Sunday, November 17, 2013

My Vision for Personalized Learning

If you've read my blog posts in the past, you read about my experiences "personalizing" my 7th grade computer applications course.  Using screencasts, an LMS, and a road map for students to follow, I established a mastery type course and in turn gave students ultimate control with how they demonstrated their learning.  But was this personalized? I think it was getting there, but I feel like I have so far to go.

So what do I see for personalized learning?

Every student needs a device. Whether it be a tablet, laptop, or phone, every student has a device they can use to create.

Every student needs a plan.  This is where I know I need work.  Every student in my class is still expected to do the same tasks.  Now, I almost always provide students choice in how they show their learning, but they still need to reach a certain quality, or at least that is the assessment point.  However, what one student is capable of, another student may not be.This is where technology could make the greatest impact, and why every student needs a device. Through blending and Google Docs, you could provide quicker feedback to students and have more time to communicate with them. My biggest question here though is how do you as one teacher with 30 students craft an individual plan for each student immediately? There is so much responsiveness here that is needed and it is uncomfortable. Maybe that is the way it should be...

Every student needs to be able to work at their own pace. I struggled with this as well. When I did this last year, I thought it was highly successful. But I also recognize that class was not as engaging or fun as it could have been. Students were engaged, I think, but often grew weary of the repetitiveness the format created.  Ultimately, there must be some way to run asynchronous but also provide group activities and fun engaging whole class discussions. I need to find a way to do this. Perhaps on Twitter I can find someone who is pulling this off.

Every student needs to work towards mastery.  This one has to work in conjunction with students working at their own pace.  Naturally, it will take some students longer with more effort to achieve mastery on certain topics than others.  However, student mastery is so much more important than just completing assignments or tests and then moving on. As I have said before, I'd feel a whole lot better about what a student knows if they mastered 70% of the subjects, rather than achieving 70% on all of the subjects.  The focus needs to be away from grades and on feedback. Technology can make this process a little faster and more organized (through Google Docs/doctopus/Goobric), but ultimately I do believe it takes a lot more time to do correctly than the traditional format.

Every student needs to be empowered to discover and uncover knowledge and every teacher needs to be comfortable guiding students and facilitating learning experiences more often.  Nothing I've stated is easy to accomplish so far, but this may prove to be the most difficult, and one I struggle with often (hmm...I struggle a lot - I have a long ways to go as a teacher!).  Given the proper instruction and training on proper searching and researching skills, the internet can prove to be a much more impressive volume on knowledge than any teacher, regardless of their education. No disrespect is meant to any teacher here, but there is so much knowledge and new knowledge being created every day that it is impossible to know more than the students could find online.  In addition, students can access knowledge from different points of view, and you can also end up with a wider variety of opinions and discussions from students.  Teachers need to be knowledgeable of proper searching, great resources, and also be incredibly encouraging while providing specific feedback.

The above is uncomfortable. It may appear at times that we aren't doing anything. That couldn't be further from the truth. I see this as a way to tradeoff time, in a way. Perhaps, as a teacher, you prepare blended lessons ahead of time. You create inquiry and project based learning. You work with the students to craft the unit.  Then you grind each and every day, getting to each student much more than you could in traditional formats.  With this, you may save some time on the day-to-day planning (I'm getting owned by this right now and need to work harder to be a facilitator rather than sage on the stage).  The tradeoff comes on the feedback. Last year, with computer apps, that is where my time went. I spent at least 6 hours a week providing feedback outside of class to my students.  That was time I didn't have to spend on planning, so I was able to give much more specific, beneficial feedback.

And that is my manifesto for personalized learning. As a strong advocate for integrating technology, THIS is the outcome we are looking for. Technology allows students to teach themselves, giving the highly trained teachers more freedom to work one on one.  Students need devices. They need searching skills. They need an environment that is free and supports learning at their own pace. They need to be challenged to go for mastery, not just completion.  And they need to have relationships with us.  That is what makes this all work, what makes it all worth it. Beyond achievement, beyond grades, beyond technology, beyond it all, there lies the relationships. I know it has been said a million times, but this is what gives me the energy and the hope to continue pushing for personalized learning. Because learning becomes personal - to us and to them. It is no longer a product we are trying to churn out. We genuinely become invested into everyone trying to do their best.

Thanks for reading! I truly hope my point came across as clear as I hope it will. More so than technology, I am passionate about making education matter more and mean more to my students. By working harder to incorporate the things I've stated above, I am confident I can make strides towards that end.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Is it the System...or just Psychology?

Picture it. A progressive, 21st century classroom.  Technology is woven into the fabric of all we do, so choices abound both tech and non-tech alike.  Students have freedom of choice, a say in their projects and grading, and a class where they are the focus.  Sounds like the kind of fantasy a progressive, 21st century educator would love to be a part of. So what if this is all just a pipe-dream?

Speaking from a big of angst here - I launched what I thought to be a really fun and interesting project for my Juniors and Seniors. It had every thing - answering a real world question that has value. The opportunity to present to a public audience. Ultimate autonomy in what their final product looked like. Voice in the structure of the project and assessments. It went well, right?

After a lot of grumbling, and a lot of frustration, students did eventually get to work. Some seemed to work really hard on it, others got the most out of their movie collections and Netflix subscriptions.  At the conclusion of the project, students did well, but all but one of the groups created a simple slideshow for their presentations.

Now, I am always willing to admit I could have done a better job designing the project. There is no perfect project and no group of kids that will ever react to anything the same. However, knowing my students, and knowing what they like, and knowing what the trends are, they should have enjoyed the freedom, collaboration, and the chance to tackle something challenging.

But they didn't. At least from what I could see. I got a lot of complaining and a lot of time in class not spent digging deeper, asking more questions, or working on creativity. This brings me to the topic of my blog - is it the system, or just Psychology? Have these students, at the end of the road, been so trained in drill and kill and structure, and so tired of school, that they simply can't bring themselves to enjoy the freedom of Project Based Learning?  Or is it simply a fact of their Psychology - any attempt to fight where 16 to 18 year olds are at will result in a lot of conflict.

What does the research say?  Socrates said that adolescents were "inclined to contradict parents and tyrannize teachers" (  According to the National Institute of Mental Health - the teenage brain doesn't resemble that of an adult until the early 20s.  They also are impact heavily by lack of sleep.  In addition, Children's Trust mentions that students move more towards independence, can compromise, be more autonomous, can set goals more effectively, can self-regulate, and have increased concern for the future.  Based on this short sampling of information, it would seem to me that their psychology would support more creative, independent tasks.

So why do I feel this project was unsuccessful? I am too hard on myself, or expecting too much? Is there something outside of school happening to these students making them unable to really focus?  Could it be that I failed them as a teacher and did not set it up well, make it interesting enough, or scaffold well enough to make it feel important to them? Or is it simply the fact that they are tired of a system that has herded them through like sheep, scolding them and boring them at every turn, and are simply done and want nothing more, no matter how hard I try?

Maybe one day I'll have an answer. For now I'm stumped.