In personalizing learning we seek to imagine the best attributes of each learner

In an era of personalizing learning it’s important for educators to consider what, or rather, who is the person being referenced, being conjured up.

This is rooted in one or other of a two-part process:
i. the first arises in conceptualizing a person-not-yet-met, not-yet-experienced; by necessity, this person is invoked through imagination, and perhaps on the basis of minimal information or few characteristics (e.g. ‘boy, 11 yo’; ‘girl, 9 yo, anxiety issues and fine motor difficulties, possible FAS’).

ii. the second arises through contact (face-to-face or via virtual or written communication) or following contact; in any case, contact provides a context that opens a ‘new file’ linked to that person whom we now know, if even just a little.

Though each of these processes is of differing provenance, they wend their way to our imagination where the information we know, or think we know, about this other person, entangles with our beliefs, values, and bio-cultural and professional understandings of what and who a person is, or may be.
If we are aware, we can glimpse our creating this person, and how we have constituted them. Then, if we’re thoughtful, we can consider if, in our constituting of this other person, we have fairly perceived them, without undue prejudice or withholding of concession.

As educators, we face a dizzying ‘hamster-wheel’ of experiences contacting and re-contacting students and conjuring up new students in the space of each class, day and year. If we could slow this down to a snail’s pace we might see many overlapping traces for each student, accessed through our imaginary capabilities, some resonating and melding together in agreement, others showing conflict, questioning and disagreement.

For educators oriented to personalizing learning, we seek to acquire more information about students – to increase our knowledge of their ‘personhood’, which can only be satisfied by better understanding what, who and how they are.

This is to perceive someone and receive them not as we might wish them, nor arising as an entity defined by standardized, technocratic categories: “She’s a B+ student”, “he’s below the curve in math”. The latter renders a person as an android, that is, someone who is a person in appearance and computational intellect, but lacks all the creative and imaginary faculties of a fully-constituted person.

For educators, it is in our imaginations where we constitute our students as persons, each time we contact or think of them. How does this arise for you?

In personalizing learning we seek, in some way – for there is understandable variation in approach – to confirm a person, no matter their age, in what Ned Noddings describes in her book, Caring, as “the loveliest of functions.” Educators confirming their students, Noddings asserts, see and receive the other and “choose the best to attribute to him.” Again, this is the work of our imaginations and willingness to open-into-possibility.

While some educators perceive this as an ‘additional burden’ to their regular teaching activities, from my own many experiences I can reflect this is no additional burden but something that increases my enthusiasm, delight and satisfaction in continuing to be a responsive and engaged educator.

Yes, to personalize learning means to take extra time to learn about your students and consider how to support their learning, but all the educators I know following this path are as deeply satisfied as I am.

Imagination is one of the forms of man’s (sic) daring.

– Gaston Bachelard, Air and Dreams,

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