From May 10th-May 12th, Sam Kurtz, Associate Principal of Shepard Middle School, and I attended the Personalized Learning Summit organized by Education Elements in San Francisco, California. This three-day conference exposed us to the philosophy behind personalized learning which will help us move beyond PL as merely an education buzz word.
The conference began with tech company tours of innovative companies located in the heart of San Francisco. Sam and I visited AutoDesk, a company that creates design software for “people who make things.” In District 109, we are familiar with AutoDesk’s online design platform for 3D Printing called Tinkercad found in many of our school libraries. As we explored the layout of the company’s headquarters, we were struck by the comfortable seating options, open-air cubicles, collaboration suites, and treadmill desks. When we think about personalized learning, we must first think about the environment we create in our classrooms to allow for this type of personalization. Our students will ultimately join a workforce where they will have autonomy over where they complete much of their work. Seeing an actual 21st-century office space was confirming to us that rethinking our classrooms to provide students with more voice and choice will help prepare them for their future.
During the conference, we had the privilege of hearing two incredible keynote speakers: Brad Montague, creator of Kid President and Kaya Henderson, former chancellor of DC Public Schools. Both speakers gave important messages to all of us as educators. Brad reminded us that “you were once a child, too.” As we think about our classrooms, it is important to ask ourselves if we would want to be a student in our own classrooms. If the answer is no, it’s time to make some changes. Kaya suggested that we customize a personalized pathway for each child and warned us not to “just put students in front of technology so that they can go faster or slower with the content.” This was a common theme that emerged throughout the conference about technology. Although technology can make personalized learning easier to manage for a teacher, personalized learning is not about the technology. It’s about the pedagogy that teachers use to personalize the learning experience for her students.
What is Personalized Learning? From the information that we gathered at the conference, it seems that personalized learning is exactly what it sounds like: personalizing the learning experience so that every student gets what they need when they need it. In order to meet the needs of every learner, teachers need to consider students’ needs, skills, and interests. According to school leaders from Futon County Schools in Atlanta, personalized learning provides students with support when they need it, creates conditions to make teachers more effective and efficient, and uses technology to enhance instruction and support student learning. It was emphasized the PL is not having students on computers all day or replacing teachers with computers. Some ways that teachers are already personalizing learning in District 109 involves giving student choice and voice in how they learn new information along with giving students choice in how they demonstrate what they have learned. Some areas where we can continue to develop the ways in which we address personalized learning in our classrooms include flexible pacing (student move through the curriculum at a pace that is right for them) and co-planning of learning (students are involved in planning and setting goals to demonstrate learning.)
Building teacher capacity will be a necessary next step for teachers to engage students in personalized learning. During the conference, the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education (NAATE) shared five competencies of effective personalized learning educators. These competencies would help any organization guide their teacher development programs to ensure that all students receive a strong personalized learning experience.
Pedagogy and Content – Teachers need to help students identify high quality content and provide guidance in creating experiences that match the desired outcome for the learner
Metacognition – Teachers must support students so that they can direct their own learning, self-regulate, goal set, self-assess, modify and reflect on learning
Social-Emotional Competence – Teachers must foster a teacher-student relationship where students acquire tools to self-motivate and persevere
Data and Assessment – Teachers must understand how to leverage the data collected to help students progress toward mastery
Teacher Leadership and Adult Learning – Teachers need effective professional learning experiences to gain a better understand of how to deliver personalized learning to students
What is next for District 109? Now that we know that personalized learning is more than just a buzz word, we are challenged with bringing awareness and support to all District 109 teachers. The is an exciting time in education, and we look forward to finding more and more opportunities to personalize learning for our students and teachers in District 109.