As we all know, the world a child grows up in today is very different than the world our grandparents, or even our parents, experienced.
But in some ways, our schools haven’t seen the same kind of changes. We now have the opportunity to transform our approach so every child can better engage with their education and their future.
Take an example of a child named Jaden, for example. Right now, everyone in Jaden’s classes is about the same age. Next year, they’ll all move to the next grade together.
Teachers instruct and assess all their students at the same time in basically the same way. At the end of a lesson, the class moves on, even if some students don’t yet understand the concepts.
This process made sense when it was designed over 100 years ago, and it still works for some kids. But, for a lot of children, it can hold them back, leave them behind, or leave them bored.
This is the age of information. Much of what was once known only to experts and educators can now be accessed by almost anyone, anytime. So information alone is no longer enough.
Students have to learn how to problem-solve, collaborate, analyze, and think critically. And, at the same time, educators today know so much more about how the brain works and how to help kids learn best.
More and more educators are using a personalized, student-centered approach to reach all learners, facilitate deeper understanding and connection to the material, and accelerate their progress.
Another example is of a girl named Isabella, who is also 12. Her school is a personalized learning environment. When you think about it, all of her learning is really a personal experience. We only learn if we make a connection or if we’re able to put information in some sort of context. Every minute of our lives, we encounter stimuli that could result in learning.
Yet, we only notice, engage, and absorb a small portion of what we could learn. And the same stimulus might engage one person while going completely unnoticed by another. So to ensure that those connections are made as often as possible by all kids,
we need to start with a deep understanding of each learner. With her teacher’s help, Isabella completed a learner profile at the beginning of the year. It describes things like her learning preferences, interests, learning history, strengths, challenges, and readiness to learn. She and her teachers frequently refer to and update the profile.
They use it to keep focused on what Isabella, as a unique human being, needs to learn, why she needs to learn it, and the ways she learns best. Not only does Isabella work with her teachers to set her own learning goals, they’ll also decide together how she’s going to demonstrate that she’s completed them.
Isabella helps decide how she’ll prove that she’s mastered a standard or concept. As soon as she demonstrates proficiency,
she gets to move on. We have the technology now to support this process at scale with all learners. Isabella, at various times, will work by herself, with one other learner, or in a group. Sometimes she receives direct instruction from the teacher. Other times, she works online or completes an interdisciplinary project.
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These strategies change to best fit her learning needs, depending on the learning task and the content. Isabella is able to advance at a pace that works for her. She might be ahead of her peers in some areas and behind them in others. But all the students know that they will truly understand the material before having to tackle new learning tasks. Isabella finds meaning and purpose in the work that she does. Sometimes she can dig deeply into a topic of interest. She was able to demonstrate her understanding of the water cycle by studying the red-eyed tree frog. Spelling and analyzing text are Isabella’s least-favorite topics, but she still has to work on them. She knows she often struggles with these, and that means she needs a quiet place to work. She gets to choose one. And a nonfiction book of choice. She can also seek help from her friend. Grace is a year younger than Isabella, but that doesn’t matter. They both happen to be working on the same standard.
When Isabella and her teacher are satisfied that she fully understands the learning task, they will meet to set new goals for her together and update her profile with the new information. Isabella is an important partner in these conversations, and she sees value in learning what she does. She does it for herself, not to comply with the demands of adults. The personalized learning experience that Isabella and her classmates are engaged in ensures that they have voice and choice in their learning. It’s helping them become independent learners. And, most importantly, they’re building the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that will help them thrive today and well into the future, no matter how the world may change. A model to help implement these ideas in the classroom is available at the website of the MARIO FRAME WORK