Sunday, November 27, 2011

Opening Doors

"How do you start personalizing instruction in your classroom?"

This is the question Whitney Hoffman asked in her post on Edutopia...and here is my response:

Hmmm...this one made me dig deeper into the ideas of differentiation, personalized instruction and individualization. While there is certainly some overlap here, I think it behooves us to tease out the ways in which they are different but perhaps more importantly, to consider the lens from which we view these ideas.

I started with the National Educational Technology Plan:

"Throughout this plan, we use the following definitions:
Individualization refers to instruction that is paced to the learning needs of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but students can progress through the material at different speeds according to their learning needs. For example, students might take longer to progress through a given topic, skip topics that cover information they already know, or repeat topics they need more help on.

Differentiation refers to instruction that is tailored to the learning preferences of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but the method or approach of instruction varies according to the preferences of each student or what research has found works best for students like them.

Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary (so personalization encompasses differentiation and individualization)."

This shines some light on the differences between individualization, differentiation and personalization but honestly I find myself struggling; struggling because they all tend to focus on the teaching not the learning. All of them still perpetuate a teacher-directed classroom vs a student-centered classroom.

In my humble, still growing opinion, we should be talking about personalized learning and the only way for teachers to understand, truly understand, personalized learning in the 21st Century is to be a networked learner because something dramatic and powerful happens when teachers immerse themselves in networked spaces; a vast array of doors are opened... by the learner.

So, to answer your question, Whitney, I wouldn't begin by personalizing the instruction, I would...

  • grow my own powerful personal learning network to include uplifting, thought-provoking people, resources and ideas
  • use the vast array of technology tools to help me connect and learn with these people, resources and ideas

and then...then...I would...

  • create spaces for my students that permit them to create their own spaces for personalized learning to occur and I would be there to guide and support them in their explorations. It requires refocusing on learning...not teaching. (The instructional practices will be driven by the learning.)

Just some beginning thoughts...

Friday, November 25, 2011

On Having a Big, Fat Mouth

Uh, oh...I think I'm in trouble. Whenever I "find" my voice (as if it was lost), I recognize I've increased the likelihood that I'll have to put up or shut up...and that um, scares me. Yesterday, I tweeted this out:

That's a pretty bold statement, particularly for a lifetime people-pleaser like me. It was my good friend, M.E. Steele-Pierce that called me out on it when she tweeted:

"@charrod Eager to see the BYOL post. ~~ Is the "you" in "you're not ready" the teacher or the student?"

My big, fat mouth once again took over and I replied to M.E.:
@steelepierce "administrators, teachers, students..."

Sensing I had perhaps been a bit too bold, I backpeddled a bit and sent a new tweet to M.E.:
@steelepierce Would like to change what I said before...the "you" refers to admins and teachers...students will follow suit...

To which she replied:
@charrod Looking forward to convo about the BYOL question...what does ready require? who goes first?

Like I said...put up or shut up, right? So, goes...

We launched our BYOL in January 2011 but not before six very intense, challenging months of planning and preparation. During that time, we spent incredible amounts of time working with teachers, students and parents to help shift some very long-held beliefs about what it means to learn in the 21st Century. Here is some of the work we did to prepare for the BYOL:



  • Organized a tech camp
  • Held tech workshops
  • Invited students to "Lunch with the Principal"
  • Had them share their work at the technology showcase
  • Created a beginning tool box


  • Established a Parent Voice group
  • Held tech workshops
  • Scheduled three meetings: Overview of project, Choosing Your Device, Learning Showcase
  • Invited them to the tech camp
  • Skyped with Christian Long to share his vision of learning in the 21st Century

We also adopted Google Apps for Education and Schoology to create cloud-based spaces for our teachers and students.

I'm sure there is more but you get the point; we did a great deal of front loading before jumping into something so very large...and important. For me, this was so much more than simply putting devices into the hands of students. It was and continues to be about shifting the very nature of teaching and learning. It's about the kids owning the learning. It's about teaching students to choose tools wisely to assist them on their learning journey. It's about collaborating and connecting with people from your immediate spaces and beyond...whenever and wherever. It's about creating artifacts that make the world a better place. It's about opening doors to authentic, powerful learning opportunities.

My advice to districts considering a BYOL? I strongly encourage districts to step back and think first about laying a foundation for administrators and teachers...helping them to understand the reasons for the changes; immersing them in personal learning networks; becoming comfortable and fluent with the technology. That won't guarantee a successful BYOL program but it certainly lays some important groundwork for transforming learning. When you experience networked, passion-based learning firsthand, you will truly begin to understand what it means to learn.

Are we done? Have we "arrived"? Oh, my no. We knew this was just the beginning; in fact, the next phase promises to be even more work as we continue to dig more deeply into learning and try to solve for the equity issue. . (A second post is in order.) We expanded the BYOL to 8th grade this year and will open it up to grades 9-12 next year. This is a marathon, folks and while I may be a bit out of shape, I have a healthy dose of determination and hope...

oh, and a big, fat mouth.