Monday, October 5, 2015

Personalized Learning

This post first appeared in Larry Ferlazzo's Education Week Teacher column, as part of a series of responses to the concept of personalized learning.

What does "personalized learning" mean, and what can it look like in the classroom?
Learning is an accomplishment of attention and effort that can take place in an auditorium filled with 2,000 people, or at a corner table in a library. It takes place with a teacher, or a coach, or with peers, or when you are alone. Learning is always a personal experience for the learner.
Our factory model of schooling obscures the fact that all learning is personal. We've been forcing too many children at the same time to be presented with the same stimulation in hopes they develop the same understanding. Because we are all evolutionary cousins, with similar brains that are wired from birth to find patterns in the environment, the factory approach sort of works-- if you like mediocrity, and if you think it is inevitable that only a few students reach mastery in classes.
Enough of us did pass the tests through the years for our schools to consider themselves hotbeds of learning. Schools have gotten away with this mediocre assembly-line delivery of lessons for so long that we find the notion of personalized learning to be innovative. But all each of us ever did, even in the stultifying rigidity of our most boring class, was to personally make sense of what was going on. Or we didn't learn. No one could do it for us.
Personalized learning as an educational imperative has at its root a very radical notion: almost all students can reach mastery in almost every subject. If you don't believe that, you will have no drive to change our factory system of education, which is as much about sorting students into successes and failures as it is about educating them. If you do believe that each student truly has the capacity for mastery in all subjects--in your subject! in your school!-- personalized learning asks two fundamental questions:
·         What is this child ready to learn?
·         How do I best help this child learn?
Throw out your pacing guides. Do not chain yourself to the end-of-the-chapter tests. Fill your classrooms--and I mean you in secondary school--with stuff to build and model and draw and craft. Listen to the students. Be a guide, a coach, a teacher, an inspirer, a challenger, a fellow explorer. This is not an easy path, but it will be your special path into the most interesting part of your career. Personalize your learning; no one else can do it for you.