Thursday, October 2, 2014

Play-Based Personalized Learning: The Walker Learning Approach

The Walker Learning Approach (WLA) is an Australian-designed teaching and learning approach (pedagogy) that authentically personalizes learning and is developmentally and culturally appropriate. Learning is real, relevant, and meaningful for all children regardless of their age, culture, family context, socioeconomic background, or geographical position. 

The Walker Learning Approach has been developed over twenty years using an action research model. The Walker Learning Approach is the first pedagogy to be designed for Australian schools, successfully providing teaching and learning that
  • personalizes and engages learners in active learning alongside explicit and formalized instruction.
  • is culturally and developmentally appropriate across all demographic regions of the country, from remote indigenous communities to elite independent schools.
The pedagogical platform places the child at the center and uses developmental psychology, biology, and neurology alongside cultural and environmental influences as the basis for practical application across the Australian setting. Developmental psychology in recent years has been misinterpreted and misrepresented by some aspects of the educational academic forum with the assumption that the Piagetian model of a lockstep, monocultural stage (“norm”) of developmental milestones prevails.

How do we facilitate the work of youth as self-directed producers and learners?

This is not what developmental psychology in the twenty-first century purports, nor does it represent the platform of the Walker Learning Approach. Developmental psychology recognizes key elements of genetic predisposition; assists in areas of temperament and personality; informs greatly in areas of brain development and stimulation; is cross-cultural; and informs in key areas including motivation, engagement, behavior, development, cognitive function, learning, and areas requiring intervention. It works alongside recognition of the influences of culture, environment, health, nutrition, and exposure and opportunity. The need to integrate and work in tandem with the empirical evidence of science, psychology, neuropsychology, and cultural influences on learning is critical, and the WLA does just that.

The Walker Learning Approach is an exciting and refreshing philosophy that places the child at the center of the curriculum and teaching strategies; it ensures authentic personalized learning. It is based on decades of research on play-based and personalized learning and social constructivism. It is not a program or an inquiry model sitting discreetly or separately from other curriculum areas. It is a total approach to teaching and learning that combines the need for children to be active participants in their learning through hands-on and creative exploration and investigation that sits alongside formal instruction. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Re-Imagined Learning Spaces for Media Centers

Shifting Roles for Media Coordinators and New Functions for Media Centers in Buncombe County Schools, Asheville, NC

Guest Post by John Parker, Digital Learning Specialist for Buncombe County Schools by day

John has served as a teacher and school library media coordinator at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. A seasoned staff developer and presenter, John prefers the role of facilitation and working with groups. When not dreaming about possibilities and plans John can be found exploring technology and Tweeting as The School Library and Media Guy, @TheSlamGuy

Buncombe County Schools has embarked on a journey that is designed to transform our school library media centers into flexible learning spaces that are earmarked by designs that encourage choice and voice for our students. At the core of this endeavor is a focus on access and the ability to create, make, and produce items that reflect students’ interests.

After a year of observing, talking and listening to administrators, media coordinators and teachers across the district, we began seeding some Raspberry Pi and Arduino microcomputers into a few schools that were already redefining their programs. These programmable devices were provided without detailed instruction or professional development—media centers were encouraged to make them available for use. Some jumped at the opportunity, others did not.

Those on the leading edge took off quickly, but the others asked many questions that helped to develop a focus and a strategy that could be employed K-12. Three assumptions emerged from our learning that have become guiding principles:

Our traditional model of school libraries does not adequately support the North Carolina Standards and the way our staff and learners want to work.
  • The curriculum is filled with broadly defined learning goals
  • Learners need more access to information at a time convenient to them
  • Everyone wants to work and learn in new ways

The standards measuring media coordinator (school librarian) performance now promote activities that reflect an emphasis on a new role.
  • Demonstrate leadership.
  • Build a learning environment that meets the instructional needs of a diverse population of students.
  • Implement a comprehensive 21st Century library media program
  • Demonstrate knowledge of learners and learning and promote effective instructional practices.
  • Reflect on our practice.

Student achievement demands that we connect our activity to student outcomes.
  • We must abandon isolated tasks not connected to the curriculum
  • We aspire to create a culture of inquiry that doesn’t end with the school day

We operationalized these statements with a succinct goal statement: We want to create a Four-C-Able Space for the Foreseeable Future. It is based on the four Cs of 21st Century learning.
  1. Creativity
  2. Collaboration
  3. Communication
  4. Critical Thinking

As a first step, we began with ideas and used them to define the space. Searching questions such as “What types of activity will define this flexible space?” were used to escape the constraints of the physical space and get beyond our own set of normal limitations. To further refine the process, more specific questions were used and generated by the media coordinators. Careful attention was paid to the alignment of these questions with our guiding principles. Some questions that emerged were
  • What features should be incorporated to improve the ability to use resources?
  • What features need to be added to support project-based activity?
  • What types of specialized software or hardware should be available? What is available?
  • What new types of furniture might you need to add or replace?
  • What space(s) are you underusing?
  • What other questions do we need to ask?
  • What can you do tomorrow?

Afterwards, the activities were used to create an activity map for each media center that later identified components of those spaces and finally located them within the larger space. The media coordinators then conducted a school-based focus group and revised the plan according to stakeholder input. After negotiated outcomes and revisions, a road map for implementation was created that included measurable goals and even a budget timeline in some instances.

The process yielded plans, but it also enabled people to view their roles differently in light of best practices and their learners. To be sure, the change has not been easy, and some have limited participation, but there is excitement in being part of something that has the capacity to change teaching and learning in every school, child, and home in our county. We believe that those long standing library principles of choice and voice have received an appropriate makeover.

Thank you John and all the media coordinators in Buncombe County for sharing your journey to create flexible learning spaces that encourage learners to discover, explore, play, and personalize their learning their way!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Updated Report Version 3: Personalization vs. Differentiation vs. Individualization

Since we updated the Personalization vs. Differentiation vs. Individualization or what we call the PDI chart recently, we needed to update the report that details each of the sections of the chart.  We made that available for you to download at or can view via our slideshare.

Personalization vs. Differentiation vs. Individualization Report-v3 from Barbara and Kathleen

If you have already signed up to our newsletter, you were sent another place to download all of the updated resources including this report at the bottom of the last few newsletters.

We look forward to your feedback and hope this helps you as you personalize learning and transform teaching and learning!

Barbara and Kathleen