Personalized Learning in the 21st Century: What the "Action" Could Look Like

As I sit here at my computer, less than 8 hours from the start of the BCSSA Conference, “Personalized Learning in the 21st Century: From Vision to Action,” I’m thinking of what needs to change in schools and, as luck would have it, I have come across McCann, Jones and Aronoff’s recent PDK article, “Hidden in Plain View.”  The authors offer up the following challenge:

To change schools, we must transform that old method [Teachers talk a lot, students listen a lot, teachers grade a lot] into a model of teaching that promotes high quality interactions between teachers, students and peers.  We must organize subjects in a way that draws students into disciplined approaches to solving contemporary problems. And assignments must be designed to replicate authentic responses to real-world tasks.

Discussions about moving vision to action, about changing our model of delivery are already happening and as evidence of this, I share with you a conversation (via social media) that I recently had with a John Oliver Physics teacher:

Consider this from the perspective of a student.

Student in “traditional” classroom

Wakes up, tired, late, hungry, stumbling to school worried about the science test:

“Oh, man, I’m gonna fail that. I didn’t memorize the vocabulary, can’t remember the habitat of the coyote. I’m skipping.”

Student gets a zero on the test, is disengaged from school, couldn’t care less about the coyote…you get the idea. Student gets around to writing a makeup test – brings in cheat sheet. Not caught – gets a “b”.

Student in JO-2011 classroom

Wakes up, tired, late, hungry, stumbling to school worried about being late and disappointing the teacher. Isn’t today’s topic to be about habitat?

Getting off the bus, bleary-eyed, the student spies a skinny dog in the cemetery (across the street from JO – no matter how bad things get . . .). Out comes the iPhone – video on – “Whoa!  That’s a coyote!” Student jumps the fence and pursues at a distance – video rolling. Follows the coyote to the den and sees the pups ripping apart a neighbourhood cat.

Arriving late to class the student interrupts the chaotic setting demanding everyone’s attention. Hooks up iPhone to projector and shows live footage. Forget YouTube. This is real life. Discussion follows – extensions, excitement.

Should we kill the coyotes in the cemetery?

What do they live in – install a webcam?

Where will the babies go?

Both of these students were late. Only one student was successful.

How do we enable the excitement of learning?

How do we teach the pursuit of knowledge and learning and limit the regurgitation of facts that are easy to lookup on an iPod?

How do we teach kids to contribute to the world body of knowledge?

How do we assess?

Physics Final exam 2011

Students are at various locations (school, lab, bus, Starbucks), question is released:

“Discuss the state of the world’s energy resources and usage. Predict the shift for 2050.”

You are required to backup your ideas with current research. Your 2min video response is due no later than 18:00 PST

The Physics teacher touches upon a very specific point: schools should reflect the world we live in today.  And we live in a social world. We need to teach students how to be effective collaborators in that world, how to interact with people around them, how to be engaged and informed 21st century citizens. We need to show students the powerful ways networking can change the way education is viewed. We need to reframe social networking as academic networking.  We need to offer ourselves and students radically new ways to research, create and learn through the evolving world of Internet communication – blogs, podcasts, wikis, tags, file sharing.  And, we need to realize that the acquisition of knowledge is now an open, transparent, non-hierarchical, interactive and real-time process.

Personalized learning will not be a matter of circumstance.  It will not be predicated on money.  It will be dependent solely on our collective will, determination, and persistence.  Ultimately, it will all start and end with a teacher’s personal vision for his or her classroom; commitment to making changes that will ensure greater rigor; a willingness to take risks; an openness to collaboration; and, as our Physics teacher so beautifully put forward, a willingness to abandon long-standing practices that are not successful.

    • Thanks for the comment and the compliment, Brian. The power of narrative can be overwhelmingly effective when putting forward new paradigms. Looking forward to checking out your posts.

  1. Gino – I particularly like this statement: .
    What you’ve described here is higher order thinking: synthesis of information. I think this is an important point in visioning the future. Students that can both analyze and synthesize will be better equipped to solve big world problems (and small ones, too).

    Thanks for a great post

    • Thanks Holly
      Your point about analysis and synthesis is so true. Gardner talks about the powers of synthesis being the most valued in this “new age”.
      One of my goals is to help kids move syntheses into creativity and in so doing create new knowledge that will help them learn and develop confidence in themselves. It’s the move toward creation that will help us avoid viewing synthesis as merely ‘cut and paste’.
      By the way, love your daily, The Holly MacDonald Daily.

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