Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Personalization in Education - Part 2

The first part of this series looked at what it mans to personalize learning and some of the key beliefs one must have to do successfully switch in a new direction. What I want to start to get into is how we do this in our classrooms. We are busy in schools gathering a lot of data. The problem is that we are gathering the wrong kind.

Personalization starts with PERSON. We need to gather more information about the students we serve. We have to gather real data on who they are, what makes them work, how they learn, what they care about, their challenges, their successes, and all of the important DATA. Nobody really wants to learn from a teacher that doesn't care about them and doesn't show interest in them as an individual.

We need to understand students as a person first and a learner second.


We have whole child initiatives out there and lots of big thinkers saying we need to drop standardized test data and become more personal. However, very few are telling how. It can happen know and technology can help make it happen. Personalization can be helped along by using technology to hold conversations with students asynchronously (to leverage time) and then teachers can use those same tools to provide timely feedback.

A conversation with a student offers far more and better data about a student than any test.


There are great tools out there for asynchronous conversation and the world has come to embrace them. Email, text, chat, social messaging all accomplish this. However, we are all afraid to use these technologies to hold a conversation with kids, after all, our litigious society has beaten all of the care out of us. My next post will show you how to use something as simple as a Google form or spreadsheet to set up a communications network that is kept between a teacher and student. The technology is there to allow for these discussions to happen, we just have to value the data.

As a teacher holds individual conversations virtually with students the amount of time they have for each student increases. Teachers know more about each student and can quickly jump to a point in a conversation when meeting up with the student face to face in class. As many of us realize at ISTE12, we communicate all of the time through virtual asynchronous (and sometime synchronous) social networks and when we meet up at a conference we jump right to a point in a larger conversation. The same concept applies to our students in our classrooms

Teachers that do value the information gathered through conversation will use it to adapt instruction and interact with students on a personal level.

Teacher must use what they are learning about their students inside and outside of the classroom through conversation to adapt the learning experience for groups of students or individuals. This becomes even more powerful if we combine the other data sets we are gathering about student progress through formative assessment, information about attendance and discipline, or collaborate with other teachers about a student. However, this type of data is secondary to what we learn through conversation. Even standardized test data may become valuable when folded into a greater personal understanding of a child.

Parents need to be part of the data ecosystem as well.


We rarely give parents the data they need to help us. If all of the data is kept between the student and teacher we are missing a leg in the stool. Parents need to be provided information and be involved in the conversation as well. This can be encouraged to happen from student to parent or teacher to parent. Sometimes a conversation involving the student, teacher, and parent is most appropriate. The seeds of this conversation can also be planted in virtual discussions. Involving the parent empowers them to become an active part of the student's personalized learning experience.

There is nothing more valuable than time.


We show what we value by where we spend our time. We should be spending our time learning about and valuing our students. We need to understand them as people before we try to influence their learning. Too often we dismiss a students ability before we ever get to know them. I believe in the power of human data. Let's use technology to become more human, and use the skills that technology can never replace, to show we care about students and make a difference in their lives.

Personalization in Education - Part 1

It has been great to attend ISTE12 and finally begin to hear some honest buy in and acceptance to the philosophy of personalization of education for each student. I know this has been floating around in the ether for quite a while, I believe it can be tied back to Nel Noddings work on the ethic of care in the classroom (and probably before that). I was researching this in the early 2000's while working on my dissertation and am glad to see the rest of the community grab on and embrace the concept.

Here is the general idea behind personalized learning: the teacher finds a way to know about each individual student to be responsive to their needs just at the right time they need to be guided in the right direction. As Yong Zhao has pointed out, we have made the mistake in education (actually by policymakers around education) to believe that this can be accomplished by standardized testing. NCLB was quick to prove that the type of data we were gathering was not adequate to cause change quickly enough for individual students. We are not getting the right type of data back in a timely fashion. To be able to deliver what a student needs just in time we need more data that we can use. Of course, the policymakers immediately try to add in more of what is not working by testing more. I understand the response, it is quite logical, if a little doesn't work - more must.

However, we are doing more of something that is harmful to our students and teachers. As Sir Ken Robinson has said - we are mining our students talents for specific purposes and in the process destroying divergent thinking and creativity. At the same time, I believe we are taking a teachers, a group of people that got into the people business because at some level they are talented at learning and gifted at sharing that love with others, and destroying that gift by causing them to analyze the wrong set of data; a set of data that tells them very little about the students they work with.

We need to invest in a new data set. We need to rededicate ourselves to being interested in our students as people. We need to start caring again. We need to start gathering data about our students by listening to them OFTEN. They need to connect to their teachers. Students have to feel that they belong to a group of learners, they need to be empowered to have a voice in the learning experience, and they need to have the opportunity to use what they learn to create products that have meaning and value to them.

I believe that personalized learning values Caring, Belongingness, and Efficacy allowing for student to:

    • Creatively connect to ideas, resources, and people
      • Through creating, building, producing, and doing
        • Followed by reflectively synthesizing new knowledge and understanding
          • To create new questions, problems, and areas of interest.
My next blog post looks at why we can do this now and how technology can actually help us become more connected to our students and to help show how we care. I am working that piece now and hope to get it out today.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Retire the "21st Century" in "21st Century Learning"

At the start of ISTE12 I tossed out a concept through twitter that was discussed in the School CIO conference preceding ISTE. I proposed that we should retire "21st Century Learning" and start calling it "Learning". It has caused quite a discussion in twitter and I have had some great intellectual exchanges over it. I wanted to take this venue as a place to put my thoughts on the concept together.

Here is the general idea: words matter


All of the discussion on PLC's show us that a common vocabulary means something when working with groups of people. Over the course of the past 15 years 21st Century Learning has developed as a term to prepare educators for what was coming when technology became a common and essential part of society, children, families, and learning.

So let's just admit what happened. The 21st Century came and we were not ready. Some screamed for change and some resisted - others just rode the wave.  The 21st Century started a dozen years ago and technology is here. In the ISTE12 keynote we heard that the number of cellphones will soon outnumber people on this planet. Accessibly to technology, while still lacking in many areas, is becoming more pervasive across the world. Slowly the peaks and valleys of technology access will erode and the world will truly be flat. But for this conversation, that doesn't matter. What matters is the Internet changed the way that the world communicates, accesses information, and shares information, some of the key components of learning, and has led to a new way the world learns to change. 


21st Century learning is here, it isn't going away, so let's just call it "learning". We are all starting to understand what good teaching and learning looks like. We can quantify the science and qualify the art - and can see when students succeed and when they do not (we just have to be willing to look).  Teachers that ignore the change that has already happened will face increasing pressures to change or leave the profession. Let's just call it learning. We know many of the basic building blocks of learning, and some of these involve the use of resources (including technology). Let's recognize those teachers that create excellent learning environments and experiences and celebrate their accomplishments in promoting LEARNING in this century, the last, or any into the future.