I am struggling with a concrete definition and vision for how such a concept can be implemented within schools and within our school system.
The word itself - personalized - tends to throw me off. For example, is the idea personalized learning congruent with personal learning? Furthermore, how does personalized learning "look" within a standards based education system (where the curricular learning outcomes are prescribed)?
Powell and Powell, in a recent Ed Leadership article are clear in their opinion:
A curriculum without learning standards has neither rigor nor credibility. It virtually ensures confusion and mediocrity.As I think about this, I tend to agree. As a society we have a vested interest in determining what skills and knowledge we want our youth to acquire.
I don't think the "show up and learn what you want" type of "personal learning" is in our collective best interest.
So how does personalization interact effectively within a standardized system?
I have written about this topic before. I believe this will be the spark we need to reform our system. In essence, we need to ask ourselves "what is worth knowing". Many have written about 21st Century Skills and competencies so I won't belabor the point.
Nonetheless, I believe that we need to adopt a thematic and skills based model of curriculum. In the Powell and Powell article they talk about "a shift to concepts" in curriculum. The authors go on to ask a series of questions to determine the value of any chosen concept:
Does the concept have enduring value? Does the concept reside at the heart of the discipline? Does the concept require analysis? Does it have the potential to engage students?
These are great questions. As we look to update curriculum I think they are questions that should be kept in mind.
I believe that sound assessment and grading practices are at the heart of any personalized learning system (not technology).
Assessment practices that identify the individual needs, challenges and strengths of each learner will drive personalized learning (I am essentially talking about formative assessment here).
In the same Powell and Powell article , the authors definitively state that the "form of assessment can usually be personalized, but the criteria should not be". They go to write "the criteria we use to evaluate students' achievement should not be differentiated.; we should hold all students to the same high standards."
I have mixed feeling about this statement. Firstly, not all assessment is the same. In our effective use of formative assessment we may need to differentiate some of the criteria for individual learners. I also think we need to be careful when we talk about "high standards." Any talk about "high standards" need to be commonly understood and applied - particularly when it comes to the assessment and evaluation of students. To best achieve this I would suggest the following practices:
- Outcomes Based Grading - linking grades to learning outcomes in a deliberate and concrete way. I recommend reading this great article from ASCD on standards based grading. In my opinion this is the best way to authentically capture student grades that are consistent and reliable. The students in Mr. Seltzer's class deserve to be graded according to the mandated learning outcomes -consistently applied within a school and/or department. (A disclaimer: Attaching letter grades and percentages is not the best of way to measure and inspire learning. Nonetheless our current education "system" requires us to do so.)
- School Wide Grading Protocols - Having clear and common expectations when grading students is something we have implemented at our school. You may want to see our school's grading policy here
- Collaborative Grading - Teachers coming together to examine, review and grade student work promotes collaboration, common standards, and consistency.