The first week of September means back to school for millions of kids and young adults in North America.
What happens this first week will largely presage the events of students’ learning lives in the coming school year. I’m not talking about what classroom seat is chosen or whether a new math textbook is handed out. Rather, much hinges on whether in the first week of classes teachers make an authentic effort to get to know their students and by that I mean elicit from each child or youth information about their learning interests and styles, their learning achievements and challenges.
And the next important step is striving to use this information to better engage students in their own learning. In other words, helping to personalize learning for each student.
My summer reading, which included Ungifted: Redefining Intelligence by Dr. Scott Kaufman, and several books by Dr. Temple Grandin, re-confirmed to me the attributes of recognizing that each person, no matter what age or background, has unique learning proclivities and intelligences. Further, research underscores how capitalizing on learning strengths sets the table for accelerated and profound learning. Hence the need for educators to inventory personal biographical learning information from each of their students and act on that information to catalyze new learning.
This message also came through this past weekend in two mainstream media, “back to school” features in the Vancouver Sun; the first, “Choices Key to Alternative Programs“, profiled students who were excelling in programs that matched their learning interests, ranging from dance to electrical apprenticeships.
The second, an essay penned by BC Minister of Education Peter Fassbender, confirmed the BC Ministry of Education’s commitment to Personalized Learning as sketched out in the BC Education Plan of 2011. A focus on Personalized Learning, says the Minister, “aims to provide students more opportunity to pursue their individual talents, interests and preferences”.
This is music to my ears and my colleagues in SelfDesign.
Yet, I’m also hearing how the Minster and his staff follow must through on this pledge and continue to support the BCEP initiative with clearer and firmer policy guidelines than presently exist. For it is in the absence of clearer policy guidelines that educators, administrators and bureaucrats default to the all-too-familiar model of schooling borne in the time of everybody’s grandparents.
You know this model and the flawed premises on which it was built: Everyone learns in the same way and will meet the same curriculum goals (or face penalization); intelligence is reflected by reading, writing and numeracy test scores as well as short-term memory skills; and the test is next Thursday.
As a society we have come to value many new ways of doing things. That’s why we don’t ride around in horse-drawn buggies, nor do we light our houses with kerosene lamps. These are relics of a bygone era. This coming week, if you or your child lands in a classroom where a bygone model of schooling is clearly in play, then I urge you to step up as an advocate for Personalized Learning.