These Educators Are Using Personalized Learning to Think Differently...

Personalized Learning

These Educators Are Using Personalized Learning to Think Differently About Teaching

By Megan McMahon and Molly Levitt     Aug 2, 2018

These Educators Are Using Personalized Learning to Think Differently About Teaching

The familiar comment on education is that it hasn’t changed in a hundred years. However, pioneering educators have been thinking more critically about what schools should look like and how we can better cater to the needs of all students while keeping in mind the changing requirements of higher education and a new workforce.

Ahead of the 2018 EdSurge Fusion conference in October, we talked with three attendees about how their focus on personalizing learning has enabled them to think differently about how they serve their students.

From a compliance culture to a culture of learning

Ellen Dorr, Chief Technology Officer at the Renton School District in Washington state, is working to shift learning in her district from a traditional school culture of compliance to a culture of learning. Renton recently completed the second year of a multi-year program that started with inviting students to codesign the new vision and to become creators of their own learning experience.

Students are exercising their voice by writing about how their experience is changing in their high school newspaper and by asking for what they need in the classroom. Students have more agency in their education and are becoming creators and contributors in the learning process. The goals aim to ensure that learning is still focused on rigor and hitting the standards, but that students are also learning soft skills and advocating for their own education and needs as learners.

What understanding learning differences can teach us about personalized learning

For 35 years, Chartwell Middle School, near Monterey, Calif., focused primarily on supporting students with language-based learning differences, primarily dyslexia. This makes Chartwell an important model for us to understand how to personalize learning for all students. According to Fusion attendee, Steve Henderson, Head of Lower and Middle School, the key is to understand and create learning spaces that work for the diverse needs of Chartwell’s student body.

Students with dyslexia typically present in regular classrooms as bright kids who are nonetheless just not succeeding. However, they frequently have very strong visual-spatial skills. By the time they enter Chartwell, many students feel very frustrated and discouraged.

Chartwell educators have long sought ways to personalize their students’ experience, often by seeking the modes that they are most successful. One way they do this is through creating learning spaces, such as makerspaces where students can use their visual-spatial skills to demonstrate their learning through hands-on work. This helps improve their self confidence and also helps them engage with learning in ways that are not hindered by their disability.

Preparing students for a learning future

Erik Hanson, Dean of Digital Learning for the Appleton Area School District in Wisconsin, isn’t just thinking about whether his students will succeed in college; he’s also focused on preparing them for their careers in the world beyond school. For instance, many universities and community colleges prohibit freshmen from taking online courses because the administrators worry students aren’t self-sufficient enough to succeed in this mode. Yet as Hanson points out, some technical degrees and employee training programs are only available online.

To get Appleton students primed to succeed—whether in online or in-school learning—Appleton rolled out the Appleton eSchool “Online Course Ready Badge,” in early 2016. The Appleton eSchool believes that the core attributes of a successful online learner include self awareness, independence and time management. Every Appleton student who has successfully completed an online course and demonstrates online academic integrity can earn the badge. It appears as a credential on the official student transcript, signalling to educators and potential employers that the student has a proven level of online learning proficiency. Appleton expects that those skills will also translate into valuable competencies in the workplace, college and in life.

Want to meet these educators, along with hundreds of other movers and shakers from around the country? Join us at the EdSurge Fusion conference, October 2-4, 2018.

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