Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Learner Voice Demonstrates Commitment to Building Agency

Collaborative Blog Series on Learner Agency with the Institute for Personalized Learning

Learner voice gives learners a chance to share their opinions about something they believe in. There are so many aspects of "school" and "learning" where learners have not been given the opportunity to be active participants. 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 and eventually to own and drive their learning. This means a complete shift from the traditional approach of teaching compliance that develops a “learned helplessness” to encouraging voice where there is authenticity in the learning.

The idea of “school” is supposed to be about building relationships that develop a culture of learning. If you ask learners what they think about school, you open the door to a myriad of discussions about them wanting to be heard, having their teachers care about them, and about teachers really listening to what they are saying. When teachers and learners engage in meaningful conversations based on real-world issues where they have a voice in decision-making, then they are building a collaborative community of learners. Dropout rates, learner achievement, and workforce readiness will improve by integrating learners’ voices in the classroom and in society.
“Encouraging voice refers to those pedagogies in which youth have the opportunity to influence decisions that will shape their lives and those of their peers either in or outside of school.” (Mitra, 2009)

According to Eric Toshalis and Michael J. Nakkula in their report “Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice,” learner voice demonstrates a commitment to the facilitation of agency and to the creation of policies, practices, and programs that revolve around the learners’ interests and needs.   “In this era of standardization and the Common Core, the practice of elevating student (learner) voice might seem counter cultural but given the importance of agency, autonomy, and self-regulation in learning, it is really rather commonsensical.”
Without motivation, there is no push to learn.
Without engagement, there is no way to learn.
Without voice, there is no authenticity in learning. 

                                             Toshalis and Nakkula

Toshalis and Nakkula explained that the spectrum on learner-voice-oriented activities is where learners can start articulating their perspectives as stakeholders in their learning to directing collective activities. They can move from data sources to leaders of change. The goal is for learners to have a voice that moves to partnership, activism, and leadership roles. As one moves from left to right across the spectrum, then roles, responsibilities and decision-making authority grow.
Screenshot 2015-10-24 20.15.04.png

Most learner voice activities in schools reside in expression, consultation, and participation. Moving toward the right side of the spectrum, learners can affect systemic change and are prepared to lead as problem solvers and decision makers to affect change. When learners act in a way to produce meaningful change, agency is the key to learner voice. 
(Toshalis and Nakkula, 2013)

Just think about a time when you did not have a voice as part of some activity, organization, or in school. How did you feel? When you have a voice and you are heard, you feel valued and respected. We like to feel we belong and that we have something to contribute. 

What Kids Can Do (WKCD) is an organization that embraces learner voice as one of their guiding principles to welcome youth as crucial investors in improving their schools and communities which is similar to moving to the right of the spectrum. Kathleen Cushman at WKCD shared that there is a lot to learn about the complexities of learner voice and that meaningful voice must:
  • Be inclusive, beginning with the premise that everyone has membership
  • Be woven into the daily fabric of school (and reach far beyond after school clubs and "one-off" events)
  • Target substantive issues
  • Involve asking and listening by all parties
  • Lead to constructive action

So what does voice mean to a teenager? Check out Ned's Gr8 8 Tips:

[Source: Cushman & Cervone, WKCD]

Teachers can provide a learning environment that encourages learner voice that moves from participation to leadership yet to do this effectively, the right amount of teacher participation is crucial. Too much direction from the teacher and the learner’s voice loses its authenticity and the learner has difficulty developing agency. Too little support or direction can impact the effectiveness of voice and the ability to own and drive their learning. Teachers and learners can work together to develop a partnership that supports the learner building confidence, self-awareness, and the ability to self-advocate for agency.


Cushman, K. and Cervone, B. “Student and Youth Voice: Asking, Listening, and Taking Action.” What Kids Can Do

Mitra, D.L. 2009. “Student Voice and Student Roles in Education Policy Reform.” In D. Plank, G. Sykes, & B. Schneider, eds. AERA Handbook on Education Policy Research. London, UK: Routledge

Toshalis, E. and Nakkula, M (2013). Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice. September 13, 2015,


Collaborative Blog Series Learner Agency

Post #1 Learner Agency: The Missing Link
Post #2 Self-Efficacy: Secret Sauce to Learning
Post #3 Discover the Learner in Every Child
Post #5 Ownership and Independence: The Keys to Learner Agency

The Institute for Personalized Learning (@Institute4PL) works with school districts through a unique action network approach to create an educational ecosystem that is student-centered and personalized for each learner. Their model is based on change in three areas: learning and teaching; relationships and roles and; structures and policies. For more information contact, or connect with them via Facebook or Pinterest.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Connected Educators Personalize Learning

When you think of being a connected educator, you may not be thinking how this can personalize learning for you and your learners. Connecting to other educators means opening doors, making learning transparent, and sharing ideas and resources with others. It also means that you are learning from others locally and globally. You may be on Twitter, Voxer, Google Hangouts, or connecting with colleagues in your school or at a conference.

The world is at your fingertips and the connections you make help you grow as a learner yourself.  Since October is Connected Educator Month (#ce15), we decided to focus on Connected Educators and Personalized Learning using these questions:

The conversations about being a Connected Educator grew bigger with educators joining us from #ce15. It's amazing how #plearnchat is getting bigger and the convos are going deeper. The connections really matter. Here's just a few of the tweets from some new to #plearnchat:

Teri Henry @terirenee
Learners get excited to take charge. If we listen to them, they will lead us. That is hard to do, but it's best for the learners.

Trevor Bryan @trevorabryan
Learners & teachers grow when ALL voices are heard-that's how we grow and connect.

Anna Bartosik @ambartosik
The value of their connections is taking accountability/responsibility for their voice when communicating on social media.


Here are a few resources from participants that were shared in the chat:

Congratulations to Sheri Edwards, @grammarsheri, who won our book, Make Learning Personal

Sheri Edwards is a Technology Advocate and full-time middle school Language Arts teacher in a public school in rural Washington State. She is passionate for 21st Century teaching and learning and participated in the Teacher Leadership Project of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Sheri encourages readers and writers to blossom as they connect with other learners globally, considering others' ideas which is perfect for tonight's chat. 

"Reflect curiosity and wonder."
"Go boldly and scatter seeds of kindness."


Next #plearnchat is in 2 weeks on 11/9 at 7pm ET - Topic is "Future Ready"


Below is the archive of #plearnchat on Connected Educators and Personalized Learning

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Discover the Learner in Every Child

Collaborative Blog Series on Learner Agency with the Institute for Personalized Learning

For too long, schools have identified who the learner is and how they learn using learning styles. Some learners are labeled based on their disability. We ask you to open a new door and consider using the neurosciences to understand how learners learn best so you can discover the learner in every child.

“If you remove the veil of disability, 
you can see the learner.”
Kathleen McClaskey

Universal Design for Learning® (UDL)

How do you understand how a learner learns best?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a researched-based set of principles developed by CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology - in the 1990s to help guide the design of instruction and learning environments that reduces the barriers to learning and optimizes the levels of support and challenges to meet the needs and interests of all learners in the classroom.

UDL is grounded in neuroscience and provides an understanding about the what, how and why of learning and tells us that there is variability in how each learner learns, their strengths, challenges, aptitudes, talents and aspirations. Most important for teachers is for them to understand how learners can best access and engage with the content and how they can best express what they know. With this understanding of learners, teachers are informed now how to best design instruction in their lessons. UDL is the framework that applies to ALL learners and as a means for creating personalized, learner-centered environments where each learner can develop agency. (Refer to Learner Agency - The Missing Link)

The UDL Lens - Access, Engage and Express

The three principles of Universal Design for Learning are:
Multiple Means of Representation
Multiple Means of Engagement
Multiple Means of Expression and Engagement
Teachers let us know that the principles were helpful in designing instruction to meet the needs of all learners. However, we were approached by teachers and administrators to develop a clearer and more practical way of applying the UDL principles. We decided on three terms that would represent the UDL principles: Access, Engage and Express. Access, Engage, and Express (TM) is the lens for understanding how every learner learns best.

Each learner has variability in how they access and process information, how they engage with content and how they express what they know and understand. Using the UDL lens of Access, Engage and Express to understand learners can not only help the teacher better design instruction but can also offer the learner a way to tell their story about how they learn best. When the learner uses the UDL lens to share how they learn, it validates them as a learner. This is something that rarely occurs today in anyone's education but would have a positive and profound impact for any learner in a personalized learning environment.

Teacher and Learner Partnership

You can say it is the conversation starter between the teacher and the learner. In this conversation, the learner can share their Learner Profile (LP) that includes their strengths, challenges, preferences and needs in how they access, engage and express. They can share who they are, what they are interested in or passionate about and what they aspire to be. Here is an example of one learner’s LP with their strengths, challenges and how they prefer and need to learn.

From the conversations about their learning, the partnership between the teacher and learner evolves where they set learning goals, regularly monitor their own progress and modify and set new learning goals based on the learner profile. Within these new goals, skills and learning strategies are discussed, defined and planned between the teacher and learner.

During this process, the learner gains new skills and strategies as challenges turn into strengths and the partnership with the teacher grows stronger. When this happens, the learner is truly on their path to become a self-directed learner with agency.

Access, Engage and Express TM is a trademark of Personalize Learning, LLC


Meyer, Anne, Rose, David H. and Gordon, David. Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice, (

Universal Design for Learning Guidelines, version 2.0. National Center for Universal Design for Learning (

Universal Design for Learning is a registered trademark of CAST, Inc.
Access, Engage, and Express is a trademark of Personalize Learning, LLC.


Collaborative Blog Series Learner Agency 


The Institute for Personalized Learning (@Institute4PL) works with school districts through a unique action network approach to create an educational ecosystem that is student-centered and personalized for each learner. For more information contact, or connect with them via Facebook or Pinterest.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Fostering Connected Learners

When you connect online using social media like Twitter, Facebook and Google+, you may wonder how to incorporate these same tools with your learners.

That was the topic of our #plearnchat on October 12, 2015 where we asked several questions that discussed how to foster relevant connected learning and what it means to be a connected learner. Since this is Connected Educators Month, we joined forces and included the #CE15 twitter handle.

Educators from around the world jumped in at different times and blew us away with their comments. Here's the questions we asked:

We wanted to delve deeper into what it means to connect learners. Some of the conversations took the questions into why connecting needs to be purposeful and intentional, and others discussed how to change teaching strategies so learners take more responsibility for learning.

We decided to take the fall colors and theme that Pam Lowe @prlowe91 used to create the calendar and questions and create a wordle with the same colors.

The conversations were really jumping that a few people were joining us from other Twitter chats. So the conversations at this #plearnchat using #CE15 were very exciting for us. Here's just a few of the tweets from some people who joined us in their first #plearnchat:
Richard Bruford @richard_bruford
"You need to understand why the change is needed before entertaining What? And How?" 
Chris Younghusband @ChristineYH
"True. Relationships key to learning and risk taking. Must be authentic connections. Easy for some learners to hide."
Tim Hilborn @Scothutch
"The evolution of learning continues, today the ability to connect is like going to 1st grade and learning to work with others."
Matthew R. Morris @callmemrmorris
"Fostering a generation of connected learners means understanding what "being connected" truly means."
Matt Harris, Ed.D. @MattHarrisEdD
"Anytime learning that is collaborative outside of space and time is a huge opportunity for connected learning."

Here are a few resources we shared in the chat:

Congratulations to Tsisana Palmer who won our book, Make Learning Personal

Tsisana Palmer, @TechTeacherCent is originally from Russia. She moved to the United States in 2003, and since then she's earned an MA in Intercultural Communication from University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and an MET in Educational Technology from Boise State University (BSU). She also holds certificates in Teaching English as a Second Language and Technology Integration.

Tsisana is currently teaching English as a Second Language to international students at Boise State University. Being a passionate educator, she strives to offer the best educational experience to her students. Her current interests include learner-centered teaching, student motivation, personalized learning, and passion-based learning.

She reflects on her teaching and learning on her blog
Tsisana's tweets from plearnchat: 
"Model! Use social media for connected learning, sharing, publishing, creating content. Many still use for trivial stuff."
"Building community, collaboration, sharing, inspiring each other-always connected in learning! My learners love our Facebook group."

Next #plearnchat is in 2 weeks on October 26th, 7pm ET 
Topic: Connected Educators and Personalized Learning


Below is the archive of #plearnchat Connected Learners

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Put the "Person" in "Personalization"

There is a lot of talk going around about "personalization" and "personalized learning" harming kids. We need to clarify this NOW. It's time to put the "person" in "personalization" and stop the conversations going in directions that take us off course.

We went back to the post and webinar from Elliot Washor (@elliot_washor) on April 2014 about this concept of  putting the "Person" in "Personalization."
"There is a great deal of discussion and a strong ramp up of what is called “personalized learning” in schools both with and without technology.” Where is the person in personalization? What are the expectations that students have for deep productive learning?"
We decided we need to bring back this idea that Elliot shared and expand on this discussion. We need to focus on our learners and learning and take semantics out of the conversations.

It's not about technology. It's not about the test or improving test scores. It's really not about school. It's all about the learner, how they learn best and that what they learn is meaningful and for a purpose.  It is all about the relationships that learners make and need to support their learning. It is also about the teacher - a valuable person in the relationship. Teachers and learners can work together to develop learning goals and design activities that are authentic and relevant for the learner so they are engaged in learning. Learning has to have a context that learners can grasp and understand. And, of course, an important person in the relationship is the parent who wants the best for their child but they may not know how to support their learning.

Right now it's so easy to be pulled in different directions and think you have to take one side or another about the terminology. Consider yourself as a learner and what you need. Yes - technology makes it easier to access information, engage with the content and express what you know. Mobile devices make everything available at your fingertips just when you need it.

Here's the catch: today's kids brains are wired digitally, so they will figure out how to use the tools by experimenting or teaching each other. What they need is to acquire the skills to choose the appropriate tools for the task. They also need to understand who they are, how they learn best, and how to be global digital citizens. They probably don't realize that their digital footprint is actually a "digital tattoo" that can never be removed. They need to become self-aware of who they are, how they learn best, and be aware of what they do online can affect them and impact others.

When we put the focus on each learner and how they can own and drive their learning, then we see engaged, self-directed learners with agency. They become the ones responsible for the learning. Isn't that what we want?

Our traditional education system was designed to create compliant workers who follow orders. That's why it looks like a factory model. This isn't working anymore for today's kids, but that's all we know and how most of us were taught. Teachers also think they have to teach like a champion because they are the ones responsible for the learning. Don't you think that this is backwards? Teachers are an integral piece of the puzzle, but the focus has been on curriculum, teaching to the test, and teaching subjects instead of kids. When we focus on learning and not on curriculum, teachers roles change. We still can teach to standards but let's involve learners in the process and give them a voice so they own the learning.

The system is changing now because it has to change. Our future depends on it. Consider this quote from John Dewey:

"If we teach as we taught yesterday,we rob our children of tomorrow.”

It is our children's future, not our past. So what that means is that what we know about school will have to change and change is scary. That's why we understand the discourse about the terms. There are companies that frame "personalized learning" as adaptive learning systems using algorithms to choose the right path for learning. So we're going to end this blog emphasizing learners need to be the ones who choose their path with their teacher guiding the process. It is about encouraging learners to have a voice and choice in their learning. It's happening now all over the world.

We'll be sharing more and more stories of learners being empowered and teachers who are excited about how engagement and motivation has changed the landscape of learning. This is just the beginning of a new world of learning and it's time to put the "Person" back in "Personalization."


Cross-posted on Rethinking Learning: Put the "Person" Back in "Personalization"

Monday, October 5, 2015

Every Child, Every Day, For a Better Tomorrow through Personalized Learning

by Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Personalized Learning Department
pl logo.png
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) is a large urban district with 168 schools that serves  147,000 students. CMS, by many metrics, is a good school district. We outperform most large urban districts in reading and math on NAEP, and we have increased graduation rates in all subgroups, with an overall grad rate of 88%. In our 2018 strategic plan, we set a bold path for even higher student achievement, aiming to move from a good district to a great one. Information and resources are at CMS website: and Personalized Learning:

CMS completed an intensive strategic planning process in 2012 garnering wide input from hundreds of educators, students, parents, business and civic leaders. The planning process included actively engaging all stakeholders in the community through 22 task force groups, surveys and town hall convenings. From this, Strategic Plan 2018 was built with goal number one to maximize academic achievement in a personalized 21st century learning environment for every child to graduate college and career ready.

In 2013,  CMS received a Next Generation Innovation grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to take a deeper dive into CMS’s Strategic Plan 2018. We created a system design team that consisted of many different stakeholders. The system design team completed a needs assessment and researched what personalized learning looked like in other districts through visitations and interviews, along with looking at the best practices that researchers were discussing. Through this research, CMS charted a path to foster an instructional shift.

Based on the needs assessment and focus groups, it was clear the instructional shift would be hard for CMS. The personalized learning model  evolved toward a shift in the classroom to a teacher facilitated and student ownership model. There we needed to be a purposeful roll out so it was not viewed as “another thing”. The Personalized Learning team created an implementation, change management and a resource plan.

In moving forward on the implementation plan, schools were invited to participate in this hard work, without a clear definition of what Personalized Learning would look like.  In order to create a cohort of pilot schools, it was important that schools were willing as well as able. A five phase screening process was developed to vet schools and ensure they were prepared for an instructional shift.

  • Phase 1: An invitation was sent to all schools within the district asking who would be interested the Personalized Learning Initiative.
  • Phase 2: A triangulation of screening criteria was gathered by Personalized Learning team to verify which schools demonstrated readiness.  
  • Phase 3: Each school submitted an application which was scored by multiple readers based on a comprehensive rubric.
  • Phase 4: Learning Community Superintendents approved each school’s participation.
  • Phase 5: School visits and interviews were conducted and scored based on a rubric.

*All rubrics were created and vetted by a cross-functional steering committee which included members of Academics, Technology Services, Accountability, Exceptional Children, and Learning Communities.
Once selected, each school created a design team comprised  of 10 educators from their school along with the principal.  The first cohort of schools attended a Personalized Learning Institute in July 2014, in which they organically created the definition of what personalized learning would look like in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.  All the training offered during the institute was created by teacher leaders using only one outside resource, the keynote. All professional development is active model learning verse traditional PD. Also during this Institute, each school created an action plan which included a risk management reflection and a professional development plan with their personalized learning design teams.

As a result of the Personalized Learning Institute 2014, the following definition was created: 

Personalized Learning in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools aims to develop the whole child and empower them to take ownership of their learning by providing them with multiple pathways to demonstrate mastery learning in order to be successful and productive 21st century citizens in an ever-changing world.

Not only are CMS teachers adjusting to the instructional shift in the classroom,  so are students. The students’ role changes from being consumers of knowledge to driving their own learning, which helps to build habits of mind.  Adapted from Art Costa and Bena Kallick’s Habits of Mind, educators from the first cohort of schools created ten Personalized Learning Learner Profiles that are now embraced daily in Personalized Learning classrooms.  
Coaching and professional development support is important for successful implementation and sustainability, which is provided for every Personalized Learning school throughout the year based on their needs. Each quarter, Personalized Learning schools come together as a cohort and review individual and group Glows (what is working) and Grows (what is not) in order to learn and continue to move forward.

CMS is excited to be in our in the second year of scaling Personalized Learning with cohort two. The Personalized Learning Institute is now part of the onboarding process utilized for teachers, principals and support staff.  Through actively learning together about personalized learning schools, customize the design for their school based on definition and foundation cornerstones.  Each school through this design process has the autonomy to develop an implementation plan based on their students’ needs.

Along the way, CMS has created many instructional resources that help teachers move across the continuum from teacher-centered to student-centered to student-driven. All Personalized Learning resources are in our toolkit. CMS offers tours to see Personalized Learning schools in action as each one is unique in their approach, but all have the same foundation. Each approach can be seen through school created vignettes from the first cohort.

Looking forward will continue to reflect on the process of change, find solutions to challenges, and continue to build capacity by adding Personalized Learning schools each year to reach the goal of CMS PL for all students by 2018.