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February 27, 2017

Getting personalized right, the recent edition of Educational Leadership, has a number of interesting articles. I’ve been making my way through them and thought I would share short synopses that could use to decide on whether an article was worth exploring in more depth.

Carol Ann Tomlinson, generally a good bet for an interesting essay, wrote, Let’s Celebrate Personalization: But not too fast. She suggests that before a school jumps into the deep end of the personalization pool, first carefully explore a variety of questions:

  1. Why and why now?
  2. What will the match be between your curriculum and personalization?
  3. Who will experience personalization and when?
  4. What if the approach falls short for some students?
  5. How will old and new paradigms of teaching coexist?
  6. What support will teachers need?
  7. Who will help teachers retool and will you have sufficient support?
  8. What is the school leaders role?
  9. Where are parents in the change process?
  10. What aspects of the educational environment will have to change…grading practices, scheduling, etc.?

She sheds a little light on each question and walks a fine line between promoting personalization versus staying the course. Clearly, she is a strong proponent of differentiating for students interest, readiness and learning profile. Be informed and be reflective is her advice.

John Spencer wrote an interesting article about using design thinking in the classroom, The Genius of Design. Piloting a structure modeled after Google’s “20% time,” where students get about 20% of their weekly class time to work on projects that connect to their interest. His rationale for introducing this change is that “students should actively create their own learning rather than consume it.” He adopted design thinking as a strategy for structuring the Genius Hour because “it’s a creating thinking process that focuses on developing actual products that solve real problems.” He adapts the standard empathy, define, ideate, prototype and test cycle of design thinking into:

  1. Look, listen, learn
  2. Ask tons of questions
  3. Understand the process or problem
  4. Navigate ideas
  5. Create a prototype
  6. Highlight and fix
  7. The Launch

In the article he defines what happens in each stage with some examples from student work. Certainly, a clever adaptation to make design thinking work as the driver for projects in Genius Hour.

In One Size Doesn’t Fit All Homework, Cathy Vatterot profiles an elementary school in Massachusetts, Vinal Elementary School, that uses an individualized (personalized) homework model. She answers the question: Why personalize homework? The answer lies in the research that supports investment in “student empowerment and autonomy in learning.” Vinal went down the road of personalized homework because it fit another significant change, standards-based grading, that they launched.

In the article, Vatterot describes what personalized learning looks like at Vinal. How do teachers structure the environment so that students chose the type of homework assignment that matches their learning profile and interests while staying focused on mastering the standards. The article addresses the ways in which teachers assess and bring students into the assessment and grading process. She writes about the logistics and the parental concerns, which required an intentional education process so parents could function as a facilitator and not a doer of homework.

We learn from Vatterot’s article that there are huge benefits to creating a personalized homework culture. In addition, there is a different kind of teaching required of the teacher to make it work. She quotes Elliot Eisner’s 1991 article in Education Leadership:

Amidst the noise of standards and the merely measurable, we had somehow lost the idea that the essence of schooling should be to nurture curiosity, wonder and excitement of learning something new.

That is a great quote to end this post on! Enjoy your reading of these pieces. You will need a subscription to ASCD in order to read the full article or request it from your librarian.

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