assumptions, authentic learning, Be the change, classroom expectations, collaboration, Critical thinking, MIEExpert15, Passion, Personalized Learning

9 Barriers to Personalized Learning And How We May Work Around Them

image from icanread

I didn’t know I was doing personalized learning when I first changed the way I taught.  It wasn’t until I wrote about it in a blog post and someone gave me the name and description that it clicked.  It made sense really; I wanted students to have a voice, have choice, and to be re-ignited passionate learners within my classroom, all tenets of the personalized learning philosophy.  For me it was a no brainer; why not teach in a such a way that students would want to be part of the learning?  Why not teach in such a way that students became experts and have a place alongside the teacher?  Yet, wherever I go resistance remains for personalized learning.  In fact, some educators or districts are quite against it, but for many different reasons.  I cannot be alone in seeing this resistance, so I thought a discussion of what those barriers may be and how you can approach a discussion to work around them would be in order.

Barrier:  It’s one more thing to do.  We are faced with seemingly more tasks every single year as teachers, from major ones  forced upon us to the little ones we cannot wait to do because we were inspired.   When will we ever find the time to do personalized learning as well?

Discussion Point:  Personalized Learning should not be an add-on but a replacement.  So if you are already doing something, change it with a lens of personalized learning.  Can you add choice into a pre-existing project?   Can students show mastery in a multitude of ways?  Embrace personalized learning as a way to become a better educator by sharing more control with the students, keep it manageable for you and integrate in a natural way to alleviate the feeling of one more thing being added to the to-do list.

Barrier:  It is overwhelming.  It is easy to see why personalized learning can be viewed as overwhelming.  Often those who discuss its merits have been doing it for years and has framed their whole classroom around it.  Their personalized learning initiatives is a long list of to-done’s.

Discussion Point:  One small step at a time.   When discussing personalized learning focus on how to start, what to do in the beginning, and the small changes that can make a big difference.  Certainly keep the end-point in mind, but don’t worry about it yet.  Worry about where you are right now and how you will start your journey, not when you are going to get to the end.

Barrier:  It will be chaotic.  We often envision chaos when we stop doing a one path to the learning  format for students and that when students are given choice they will not know what to do.

Discussion Point:  Personalized learning does not mean giving up control, but rather that control is shared with the students.  It also means multiple paths to mastery, but these are planned out either by yourself or in conjunction with your students.  Yet, you know yourself best; what can you give up control of and what can you not.  You are also a member of this learning community so if there are certain things that need to stay in order, such as an assignment being done a certain way, or students sitting in a particular way, it is okay to hold onto that.  Find the things that you can let go of, invite student input into the process, and grow together.

Barrier:  My subject matter won’t work.  Personalized learning means hands-on and project based; how do you do  that in English, Spanish or any other class?

Discussion Point:  Personalized learning can be implemented into any classroom, the lens just has to switch.  I had a lot easier time giving choice in social studies and science because a lot of our learning was hands-on, project based.  So when I switched to just teaching English, I had to change my way of thinking.  Personalized Learning in my English class means students have choice in how they show mastery (different project choices), when they show mastery (timeline), and often how they work within the classroom (classroom setup/management).

Barrier:  It will be replaced with another idea soon.  Education is a long list of new ideas and change is the one constant we have.

Discussion Point:  Personalized Learning really just means great teaching and great teaching will not be replaced with a new idea.  So while new initiatives are bound to come, the ideas of personalized learning helping you be a better teacher remain because it speaks to student autonomy and re-igniting a passion for learning.

Barrier:  I don’t want to  integrate more technology or don’t have access.  Technology inequity is a real problem.  So is technology fear.   Some teachers want to feel comfortable with the technology they bring in before students use it, and others will never be able to get the things they wish they could.

Discussion Point: Personalized learning is not about the technology.  Personalized learning is about creating an education process that takes into account the needs and desires of each child, while still working through the set curriculum.  Technology is a tool that can be used in this process but not a central tenet.  I started out with 4 computers in my room for 26 students.  We naturally did not incorporate a lot of technology and we didn’t need to.  Choices involved the things we did have and students bringing in things from home if they wanted to.  We made it work with what we had.

Barrier:  I won’t be a good teacher.  It is hard to change the way we teach because we may already be teaching really well.

Discussion Point:  Change is hard for all of us, but modeling risks for students is instrumental in their learning journey.  I am uncomfortable every time I make a big decision about the way I teach or something we will do, but I think the discomfort makes me a more thoughtful practitioner.  By sharing and modeling this for students, I am showing them that I take risks and that sometimes those risks pay off and other times they don’t.  We have to grow to evolve and sometimes that means even leaving behind things that were just fine.  Besides, our students change every year, so should we.

Barrier:  I have to do the same as all the other teachers in my subject or grade level.  We don’t want students to be a part of an educational lottery where the quality of their education hinges on which teacher they get, so sometimes uniformity and in turn, conformity, is preached above all else.

Discussion Point:  Have what other teachers do as one of the choices for students.  This brilliant idea was shared at the task force meeting I was a part of in my district.  Instead of dismissing what other teachers are doing, simply make it on e of the paths that students can take.  That way you are also catering to the myriad of ways that students learn.  You may learn best in a hands-on project based environment, whereas others may learn best with a read/reflect/discuss with a test at the end pathway.  make room for all of your learners and include the ways of other teachers in your room.

Barrier:  Parents/administrators/community will be upset.  When we are faced with unknowns our first instinct may be to revolt.

Discussion Point:  School should look different than when we were students.  Yet communication, understanding and examples are vital when integrating more personalized learning into your classroom our school.  Any change is hard for parents who want to try to help their children, so make sure you are communicating the why and the how behind your changes whatever they may be.  If administration is wary bring them in to see the change, show them other classrooms, and explain your motivation.  Tell them you will do a trial period and you can discuss and evaluate.  Just like you are asking others to be open to change, be open to frank discussion yourself.

Moving toward personalized learning has been one of the most significant changes I ever did in my educational journey, but it wasn’t always smooth.  I have faced many of these barrier myself but now love being in a district that has it as part of its vision.  Wherever you are in your journey, or even if you haven’t started, don’t be discouraged by the barriers that may face you.  Reach out, connect with others who are on the same journey, and find the support you need to be successful.  I am here to help if you need it.

If you want to see 6 things you can change to start your personalized learning journey, read this.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

being a teacher, Critical thinking, get out of the way, student driven, Student-centered

Some Thoughts on Collaboration and Student Choice

Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherImage via Wikipedia

I started out on this student-centered journey knowing  that I had to offer my students more time for true collaboration, not just teacher-chosen ones, as well as give them control in the classroom.  I started out dreaming not quite sure what it would look like, what the products would be and whether the  learning would even be enhanced or would suffer.

Now 19 months into the journey, I have made some humbling realizations:

  • Not all units lend themselves well to choice but it is doable.  It can be a challenge to cover the material you feel you need to cover in a textbook for example, but you can.  I have spent many nights thinking up how I could possibly engage my students in this without just lecturing and it takes time.  That time is well spent though when you see the students light up at what they will be doing.
  • It also gets easier.  After a while your brain switches from “How will I present this” to “How will the students work with this?”  It is a subtle difference and you create a toolbox of ways.  Also, if you include students in the planning process you have many more ideas, so that’s leads me to:
  • Include the students!  When I have been stumped over how to make a unit more engaging I have brought it to those it will effect the most; the kids.  It does not have to be a long conversation but just a brainstorm.  It is amazing to see what they come up with.
  • Trust the students.  There have been combinations of students that I have shuddered at inwardly and in the end they created beautiful projects.  There have also been combinations where we needed to have some serious reflection on whether or not it worked.  The big thing is including the students that it involves, don’t just make the decision that a partnership doesn’t work.  We are too quick to decide what collaboration looks like, let the students in.
  • Be honest with the students.  I have very high expectations for projects and I have called students out on poor work quality.  There is a way to do this though without creating a “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” scenario.  Ask them to evaluate their own work, it doesn’t even have to be done, and have them take time to reflect.  Point out what you see as a possibly gap and help them out.  Not all students can just create at the drop of a hat.
  • Scaffolding at various levels.  Some students just need an idea and they fly, others need hand holding and even a cheer or two before they get off the ground, and some are just too boxed in to even know where to start.  Get to know your students and their work style, scaffolding at its best simply.  Invest the time in relationship building and you will see direct results in their output.  
  • It will not always work.  I have had some epic ideas that turned out absolutely ludicrous.  Or ideas that got to be so complicated that the students lost interest.  There have been times where it hasn’t been a fun , engaging work environment or where a project has taken too long and the interest level is near zero. That happens.  And yet I don’t give up, I keep going because I see how invested the students are.  I see how excited they get to use their hands and their minds, to explore on their own with guidance from me, to learn from each other.  

So to choose and to have a voice are the dreams I have for my students.  I see how invested they get in their own education, and that is something lecturing can never do for them in my room.  Education no longer is something done to them, it is something they take a part in, they own and manipulate.  We always talk about how we are shaping the future but the future doesn’t just include absorbing information froma main source, it means taking that information and using it to bridge new things.  To manipulate learning, to shape and form new ideas.  And that is what student-centered learning does for me.

    being a teacher, Critical thinking, thinking

    Are You Just Being Critical?

    As heated debate continues not just in my state of Wisconsin, but across the United States on whether unions are great or not, I find myself intensely affected by how the debate is performed. The debate it seems has not become so much about discussing ones points but rather how to viscously take a dig at ones opponent in order to belittle them. Even the governor takes part in this as he continues to criticize and demonize the 14 democratic senators that fled the state. I have been on the receiving end of this as well and have therefore limited my real life dicussions as well as my online ones. And yet, those actively participating in the belittling seem to genuinely think that their methods for discussion is spurring healthy critical thinking and debate rather than seeing it for what it is; simply being critical.

    Being critical is much easier than being engaged in critical thinking. Rather than debate anyone using facts or statistics, one can just dismiss the opposing opponent as being a communist or a thug. Rather than educate oneself on the actual issues at hand, one can just repeat the rhetoric being presented by whichever side. Being critical simply saves time, brain power, and energy. Why debate when one can simply destroy?

    It is time for critical thinking to be used again. Education and then disseminating the information is a method for moving forward in any situation, whether it be political or not. How are we supposed to build a stronger society when all we do is tear each other down? This applies in every aspect of my life. Think of the regular education discussion with colleagues; are we thinking critical thoughts or are we using critical thinking skills? There is a massive difference. Are we open to new ideas, or do we dismiss them immediately? If we shut ourselves out simply because we do not like the person who is delivering the message, or prior experiences we have had with something similar, then we are not being reformers.

    It is time to put the thinking back in critical thinking.