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January 4, 2018

My Thoughts on Personalized Learning - Part 1

What does this...

Have in common with this...

Or maybe this

and this... 

Do not worry, I will tell you...

All of those activities use some type of personalized learning.

Activities such as basketball and football have more in common with the academic world than we would ever have dreamed. Having been a coach, I never really put that into perspective until I was listening to a recent keynote. The speaker made a reference to the method a line coach or a quarterbacks coach may use to prepare his or her players for the upcoming game.  Sure, things are practiced together but where the biggest impact occurs are when the linemen learn with the linemen, the quarterbacks with the quarterbacks or the offense with the get the idea. 

As a basketball coach I routinely had practices within practices where the post players would work on inside drills and the guards would work on outside drills. Or a combination of posts and guards would work on drills that were relevant to their levels. In fact, we had six goals on our basketball court and unless we were doing whole team drills, all six of those goals were being used. The coaches and players knew what they needed to work on and those specific skills were addressed within the regular practice. We met the players where they were. 

Interesting thing, you know where else I have seen this practice??


The band folks do it too!! Sure they practice as a whole but a large portion of their preparation occurs within a group of common instruments. We could go on all day about where personalized learning occurs. 

Here is an interesting observation...this simple concept of meeting the "people" where they are, does not always appear in an academic setting. This is especially rare in the secondary and higher education world. When thinking about my preparation for teaching, we did have some instruction on the pedagogical side of things but there was an even larger emphasis on the content side. It is not that secondary people or higher education people are not capable of personalizing. It is just that personalizing instruction is somewhat of a foreign idea, unless of course you were trained as a special education teacher. 

Here is a story that may reinforce my thoughts...because remember, I do not claim to be the guru, nor do I think I am always right...simply my observation.

As a high school social studies teacher, I quickly realized there were students who would always do my work and there were some who would never do my work. I really assumed the ones who did not work were being disrespectful or obviously just did not have the same passion for history like I did. It was FRUSTRATING. 

Fast forward several years when I become a principal at an elementary school. First, here is a disclaimer, before becoming a primary principal, the last time I was in an elementary school was when I was in elementary school. What I discovered after my involvement with reading intervention at the elementary level was, my high school students could not least they could not read at their appropriate grade-level. I had NO IDEA!

Now before you pass judgment, I believe that some of you secondary folks are thinking to yourself..."I had the same experience." It is ok if you did not but I am telling you it was a slap in the face, a wake up call.

Long story short, I realize that if I teach today, my classroom looks completely different than it did when I first started. In fact, I would go so far to say my classroom could potentially look more like an elementary classroom. Yes, my secondary U.S. History classroom would be full of opportunities to learn in work stations, learn with manipulatives, learn at different reading-levels and so on. I would guess that my outcomes would be different and frustration levels would also decrease. 
What my high school history class could potentially look like is an entirely different post...and that post will be coming soon. 

What I have discovered in all of this is that it is no different for adult learners. Our attention-span may be longer (probably not mine) and we may be more mature (that may be a stretch too) but we still have different learning styles, we still learn at different rates. I think that is why I see more and more excitement about EdCamps and Twitter Chats. It allows people to personalize their own learning. 

So...what do we do next?

Simple. Start mining for information on how to personalize learning. Simply Google it and you will find a wealth of information. I also suggest following me on Twitter and other too for that matter. I am always finding and sharing information that could help. So do the people I follow. So, when you do find what you are looking for, start small.  Take steps to improve on one technique and only move forward as you are comfortable. 

For those of you already doing it...share what you know. Get people excited because we all know enthusiasm is contagious!