Personalized Learning No More?

Words clipart cute kid“I’m not using the words ‘Personalized Learning’ after this session,” said Adam Garry, speaker of the iNacol presentation titled The Possibilities of Personalized Learning. With that title, you can see why he was kind of stuck using the words for at least another hour.

I knew immediately why he felt this way. There were many sessions at the conference with the words personalized learning in the title or description, but much of what was being presented wasn’t really personalized learning.

Blended, differentiated, individualized, and data-driven learning can all be options for a personalized learning experience, but they are not by themselves “personalized learning.”

Has personalized become an empty buzz word? Better question: what makes learning personalized? Answer: the student. Not the curriculum. Not even the teacher. The student.

How much voice does the student have in his or her learning experience? Is the student in the driver seat, setting the goals and choosing how to get there? This can range from selecting from a menu of options that meets the student’s needs, to the student taking the goals and designing a program from the ground up.

I call it personal agency, but I like how Adam summed it up: Voice and Choice.

In the personalized programs I have been part of, students enroll for many reasons, and with many different goals. Some are aiming for university admission and will need to make sure their program is designed for that, requiring more guidance from their coach and instructors. Meanwhile some want to gain specific skills or knowledge and might not even be interested in a diploma; they want to take, even design, the courses that make sense for their goals. For both of those scenarios, and many others, we are here to serve.

However, I am stuck with the question of whether or not we should continue calling it personalized learning. What else would we call it? Maybe we could create an acronym comprised of defining words (personal agency, empowerment, voice, choice, etc.); educators are very good at creating ever-changing lists of acronyms. Or should we just stick with the admittedly over-used terms personalized learning.

What do you think?

Click here for a chart showing how personalized is different from differentiated and individualized learning.

 

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Lead With Your Heart

heart art background“What is the top advice you would give to younger generations?” I asked Joanne, a retired teacher who did her own share of shaking the system over the years. She was now facing end-of-life type decisions, and while a recent injury had her down, she wasn’t out, and the spark in her eyes in response to my question reminded me of this.

“Lead with your heart,” she said without hesitation. “And I mean lead. I use that word on purpose. Lead.” She explained that “following” one’s heart could create a frustrating situation of never reaching one’s desires. Instead, listen to what makes your heart sing, and then actively go for it. And while you are at it, you might find yourself leading others along the way. Joanne is one of those accidental leaders who make a difference in the world by making their own way.

The creation of personalized education programs, has been series of heart-lead projects, and I have often had people say that they couldn’t do the same thing. They have ideas of what they want, and try to follow paths to reach their goals, but they didn’t realize that leading sometimes means forging your own tools and cutting your path.

When my team and I sat down apply for accreditation for one of those programs, we overshot the mark in what was required because we were diverging from the norm. We were the freaks. The deviants. And six years later? We were the standard. As we worked through the reaccreditation process, we saw the new standards aligning to ideas that were considered radical and even confusing only six years ago.

I’ll went to the iNacol conference as a representative of a school who has been doing the “new” stuff for awhile. Instead of being complacent as the current standard, I wanted to see what more we could do to lead toward continued growth for students.

I would like to hear from you. What’s in your heart? Do you have any suggestions, or struggles that could be addressed in education?

 

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Gifted, Arrogance, & Trybe

FREAKFLAGLBG14-ConW-03Listening to the conversations in the room, one in particular caught my attention. “He plopped down and proudly announced, ‘I’m gifted!’” one woman said.

“Wow, arrogant much?” another woman responded.

Curious, I asked for the context. It was a mingling activity at a school event the first woman was attending for her grandson. She felt put-off that her grandson’s classmate would include his giftedness as part of his introduction.

“Oh,” I nodded. “But… what if he had said he was a star football player?” Well, he has to earn that, the women collectively explained to me. “Okay, so what if he was part of a tribe?” That’s different, they explained, because then it’s about the tribe instead of the individual.

Trybe. This is a term I often hear among my circles, and yes – even spelled in that funny way. “Find your freaks” is also a common phrase – the need to be among others who encourage you to reach for who you are as an individual while also giving you a sense of belonging.

Claiming accomplishments or being part of a group is an accepted desire for most, but not for those identified as gifted. That is considered a display of arrogance to be squashed. Parents have even been advised by schools to not tell their children that they are gifted. Instead, a student gets to wonder why he or she is so different, and even to feel shamed by it. And since many believe that gifted students don’t need help, we get report card comments of not meeting potential with assumptions that laziness or disdain for authority is the reason.

So what about that disdain for authority? That arrogance or elitism that gifted individuals are stereotyped as having? Is there any truth to that?

Maybe. Consider this: elitism is a common self-defense response against years of being “other.” Imagine fighting against naysayers for everything important to you, or a childhood full of not just kids, but also adults in positions of authority, who feel the need to take you down a notch. Down as low as one can be held. Depression. Loneliness. Apathy. The intensities of being gifted amplify this.

However, what happens when a gifted student’s needs are met? When we encourage a sense of belonging among others, perhaps with their own freak flags flying? What happens when we provide compassion and guidance instead being yet another source of adversity?

Carl Jung taught, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” This applies to all of us.

I want to hear from you. What do we need to do differently to better serve gifted students? How about gifted adults; what are the struggles in life and the workplace that need to be addressed? Send me a message and let me know your thoughts.

 

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Is Everybody Gifted?

big_eyes_science“She sure seems angry,” I heard somebody say behind me. The presenter was passionate about her topic. She and another were taking turns explaining how “all students are a gift, but not all students are gifted,” and to say otherwise could undermine gifted education.

Some people in the audience squirmed. Others nodded their heads in enthusiastic agreement.

The problem is the word “gifted.” It’s a very common word; can any one group own it exclusively?

One viewpoint is that all of us are gifted, and we all have special needs. Those gifts and needs are usually connected. Here gifted is being defined as a talent or an innate personality trait, but it could also be something developed with effort.

This isn’t the type of gifted the presenters were talking about.

Instead, they are advocating for a specific category of students who are most known for having high IQs, but who are really set apart by what many call intensities or overexcitabilities. It’s due to these intensities that students need special education accommodations. Did you know that “gifted education” is a category of special education? Many don’t because they mistakenly believe that gifted students don’t need help – that they are smart enough to figure out things on their own.

Sharon Lind’s article Overexcitability and the Gifted does an excellent job of describing each of the 5 identified domains and providing strategies for each one:

  • Psychomotor
  • Sensual/Perceptual
  • Intellectual
  • Imagination
  • Emotional

Not only are these important to understand for education, they come into play in building healthy lives at home and work. Gifted individuals will typically relate to a couple of these, but a person can even have traits in all five.

I’m curious to know: do any of the overexcitabilities sound like something you or a loved one can relate to? I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences with this topic.

 

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Dyslexia – Resources

reading girl with squirrelI am often asked about resources or strategies for dyslexia when people learn that my oldest daughter is dyslexic. Dyslexia presents itself in many ways, and the goal is to find what works for each individual child. This is usually a combination of three things:

  1. Gathering strategies and resources for dealing with the challenges of dyslexia.
  1. Recognizing the strengths that can often come with dyslexia (one possibility is being artistically talented in specific ways). This is important for a sense of self-worth, and also because strengths can often be harnessed in bridging gaps toward higher learner.
  1. Developing the ability to create and make meaning from text. This is not usually going to happen with more – and yet even more – phonics, but instead some phonics combined with other holistic approaches matching the student’s strengths and ideal learning modes.

With the above in mind, here is a short list of resources providing a general overview of what dyslexia is, along with some common ideas and approaches. From this foundation, a more personalized approach can then be developed with the student.

Professor Johnson’s Articles and Videos. Andrew Johnson is a professor of literacy at Minnesota State University, and he does a great job of breaking down concepts to make understanding dyslexia easier. Here are two articles, each with a list of videos at the end, to get you started:

HBO – The Big Picture Rethinking Dyslexia – This can be found in public libraries, and a search on Google or YouTube might yield results for online versions. The HBO page also has a list of recommended resources.

The Gift of Dyslexia  – short video of Professor John Stein discussing the talents that can be associated with dyslexia.

Tests for Dyslexia and Learning Disabilities – The University of Michigan has provided a list of assessments, and they annotated the list to provide a description of each one.

 

If you want to take it to the next level in learning about the potential gifts of dyslexia, a popular book is aptly titled The Gift of Dyslexia and likely available through most public libraries.

What are some resources you recommend for parents and/or teachers who want to learn more about dyslexia in order to help students? Also, do you know of any good dyslexia workshops or conferences out there? Please message me if so!

 

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