06 April 2015

#CMSPL: 10 Questions and 9 Answers about Personalized Learning

Personalized Learning is not quite what I thought it was. I mean, I get the meaning of the word "personalize," and I'd heard about playlists and pathways at EdcampQC when Jill Thompson first mentioned the program they're piloting in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools--not to mention their inaugural school tour (less than an hour from my home)!

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are blazing a train in personalized learning!
Jill and the #CMSPL crew gave us Personalized Learning Tourists a packed of information with a nifty little notepad before our tour of three schools--two elementary and one middle school--kicked off. I skimmed through and jotted down a bunch of questions.

By the end, I got answers to all but one: Is Personalized Learning feasible for all high school courses? Next school year they'll offer tours with high schools, but Sra. Thompson admits that the shift is probably toughest at this level. Me, I think I'm going to have to ponder what I learned from the elementary and middle schools and start formulating my own vision. After all...


Still, I have a clearer picture of what Personalized Learning means and how to tap into its potential after my experience (and of course obligatory free PD tweets!)

Personalized Learning Q&A

Is one-to-one technology essential to effective Personalized Learning implementation?


  • Chromebooks and iPads were everywhere in these schools. QR codes were as abundant as windows. Was every child using one while we were at the schools? Not every minute. While the technology provided ample access for independent inquiry and allowed for more options on differentiated pathways, I could see ways to work out what's needed, between books and printed assignments and--in my favorite observation--cool magnets and cardboard cars.
How are pathways different from Genius Hour and elementary learning centers?
  • I discovered pathways are actually very specific and constructed directly from power standards, rather than from individual students' passions. Students are provided with choices along the way, either within a playlist of necessary activities or with completely distinct pathways that lead to mastery of the same objectives. Stations may, in fact, be part of the process: students were typically spread out all over the room in different areas, which were sometimes set up with materials for certain activities. However, all students would not all necessarily end up rotating through every station, as with learning centers--only the ones they needed to get to "got it" on their objectives.
Where do mandated course objectives fit in?
  • Sra. Thompson explained teachers' processes of analyzing the Standard Course of Study and selecting "power standards" on which to build units. It's not that other standards are ignored, but the goal is to zero in on the standards that can be turned into driving questions for units. Then other standards can be addressed within those units.
How much flexibility is recommended in pathways?
  • Some teachers provide pathway options based on students learning styles. Some have different pathways for independent learners and those who need more support. Some just have different options at each step of the process (e.g. pretest, learn, practice, create). Here are some examples my colleagues collected!



How is data collected?

  • While I think tests in general are stupid, I was intrigued by the idea of letting kids skip entire units after a pretest. I mean, if the kids can demonstrate they don't need it, why not let them move on? (Besides the potential for skipping beyond the teacher's resources, of course--something the elementary schools are looking into addressing with standards-based grading.) Along the way, however, teachers build checkpoints into their pathways, which may take the form of quizzes or tests or still other types of  assignments requiring students to create something to demonstrate their comprehension.


Are skills and content contextualized within learning experiences?
  • I felt like I saw a lot of worksheets for the practice stages, but Sra. Thompson assured me that while the tasks may have been on paper, they were still creation type assignments. I do recall seeing some graphs being created with beans for example. This is also the first year of implementation for the program, but a future goal is to start developing units in more of a PBL format, which could lead to more integrated purpose among pathway tasks.
How are courses organized in the course schedule?
  • I was intrigued by 90-minute PL time built into the middle school's daily schedule between first and second block. Grade level teacher teams had a lot of autonomy with how they used it, and from what I could tell, it ended up being sort of a combination of what my early college high school has built into our "Flex Fridays" during enrichment time and Academic Hour. In some situations, students might be allowed to continue on their own individual pathways for whichever class they chose while teachers pulled out students they saw struggling. Other times, students might continue working on projects for designated classes.
What strategies promote/ensure success in student-led conferences?
  • At one school, school leaders emphasized constant modeling of the reflection process. Students practice and model the conference process regularly in class and teachers consistently reinforce "three-star reflections" in all classes daily and require students to teach their parents about math or science concepts at least once a week, and parents sign off and comment each week. The school even enlisted some parents to be recorded for model videos of what a good conference looks like.
Where does one start with getting adults on board?
  • As with our kids, start where they are. Draw out the personalized things they are already doing in their classrooms. Principles of andragogy dictate that we start with adult "students'" prior exeperiences and go from there, so point out where your colleagues are already providing choice or pulling out students who need extra attention for more direct instruction.

    And then break out the data--not just test scores, Jill Thompson says, but tardy and referral rates and any other numbers that could illustrate room for improvement. Then show them some of these CMS schools' 60% drops in tardies or referrals.

    Then, when you've got a good handful curious, help scaffold the learning for them as you would for your own students. Provide an environment where they feel safe taking risks. As one principal said, give them "Time, time, time, PD, PD, PD." Work together, train them, and set them up to train others (props to my district for being ahead of the game on this!)

Takeaways

One of the biggest things to realize about Personalized Learning is it's not A method: it's a philosophy. It's a way of thinking about learning. So take a tour with me and my colleagues through Twitter, and see if you think Personalized Learning might be something you want for your kids.

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