Perhaps it was the soft jazz playing in the background, or the tranquil turquoise blue accenting all the signage. Or maybe the frenzy of testing is finally over, giving way to a chance to relax and unwind. Whatever it was, for an event with more than 1400 booths, sessions and workshops and 21,000 attendees, ISTE’s annual conference kicked off with more of a breeze than a bang.
Apart from ISTE CEO Richard Culatta zipping around on a Segway, most attendees were taking in the sights on a stroll, looking at signs and chatting with vendors at booths.
One issue did ruffle teachers—and their leaders—earlier this month. On June 9, the National Education Association heard a flurry of criticism from its union members after publishing an article titled, “ As More Schools Look to Personalized Learning, Teaching May Be About to Change.” Comments observed by Education Week showed that some teachers were riled up by the idea that their union was propagating what they saw as a tech-focused classroom, replacing teachers with computers.
Was this perception shared by teachers at one of the biggest education technology conferences in the world? We asked attendees what the word “personalized learning” means to them, and what their idea of an ideal “personalized” classroom looks like. The diversity of opinions might surprise you.
Moving from an assessment
“I am a special education teacher, so everything feels like personalized learning. So I am assuming it has something to do with meeting kids where they are at. Doing some assessment, finding out where they are at and moving on from there.”
Special Education teacher at Auburn School District in Seattle, Washington
A fast food menu…
“I think personalized learning is going to be what students do in the future because technology actually allows you to do that now. Personalized learning is going to let students accelerate if they are able to and it is going to help student remediate. Instead of students learning 55 minutes five days a week, it’s going to open up to 24 hours, seven-days-a-week access to information and hopefully in a faster pace. Personalized learning is more like a menu at a fast food place. What do I need to learn? What do I want? And that’s what I get.”
Science Teacher at Lake Elsinore Unified School District in Riverside County, California
Guidance and support
“It's a big question. I think it is anything that helps support instruction or reflection or any kind of pedagogy, really, that focuses on the personal experience of the student. It's anything really; technology can help support that in a bunch of different ways. Tutoring is a version of in-person personalized learning, but I think it gives the student the opportunity to get focused attention and focused questions. The only way to do it in a classroom is either you have a lot of teachers in there, or you use technology, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be them just looking at a screen. They can be just doing projects and have some system directing them. It could be personalized to small groups too, so guided reading could be an example of that.”
Director of Technology at Sequoyah School in Pasadena, California
“On my campus, we were very interested in personalized learning and the having the kids managing and guiding their own learning. We are almost a one-to-one campus, and the students have a hand in deciding the direction in everything they do. Most of the time I don’t want to see the kids working by themselves, but with someone else, a small group of two or three. Not always a group project, but they are going to be working together, so they are not just left out on an island by themselves.”
Principal at South Marshall STEM Academy in Marshall, Texas
It’s hard in large, high school classes
“I think it is difficult to do it in a high school setting, but it is a really good idea. In a perfect personalized class, it would not look like the old classroom where everyone is taking notes at the same time and the teachers talking. The students would be doing their own activities, and the teacher would be monitoring and answering questions and giving suggestions. It’s a little bit hard to do in high school because you have such large classes.”
Technology and Business teacher at Paoli Community School in Mitchell, Indiana
Building interpersonal skills
“Personalized learning is definitely a new way to incorporate the objectives and standards of the subject that you are teaching. I think it connects students with interpersonal skills and it gives them a way to express themselves and moves the classroom from teacher-centered to student-centered. It’s a good shift. The perfect personalized class would focus on the Four Cs: collaboration, creativity, communication, critical thinking and time to reflect.”
German teacher at Kittredge Magnet School in Atlanta, Georgia
Personalized learning is for young teachers
“I don’t think you want my opinion; I have been teaching way too long. Personalized learning as a concept is super. If you have a class of 22, you can do it. If you have five classes of 32, it is really difficult. It is important, but it is also something that we have been doing forever, it just has a new name now. If you are doing your job well, you are doing personalized learning.
“I think it would have to be a younger teacher doing it. I know how that sounds, and I am not pigeon-holing. But when you are younger you have more energy. When you get older, you are kind of set in your ways, and it is harder to make that change. It would have to be in a smaller class that does not have a high ratio of special education students, and it would have to be with a group of student who already knew what their learning styles were, or the teacher already went through and figured it out with them.”
Social Studies teacher at Elizabeth Middle School in Castle Rock, Colorado
A hundred choices and customization
Dr. Allen Guevara, from Lake Elsinore Unified School District in California, is instituting a badge program in his district where students will be able to choose from over 100 classes online. His district is incentivizing teachers and administrators by paying them to teach extra classes students can opt into.
“I think personalized learning provides options for teachers. I believe it lets people experience what they need to experience by being able to go back and retrieve information with technology, as opposed to being more archived with in-person training. I see personalized learning engaging learners with the ability to customize what they do and apply the knowledge the right away.”
Dr. Alain Guevara
Assistant superintendent for instructional support services at Lake Elsinore Unified School District in Riverside County