Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Personalized Learning

I believe that all learning is personalized. Each of us uniquely absorbs knowledge based on our innate strengths, our personal experiences and our level of exposure with opportunities to think and problem solve. In order for anything to be “learned”, we must work through a process that Kevin D. Washburn articulates so eloquently in his book The Architecture of Learning: Designing Instruction for the Learning Brain1. According to Washburn, the learning process – or the learning pathway if you will – occurs in the following order: EXPERIENCE – COMPREHENSION – ELABORATION – APPLICATION as illustrated below.

So what, precisely, is Personalized Learning? It might be helpful to learn what it is not. It is not differentiation. Carol Ann Tomlinson provides a wonderful definition. “Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction.”2 Examples might include theme based literature circles around different texts or student contracts.

Personalized learning is different from differentiation in that students are empowered to have input on what they do and how they demonstrate their learning. Students have opportunities to think, explore, investigate, design, create, and discover solutions to problems. Students are allowed a greater degree of ownership through the entire process from the development of an idea to the presentation of a project or presentation to an authentic audience.

It is also not Individualization.  Individualized instruction has been around for almost 50 years. ASCD provides a working definition of Individualized instruction. “Individualized instruction consists of any steps taken in planning and conducting programs of studies and lessons that suit them to the individual student's learning needs, learning readiness, and learner characteristics or "learning style." “3 Examples might include a teacher playlist of topics to work through or access to Kahn Academy tutorials.

Personalized learning is different from individualized instruction because students are empowered to incorporate the exploration and discovery of their passions and interests while they identify ideas, develop questions and formulate an action plan. Students collect resources, develop timelines and move through the iterative process of experimentation, gathering feedback and revision based on conversations, reflection and new knowledge.
(Kallick and Bena, 2017) identify four defining elements of personalized learning which include voice, co-creation, social construction and self-discovery.4

Voice allows students to become involved in setting the agenda by helping students to understand the power of their own ideas and how their ideas change as they are exposed to the ideas of others.   Co-creation supports the growth of student creativity and higher level thinking by working with teachers to develop their challenge, refine learning goals and envision their performance assessment. Social construction involves the transformative power of building ideas through collaboration, discussion and dialogue. Students gain the ability to internalize and improve the larger end-product as they work as a team. Finally, the self-discovery attribute helps students learn how to manage themselves and actually understand themselves as learners.

The world continually evolves and it is of the utmost importance for our young people to participate in learning experiences that foster critical thinking and problem solving. When we design experiences that allow for the exploration of their interests and passions, engagement escalates. The potential for discovery and learning heightens and a sense of what they want to accomplish in life – the vision of a preferred future – begins to develop and emerge.

1Washburn, Kevin D. The architecture of learning: designing instruction for the learning brain. Pelham, Alab.: Clerestory Press, 2010. Print.

2Tomlinson,, Carol A. "Differentiation of Instruction in the Elementary Grades. ." ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. (2000): ERIC Digest. Web.

3A Wording Definition of Individualized Instruction. ASCD/Glen Heathers, Feb. 1977. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. .

4Kallick, Bena, and Allison Zmuda. Students at the Center Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind. Alexandria: ASCD, 2017. Print.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Using Design Thinking to Solve Problems

Developing creative and critical thinkers in order to solve real-world problems is an essential component of a child’s educational experience. When students can look up the answer to any factual question on a smart device, the value of memorizing facts in order to regurgitate them for a test has diminished. We now understand that when we apply empathy, context and meaning to essential information in the form of a question, not only will students retain the information longer but the likelihood of transferring essential leanings to new challenges dramatically increases.

I am thankful that schools have incorporated instructional strategies such as project/problem based learning which require our students to critically think as they learn to solve real-life problems. Another favorite strategy or process is Design Thinking which is a methodology of collaborative, human-centered problem solving that has grown in popularity in recent years due to the efforts of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, IDEO, Henry Ford’s Learning Institutes and many others.

I am excited about our incorporation of design thinking at Woodward Academy because it develops our students’ ability to think creatively to collaboratively design solutions that incorporate the needs of the user. Thanks to our involvement with the regional work of Atlanta’s #ak12dc in partnership with Hasso Plattner’s Institute of Design at Stanford, Woodard Academy teachers have had access to training and support to increase their skills for several years. Our K-12 school team tackles school-wide challenges with direction from leadership. Our five school design thinking teams work with teachers to incorporate design thinking into units of study.

I was taught to work through challenges and problems by digging in with persistence, effort and grit to hopefully come up with the right answer. Design Thinking is much different in that you spend time with others to gain empathy for the people impacted by what you do. Insights, identified needs and empathy interviews are unpacked and synthesized into a meaningful, actionable challenge. Using phrases such as “How might we….”, “Design a way for….” , or “Redesign the ________ experience to be more________ can truly open up the possibilities for innovation.

Next, we collaboratively ideate to brainstorm a ton of varied ideas from which we will build prototypes to test with users. Prototyping involves quickly getting your ideas into some type of physical form that can be interacted with to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It may be a rough object, a storyboard or even a wall of post it notes. The idea is to have a propensity toward action. The testing phase involves getting feedback and refining the low res solutions. Throughout the challenge, we may need to back up, regroup and repeat one or more of the steps of the process. I have often heard this called “failing fast.” Sometimes we get stuck along the way but by going out and engaging others rather than trying to figure it out by ourselves…we always develop a better solution.

Our challenges have ranged from gaining empathy for turkeys who missed Thanksgiving in PreK, redesigning a wheelchair in 7th grade STEM class, or the challenge of reducing the amount of trash going to the landfill which resulted in a change to a cutlery dispenser in our Middle and Upper school cafeterias.

The world has many needs and design thinking has the power to create and unleash the innovator in us all.

Note: Originally Published in Southern Distinction Magazine, 2017