A couple of days ago I read an interesting article, “10 Trends to Personalize Learning.” Essentially, it highlights four bigger concepts that encapsulate ten trends that could help to fix the struggling educational system we all know and (don’t) love.

Learning Culture

Learning culture includes things like our belief systems, competency-based systems, and self-sustainable personalized learning systems.  Everyone has beliefs about education, but the current prevailing views (mostly in the government where many mandates are handed down) needs to shift to reflect the current realities of the students sitting in classrooms.  More and more, competency at skills is being viewed as more desirable than nebulous grades based on information regurgitation.  What students can do is more important than what they know (especially in the age of Google).  And as education becomes more student/learner-focused, systems and pathways need to be in place in order to facilitate their ability to seek information and apply it.  This also means that teachers  must continue to be learners, too, and they will need coaches and mentors to inspire them to create their own personalized learning systems.

Learning Environments

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Learning environments is the more visual and structural component of learning. It includes flexible learning spaces, and multi-age co-taught classrooms.  When most people think of classrooms, we picture a boxy room with a bunch of desks in rows (or maybe in groups).  However, as what we learn and how we learn changes, our learning spaces should change to in order to allow flexibility.  Some areas may need to be arranged so students can create. Other spaces may be arranged so students can collaborate.  Other spaces may be arranged so students can think quietly and process.  This reminds me of many of the new maker-space schools (especially in Europe) where classrooms are being redefined.  Do you want to see some amazing school designs?  This slide show at The Huffington Post has a ton!

Because students learn different material at different paces, the article theorizes that eventually classrooms will be based on ability, rather than age.  In other words, if Alice is great at mathematics and is able to work on Algebra concepts even though she is not in the “right grade” for Algebra, then she (and others like her who are ready to work on Algebra) should be grouped together. However, if Alice isn’t so great at reading, then she may need to be grouped with other students who read at the same level as she does.

In some ways this makes sense.  I have a wide range of abilities in my English class. Some students barely speak English, and others are off-the-chart in their ability to analyze literature and read critically.  Grouping by ability would be helpful in this case, because it would allow the ones who need more help to go more slowly and the ones who are ready to excel to move more quickly.

On the other hand, my friend teaches a freshman math class that has some advanced eight graders in it.  The eight graders struggle, not because they don’t understand the concepts, but because emotionally and maturity-wise they’re not as able to handle types of assignments, assessments, and pressure (both academically and socially).

Deeper Learning

Deeper learning focuses on changes in the way we teach.  It includes inquiry-based PBL (project-based learning), play as learning, and assessment as learning.  Inquiry-based PBL gives relevance to education by framing the learning with a real-world problem that needs to be solved.  By creating a purpose to learning, many students are more excited about learning.  And, PBL also allows the integration of multiple skills and subjects.

Play as learning is an up-and-coming trend, particularly with the rising popularity of makerspaces and gamification.  Science has shown that children (and adults) learn quickly when they play.  Play teaches many additional skills, like teamwork, endurance, strategy, etc.  Using play (regardless of whether it’s on a court or playground, in a classroom, or on a computer) is a great way to capture student’s imagination and teach them useful personal/social skills along with content and critical thinking.

Assessment as learning makes students responsible for their learning and encourages reflective assessment of how they are learning. Students monitor their learning and adjust what they need to do in order to be successful  This is interesting in theory, but I can see this being an issue for students who are less motivated or who struggle to be engaged in a particular learning activity.  It’s definitely something students would need to be taught, because many have never had to think about how they’re learning or why.  However, with time and practice, this would be huge for students to be able to self-monitor.  It’s a skill that would be applicable in college and in the work place.

Partners in Learning

In this last section, two areas are included: partnerships between teachers and learners, and advisories.  Both of these seem to focus on the idea that students and teachers should form partnerships of trust that span multiple years, rather than the traditional one year.  This could be done through advisories or through teachers who travel through the grades with their students.  Our school does this, to some degree, particularly in the IB program and the English department.  It works well because the teachers really get to know their students which leads to deeper conversations and, often, more critical thinking.  The trust that develops allows students to feel more comfortable with getting out of “the box,” and it allows teachers to create a curriculum that more closely addresses the needs of their students.

Whew!

It’s a lot to think about.  I agree with a lot of the ideas put forward in the article, but I definitely think that others will take a major shift in thinking and philosophy.  Some school systems may be ready (and willing to do this), but I suspect that many will resist.  And, ultimately, until the college systems are ready to accept alternatives to traditional grades and standardized test scores, many schools will continue to have the excuse not to change (or maybe not an excuse, but a road block to change).  After all, if they want their students to get into college, they have to meet the entrance requirements (like grades and test scores).

What do you think about these ideas?  Do they strike you as realistic or idealistic?  Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

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