Personalized Learning

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the idea of Personalized Learning for our students.

Saturday I devoured the latest issue of ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine.  This presented a variety of different view points around personalized learning that really made me think!  I read the entire issue, cover to cover.

I was trying to figure out where my own feelings fell on this spectrum of disagreement, caution and embracing personalized learning.  Then, last night, I read these two blog posts (Thanks for sharing Danielle!

Pushing Back Against Personalization from Dylan Kane and Problems with Personalized Learning by Dan Meyer

Now I was really thinking.  So much rolling around in my head.  All of these great educators sharing really thoughtful points had my brain zooming from one idea to another, yet something was still there for me to figure out.  Today at school, I got a chance to see this in action and I think I know what wasn’t sitting right with me from all of these posts and articles.

One of the arguments that stuck with me in these articles was by Benjamin Riley.  I’ll paraphrase (badly, I’m sure.  Sorry Benjamin!) but the main point was that the science of learning disagrees with this whole premise.  As learners, when learning something new, if it’s frustrating or hard, we revert to what we know and what is easy. We choose the path of least resistance in most cases.  This is the reason we often hire trainers when we head to the gym to make a real change. When we go and work out, we don’t necessarily know the best workout for what we are looking for and we don’t push ourselves as much as we could.  We don’t even know what we don’t know, so of course we would just suddenly start doing that and doing it well!!

I agree with that completely! I’ve had gym memberships, taken classes, but without someone to push me, to coach me and to get me moving the way I should, I didn’t do my best and learn what my body could do.

When things are challenging and new, this is where we lean back on the things we do know already, the path of least resistance. In the middle of the day today, I was working with a group of high school students on a BreakoutEDU Digital game.  There were four groups in the class and it was incredible to watch how they all responded differently when I gave them a period of time to work in their groups on a challenging task.  One group was ready to run with this, they organized first, got to work, figured out who was good at which part and solved the Breakout more quickly than any group I’ve done it with (student or adult).  Another group, gave up almost immediately and completely.  This group broke into pairs, didn’t collaborate or even really speak to each other, didn’t have a plan and really struggled through the whole time.  They didn’t break out.

The piece missing from these two groups?  The teacher. The trainer.  The coach.  The encourager. I was a guest in this room and didn’t know the personalities, strengths, and weaknesses of the students in the room.  I wasn’t prepared to TRULY coach, train and encourage because I didn’t have the relationships with these students.  I quickly got to work, starting conversation, encouraging where I could, seeing how I could adapt this to be more challenging for the group who was flying through and identify and support those who were struggling.  All this in the 45 minutes of a breakout game.

When we debriefed I was able to address some of these challenges, some of the struggles, help students see the lessons in this activity that can apply to real life.  But more than that, this assignment helped me learn and reflect about this whole idea of personalized learning.

I think it’s a balance.  Like most things in education we swing from one extreme to another. We swing from totally teacher driven, to completely personalized but really where we want to be is somewhere in between.  When the teacher decides every assignment and topic, students tune out because it’s not relevant and not connected to their interests.  When students choose all the topics and how they do it, they may never discover something they don’t already know because they need a push.  Using the expertise of the teacher and the relationships with students to know JUST what they need and guiding, coaching and pushing when the time is right, while still providing choices, in my humble opinion, is where this whole debate will end up.

What are your thoughts on personalized learning?  Am I totally off base here?

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