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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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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What is Your Art?

Tamra Excell with Kevin Wiley, dressing up for Radcon 6C

Tamra Excell with Kevin Wiley, dressing up for Radcon 6C

About five years ago, I made a five year plan. A note on the plan said this: find freaks and geeks. I wanted to connect with more people who sometimes see their own society through anthropologist eyes, on the outside looking in.  It’s a perspective that helped a team of educators see the big picture and create a student-centric school that paved the way for so many more.  We earned accreditation for the school to serve “outside the box” students and their families who didn’t want to be arbitrarily limited in life.

After that, I wanted to find others, to make sure they knew we existed. We have different types of “freaks” on staff, unique individuals with their own passions and talents, so each could do a part to bring others into our collective family.

For me, that journey would include mindfully entering the world of the sci-fi/fantasy conventions and festivals – not just as a visitor, but making my place as a member. Right now, I am writing you from Radcon, the Pacific Northwest’s second-largest sci-fi/fantasy convention. Soon, I will be on a panel to talk about Neurodiversity in Geek Culture. I am joined by many others, including Luna Lindsey –  an Aspie who has found herself increasingly advocating for other autists. I have learned much from her about Asperger’s, which has helped me understand more about my oldest daughter as well as myself.

Other panels include the Rewriting of History, Religion in Fantasy and Science Fiction, and a panel by the brilliant Kevin Wiley called Making Your Own Way – about living the creative life and making a living at your art. “Art” here is what you decide it to be.  Each of you has an “art” – just ask yourself what makes your heart sing, and you will find the answer there. Sometimes this takes some exploring, and such is the adventure of life! As part of that adventure, go find others who “geek out” about that same art, and this is where you will find your freaks.

 

So what about you? Who are you? What is your art? How can you make your own way to live your life according to your passions and talents?  Let’s explore!

 

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