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One Size Doesn’t Fit Everyone!

January 18, 2015

There is nothing unique about this statement, one size doesn’t fit everyone.  However, the simple truth underlying this concept is hard for educators to grasp.  I think if you ask most teachers they would unequivocally say that the students in their classroom learn differently.  They come to the learning environment with different strengths, challenges, interests, and goals.  Yet our educational institutions continue to feed them learning environments that fail to respond to their diversity.

There is a calling out for personalization in education.  We have seen the rise of Khan Academy, blended learning, flipped classrooms, schools-within-schools, homeschooling, and computer adaptive learning.  No doubt I am neglecting to mention some additional creative models for personalizing education.  Nevertheless, with all this talk about personalizing education our public, private, and parochial schools are still educating students as those everyone in the classroom is going to learn in the same way.

One of the indicators that we remain static with respect to educational innovation is our over reliance on standardization of curricula, as represented by multi-billion dollar textbook industry.  It controls what and how we teach many of our students from kindergarten through high school.

Another indicator that we remain static is our over reliance on standardized testing.  Our lockstep testing culture in no way illustrates that we value the individual differences represented by students in a classroom.  None of the tests we so religiously administer to our students measures the complete range of talents, skills and potential represented by students.  In fact, most 21st Century careers require people to use talents and skills that are rarely emphasized in traditional schooling.

The assessments we pile on students in traditional schooling have done little to keep pace with our growing understand of how the brain learns.  The tests, quizzes, papers, and simple projects we administer to most students have not evolved much over time.  We rarely provide students with effective and meaningful in real-time so that the feedback can be used to advance mastery of learning targets.  Finally, we seem to be more interested in the final scorecard or report card and not on the deeper understanding or mastery of the intended learning targets.

So you might wonder whether our over reliance on traditional assessments and textbook-oriented curricula represents the confines of our creativity.

I would suggest that we need to understand the value of personalizing our educational system to meet the needs of all learners.  Meeting this goal requires courageous educators to pivot, becoming flexible and adaptable to rapid changes in our society.  With the demand for personalized education growing everyday, those schools that fail to respond will be left behind in short order.

The driving question for me is: how should traditional schools respond to the reality of personalized 21st Century learning, while sustaining the traditions that matter most, and design learning environments that draw out the creative and entrepreneurial potential of students.

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