Tuesday, June 7, 2011

3 Educators Discuss Personalized Learning – Part 1

There has been a lot of conversation taking place throughout the province on Personalized Learning and it is great to see conversation centered on students happening. In conversations we are having with individuals, we have found that there is still some confusion about personalized learning. With that in mind 4Moms1Dream set out to interview 3 of BC’s education leaders, on the topic of personalized learning:

·     David Wees (DW), author of the 21st Century Educator blog is an educator at Stratford Hall in Vancouver.
·     Chris Wejr (CW), Principal of Kent Elementary School in Agassiz, through his blog The Wejr Board shares his experience and thoughts on educational topics with readers.
·    Chris Kennedy (CK) is the Superintendent in SD 45, West Vancouver. You can follow him on his blog – Culture of Yes.

4Moms1Dream: As an educator, what does personalized learning look like for your students?

DW:  I see it meaning that first and foremost, students are the directors of their learning. It’s not about choice per say, but about responsibility. Students should be able to leave school able to learn about whatever it is they want to know, and they need to develop the appropriate habits of mind before this stage. This can’t happen if the person running the learning show is always the teacher; it must come from the students.

However, the consequence of students being in charge of their learning is that we have to let them explore and attempt a much wider variety of activities than we currently do in schools. We must break down the one size fits all model, and recognize that really, one size fits none.

CW:  Five years ago, at Kent School, the members of the School Planning Council significantly changed our school goal to: “for each student to master basic skills, recognize his/her unique talents and interests, and to become a confident learner”.  Inherent in this goal is the idea of “personalized learning” - bringing in the strengths and interests of our students so that the learning becomes more relevant to him/her.  Relevancy and ownership are the keys for me with the idea of “personalized learning’; the pedagogy must include student voice so that the learning is meaningful to the student and builds upon their current interests.  A thought that was presented to me by a teacher is: taking a unit of the curriculum and facilitating learning of the basic concepts and then encouraging students to complete projects that dive deeper into an area of their interest and presenting in a way that includes their input.

CK:  I try to define it really simply – kids own it.  It is more than just having some of the choices we have often given students (like electives in high school).  It is a choice, at times, about content, about how they display their learning and also, as they get older about when and where they learn.

4Moms1Dream:  How has (or will) personalized learning change your role as an educator?

DW:  Personalized learning means that I need to set aside my agenda for what the kids should know, and look at what each kid needs. In some sense, you could consider it an individualized learning plan for each student. Since it is too difficult to create this plan by myself for each of my students, I have to make my students take ownership of their learning, and with my help, construct their own learning plan.

It means using assessments which are open-ended. It means that not every student does the same assessments. In fact, it could mean that every kid comes up with their own assessment to demonstrate their learning, and my role is to provide feedback on how successfully they’ve been in that description.

I see personalized learning as meaning, not treating all of my students as interchangeable widgets in my grade book, and seeing them as each being unique and capable.

CW:  I am hoping that students, teachers and schools will be provided with more autonomy regarding curriculum and assessment.  We need to move away from the standardized grading and assessment practices to one that becomes more individualized.  Many teachers do this already but then must fit their practices into the current system of report cards and narrow BC curriculum (with too many Prescribed Learning Outcomes).  My role as an educator will continue to shift our school culture toward one that has staff as facilitators/guides and away from being the holders of knowledge.

CK:  Personalized learning is a real change in the relationship with students – there is much less control and it is messier.  Instead of the teacher being the keeper and sharer of information – he / she helps guide students as they pursue their learning.    I have found it feels different – I am used to being on-stage as a teacher – and this is very much putting the students on stage.

4Moms1Dream:  Many people believe that personalized learning is all about using technology and children spending all their time in front of a computer. How do you explain to these people that personalized learning is much more than using technology to learn?

DW:  There have been schools which have been using personalized education for decades. Montessori schools, democratic schools, and other school models have been around for a long time, a lot longer than computers have been around. These models of education are fairly popular, and are practiced in countries all over the world.

The technology is not necessary for personalized education, it’s just another tool in the toolbox to help kids diversify their learning of the world.

CW:  We don’t have a huge technology movement at our school and we have already observed the power of giving students and staff more autonomy for their teaching and learning.  Yes, I do see technology helping in the process but the shift in mindset from standardized to personalized is where we need to focus our efforts.  There is so much standardized learning that can occur with technology so we need to be careful if we think that computers are the answer (i.e. the belief that Khan Academy - online lecturing/ worksheets - is a movement toward 21st Century Learning).

CK:  There are absolutely some promises we are making around personalized learning that are easier, and in some cases only possible, because of technology – but the story is not a technology story.  Technology supports the learning but doesn’t drive the learning.  The role of different technologies will also be very different at different ages.  Schools who embrace personalized learning with a technology plan will be disappointed.  I suspect they will see some short-term “wow” gain and then a levelling off – personalized learning is about the changing roles of students, teachers and parents – it is not a tech plan.

Please join us next week as our guests share examples of personalized learning currently taking place, discuss the role of parents and families and why the education system needs to move forward with change. 


  1. I agree with the panelists. I'd like to add that personalized learning is a mindset. It goes deeper than tools and strategies - it's a way of seeing and being in the classroom. It puts the student first and foremost - everything comes from that mindset.

  2. I could not agree more with Ms.Moore. Personalized learning IS a mindset. Further, this mindset reaches deep into the student him/herself, to a place where education is in the hands of the student. The message is clear to students: own your experience in school by being a reflective practitioner in learning. It is my hope that this mindset will become a life mindset.