Monday, October 14, 2013

Connect the Dots to Personalize Learning

When you personalize learning, teacher and learner roles change. But something else happens: how you teach changes and impacts existing initiatives and programs. The issue we want to talk about here is that Personalizing Learning is and should not be a new initiative that you add to your repertoire. Consider Personalized Learning to be the umbrella that connects the dots of all your initiatives and programs.

Connect the Dots under the Personalized Learning Umbrella

Some people are concerned about the terms "Personalized" and "Personalization" as something that is done TO the learner. If we change the concept so everything starts with the learner and you connect your programs, initiatives, and teaching strategies under the umbrella, it doesn't matter what you call it. It's the big picture of transforming teaching and learning so the focus is on the learner instead of the instruction, the curriculum, and the technology.

We started sharing this concept with participants in our 5 W's eCourse. When we mentioned RTI (Response to Intervention) in one of our sessions, several from Verona Area Schools came up with what it should be called: Response to Learning. So if you go back to our post from May 5, 2013, we demonstrated how RTI fits under the PL umbrella but never thought of this. We constantly learn from you. So consider RTL for all learners instead of RTI for Tier 3 only. This way failure is not an option. The teacher and the learner are monitoring progress and finding appropriate learning strategies and resources to help the learner meet their learning goals.

Another concern teachers and administrators have mentioned to us is how to meet the standards and personalize learning. It does seem like an oxymoron, but it does work. If learners know what is expected of them and have a voice in their own learning, they are okay about the standards. Remember what Sarah Downing-Ford shared last March about her learners assessing their own work and unpacking the standards:
"The expression, 'You can lead a horse to water...' is an understatement when it comes to personalized learning. The key for teachers is to: lay a framework, create a community of students who don't throw in the towel when they are stuck and to make classroom expectations clear."
It's really easy to say "it just won't work" and not look at the benefits of focusing on the learner. Change is hard. Trying to change how we teach and learn is even more difficult because most of us only know the way we were taught to teach. It's what we've learned ourselves as students.

Those teachers and schools that have changed and focus on their learners are telling us they will never go back to traditional teaching. Yet, we found that it takes more than just one teacher even though there may be one teacher in one school taking some risks. A school, district, or even a region needs to rethink what teaching and learning is all about and connect the dots so "Personalized Learning" is the big picture that connects all your initiatives by focusing on your learners. Personalized Learning is the driver for all of your initiatives.

Consider Roger Cook, Superintendent of Taylor County Schools in Kentucky told us about how they have had zero dropout rates in over six years. It is happening because they decided the status quo was not working. The Carnegie unit and keeping everyone at the same grade level by age left too many kids behind. They call it Performance-based where others use the term Competency-based education. If it can work in Taylor County, it can work in other areas where the dropout rate is too high.

It's all about making it personal around each child and something they are passionate about. Fred Bramante believes that learners can reach their goals if they have extended learning opportunities and access to mentors. He shares how New Hampshire is building a database of 10,000 mentors across the state. Why did New Hampshire do this? They connected the dots and realized that learners cannot meet their goals alone and that mentors from the community help learners find and meet their career and college interests.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about connecting your dots so consider your existing initiatives and connect them under the Personalized Learning umbrella!

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