Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Culture Shift: When the Learner Owns the Learning

Culture Shift: Teaching in a Learner-Centered Environment Powered by Digital Learning
Alliance for Excellent Education's report on Culture Shift provides facts that point to learner-centered instruction and the use of technology to "guide students toward greater ownership of their learning."

"It is not about instruction or technology. It is about the learner owning and driving their learning." Barbara Bray / Kathleen McClaskey

The facts in the report are alarming and meant to inform and shake up the system: "One in four students now fails to graduate from high school on time, and African American and Hispanic students drop out of high school at nearly double the rate of their white peers." We know that school today is designed for the industrial age. It's not working for students who connect, text, and share in a digital world. Learners today use technology and will continue to use technology in and out of school.

What is the definition of culture shift in schools? 

To ensure deeper learning - to encourage problem solving and thinking skills and to develop and nurture highly motivated and engaged learners, for example - requires mobilizing the energy and capacities of teachers. In turn, to mobilize teachers, we must improve teachers' working conditions and morale. Thus, we need leaders who can create a fundamental transformation in the learning cultures of schools and of the teaching profession itself. The role of the principal as instructional leader is too narrow a concept to carry the weight of the kinds of reforms that will create the schools that we need for the future. [The Change Leader. Fullan, M. Center for Development and Learning]
 “If culture changes, everything changes.” Michael Fullan 

Rick DuFour wrote in his article "Leading Edge: Culture Shift Doesn't Occur Overnight--or Without conflict." Journal of Staff Development. 4. (2004) "Culture has been defined as 'the way we do things around here." Schools have been doing things the same way for hundreds of years. Changing teaching and learning takes time and some educators and parents aren't ready about changing to a personalized learning system. To transform an entire system to a learner-centered culture, all stakeholders in the school community need to agree on the shared vision and goals.

Culture change or shift is defined as lasting changes to the shared ways of thinking, beliefs, values, procedures, and relationships of the stakeholders. A school needs trust in changing beliefs, values, and relationships. Change is a difficult process. There are so many types of relationships in schools that impact how people think about school.

Learner-Centered Instruction vs Learner-Centered that Starts with the Learner

This report on Culture Shift stated that learner-centered instruction prepares students for college and a career and that such instruction is:
  • rigorous and based on college- and career-ready expectations.
  • personalized.
  • collaborative, relevant, and applied.
  • flexible, with learning taking place anytime, anywhere. 
But what do they mean by learner-centered instruction? The report writes that it is focused on the needs, abilities, and learning styles of individual students. There is no scientific-based evidence that learning styles exist. [Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence]

"We learn lots of things in lots of different ways – while there are parallels, I learned to drive in a different way to how I learned to use a computer, and to how I learned to speak as a child, and to how I learned to look after my children, and to how I learned to teach." Sam Shepherd [Blog on Learning Styles]
When the learning starts with the learner, the learner takes responsibility for their learning. The report states that the learner owns their learning. There is no evidence in the report how this happens. The teacher, data, and technology guides the learning in the model provided in the report -- not the learner. It needs to be about the learner first.

Personalized vs Personal

During Connected Educators Month (August 2012) sponsored by the DOE, we participated in the panels and It's Personal Forum. One of the conversations was about just this topic. What is it? Personal or Personalized Learning? This report on Culture Shift is framed as "personalized" as Will Richardson states:
 “Personalized” learning is something that we do to kids; “personal” learning is something they do for themselves.  
The idea of learner-centered instruction is teacher-driven. The focus is on the teacher differentiating the instruction to meet the needs of all learners.  The learning is not personal nor does it start with the learner. Jim Rickabaugh, Director of CESA #1 in Wisconsin, responded to one of the posts: 
"Whether we call it personal learning or personalized learning is less important than whether learners and their voices are fully and impactfully represented in their learning. I disagree with the characterization that personalized learning is done to the learner. We, at the Institute @ CESA #1, have been doing what we call personalized learning for two years and the learner has always been at the center and a co-designer of the work."

Page 6 ends with "Finally, and consistent with deeper learning and twenty-first-century skills, learner-centered instruction must guide students toward greater ownership of their learning." Learners learn best if they know how they learn best. We did not see anywhere in the report any reference to the learner taking control of their learning. On the same page, there is reference to the U.S. Department of Education's national education technology plan that states, "Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs [i.e.individualized], tailored to learning preferences [i.e. differentiated], and tailored to the specific interests of different learners."

The terms: Personalized, Personalization, and Personal are used interchangeably and tend to confuse educators. Differentiation and Individualization are teacher-centered. There is no learner voice and choice. We created the Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization chart to demonstrate why personalized or personal learning starts with the learner.

Personalized learning means learners...
  • know how they learn best.
  • self-direct and self-regulate their learning.
  • design their own learning path.
  • have a voice in and choice about their learning.
  • are co-designers of the curriculum and the learning environment.
  • have flexible learning anytime and anywhere.
  • have quality teachers who guide their learning.
  • use a competency-based model to demonstrate mastery.
  • are motivated and engaged in the learning process.

    [source: Personalized Learning is the Umbrella]

Data Does Not Describe the Learner

On page 5 of the Culture Shift report under the heading Learning is Personalized uses data to create learner-centered instruction. "This involves the use of strategically embedded assessments and data to understand a child's individual needs and learning style, and the most effective instructional strategies." This is disturbing. The human element is critical to determine who the learner is and how they learn best.
It is not about the data. That only shows one piece of the learner.

Does numerical data really describe who the learner is and how they learn?  Data does not provide enough information to design strategies to support the learner. It only tells you what they are weak in not their strengths. We need to look closer at motivation, engagement, and voice.

The Trifecta of Student Centered Learning 
Motivation - Without motivation, there is no push to learn 
Engagement - Without engagement, there is no way to learn 
Voice - Without voice, there is no authenticity in learning
For students to create a new knowledge, to succeed academically, and to develop into healthy adults, they require each of these experiences.” 
[Toshalls and Nakkula. Motivation, Engagement and Student Voice. Students at the Center]

The Culture Shift report continues to refer to access to data and assessment, ideally including learning-style preferences and feedback from other teachers, and to focus ore on formative assessment to drive instructional decisions. [Page 13]. As stated earlier, there is no scientific-based evidence that learning styles exist. Using this as the data that defines how the learner learns contradicts everything we know about motivation and engagement.

Culture Shift means we are changing the focus from teaching to the learner. It is not about reforming our educational system. It is about transforming teaching and learning. George Couros wrote on his post "the Flipped Classroom and Transforming Education"
Want to transform education? We are going to have to do it one learner at a time because each and every kid we serve deserves that. 

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