging learners to take control of their own learning.”

#8 - Continuum of Ownership: Developing Autonomy

Having choices allows children to feel that they have control or ownership over their own learning. When learners feel a sense of ownership, they want to engage in academic tasks and persist in learning. If teachers and learners are learners first, then responsibility comes with being a learner. Learners of all ages become responsible for their learning when they own and drive their learning so they can be more independent and eventually self-directed learners.

#7 - Project-Based Learning gives Kindergarteners Agency

Paula Ford @prford5 is a kindergarten teacher at Manuel De Vargas Elementary School in Cupertino, CA and shared how her kids took ownership of their learning in a guest post. “We have a global partnership with the Cheery Education Center in Kenya. The kids’ plan was to send books which they found that was not possible so they realized that it costs $50 for 2 children to attend school with meals for a month in Africa. So the kids decided to collect coins and came up with the collection jars called “Change for Change.”

#6 - Continuum of Engagement: From Compliant to Flow

The Continuum of Engagement provides the characteristics of a learner as they move from being passive about learning to being in the flow. Step up the ladder to see how a learner moves from compliant to flow so you can picture what it looks and sounds like in a classroom when learners start engaging in the learning process. If you walk in a classroom, you might be able to see and hear engagement or the lack of it.

#5 - Personalized Learning through the Eyes of a Child

Pam Lowe @prlowe91 is a graphic designer, social media marketing specialist, and coach who lives in Arkansas who wrote a guest post for us about her young niece and personalized learning. “We’re learners even before the moment we are born. Nearly every observation made as babies is tucked away as a memory of a lesson learned. We all begin as learners naturally making our own discoveries. We are curious about how things work, and experiment with our own ideas. Our inner spirited learner says, “Get out of my way!” as we yearn to take command of our learning.”

#4 - Continuum of Motivation: Moving from Extrinsic to Intrinsic

Motivation has a great impact on the learning process. While some people learn more by outside influences, others may achieve more by their personal aspirations. Extrinsic motivation occurs when we are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment. Intrinsic motivation involves engaging in behavior because it is personally rewarding; essentially, performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward.

#3 - Updated Stages of Personalized Learning Environments v5

We updated the Stages of Personalized Learning Environments (PLE) to version 5. While finishing our next book, How to Personalize Learning to be published Fall 2016, we realized that we had to make even more changes to the Stages of PLE. When we shared version 4 with several groups of teachers, they gave us great feedback including moving some of the rows so they were in different order. We wanted to share how the teacher and learner roles change through the stages using specific tools and strategies.

#2 - Continuum of Voice: What it Means for the Learner

There are so many aspects of “school” where learners have not been given the opportunity to be active participants in their learning. Some learners, especially those that are concerned about extrinsic factors like grades, may not feel comfortable expressing their own opinions. Giving learners voice encourages them to participate in learning, to own and drive their learning, and eventually to discover their purpose for learning.

#1 - The most hits this year and over time has been our Personalization vs. Differentiation vs. Individualization (PDI) version 3 chart

The PDI chart was created for a reason: to clarify the differences in these terms. In 2010, the National Ed Tech Plan defined all three of these terms as they are related to instruction. We needed to emphasize the differences: Personalization is learner-centered. The other two, Differentiation and Individualization are teacher-centered. Personalization or Personalized Learning means the learner is driving their learning. When the learner takes responsibility for their learning, teaching and learning changes. The roles of the teacher and learner change.


We want to thank all the educators who are passionate about teaching and making a difference for each child. Look for the 10 Trends of Personalized Learning in January 2017 along with more chats in #plearnchat. We are honored and humbled when you find our ideas helpful.

We wish you a very happy and safe new year!
Barbara and Kathleen