Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thoughts on Personalizing Learning

I've read lots of thoughtful comments on the UPE blog ( ) related to chapter 1 of the book, Make Learning Personal by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey. I think Kym hit the nail on the head when she said the greatest challenge would be that of relinquishing control of learning to students.  So many of our views on learning are contrary to this idea.  Educators tend to take full responsibility not only for student learning, but for student motivation, engagement, excitement and even empowerment.  I'm amazed what students can and will do once we do relinquish that control.  I've seen this magic happen in my own classroom and once you've seen the magic it never leaves you.  Perhaps that's why I'm so passionate on the subject of personalized learning.  Beth asked, "how do we keep students engaged?"  The answer is - We don't.  That's the educator in us wanting to be in control.  We need to foster the grit, determination and perseverance in learners that is needed when their engagement wanes and they grow tired, bored and frustrated with tasks.  This "disengagement" will happen throughout their lives.  Sometimes learning is fun, sometimes it's hard work.  The internal satisfaction of achieving cannot be given, it must be earned by the learner themselves. 

One of the first pieces of information I came across when I was running a personalized classroom was the PDI chart explaining the differences between personalized, differentiated and individualized instruction.  I loved all aspects of the chart as I felt it really identified the differences between these topics.  Finally, I had found something that put the learner first.  Everything is personalized learning was about the learner.  When you look at the chart as a whole and read the first column you become amazed as to what learners can do.  If you haven't downloaded a copy of the chart - here is the link: 

Whenever the topic of personalized learning is discussed it is often followed by a conversation about the need to balance a love of learning with the need to learn the "important stuff."  Again, the view on learning that learning is being taught shines strong.  Is the only way to learn the important stuff through someone telling it to us?  Personalized learning is not about learning what ever you want whenever you want to learn it.  We are governed by state and local standards that specifically outline what each and every student should know and be able to do in a certain grade.  These standards can be used in conjunction with personalized learning.  They can serve as an umbrella to guide students in their learning and understanding of necessary topics.  Students need to learn how to unpack standards so they are meaningful and relevant just as much as teachers do.  As educators, our job is to facilitate the process of making sense of standards, not deliver them.  Russ describes this shift in teaching to that of moving from the "Sage on the Stage" toward being a "Guide on the Side."  Educators need to build a bank of resources and skills to facilitate the varied needs of each of the learners in the classroom in addition to being versed in content.  But it's not our job to do all the work.  I'm convinced this is why so many teachers leave the profession from burnout.  They do the job the learners should be doing and in doing so, unknowingly rob the joy of learning from students.

The book Make Learning Personal will point to lots of schools who are embarking on a personalized learning journey.  The authors' website also has many journal entries with interviews from teachers all over the world.  ( )  A question from the book to pause, think and reflect upon:  Is personalizing learning something that someone or something personalizes for you, or do you personalize your learning for yourself?