I have a dream! A vision of learners who are excited to come to school and learn because they have chosen what they will learn about and how they will do it. Their learning is totally personalised.
If I was at school today I would want to learn how to form a rock band, write and record songs, plan a tour and a marketing campaign. To do this I would choose music, English, business studies, design technology, fabrics (costumes are important!) and maths – eek!
How cool would it be to do subjects that you could see were totally relevant to what you wanted to do in life?! I realise that this is not an original dream or vision and that there are many schools already achieving this to some extent. But I feel like I can almost taste it, that it is just around the corner…but how do we get there?
What is Personalised Learning?
Recently I decided to do some research into what personalised learning is and how it actually happens. According to The Glossary of Education Reform website:
The term personalized learning, or personalization, refers to a diverse variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students.
A range of strategies and methods are employed to personalise the learning of each student. These strategies and methods include developing strong relationships with learners; mentoring; differentiated learning; creating learning portfolios; including student voice; passion projects; and inquiry based learning.
I was surprised to realise that many schools already offer a range of these strategies and methods. We are on the way to realising the grand vision!
What do we already do?
In the English faculty at Whangaparaoa College, many of us use Project Based Learning as a teaching and learning style which gives our learners choice and voice. With our junior classes we add a Solo/Gardner’s learning matrix in which learners collaborate to choose activities and then present their learning in a visually appealing format of their choice. This could be a slide show, a video, or a website.
Many of us gamify our junior classes by using Class Dojo or Classcraft to provide competition and motivation. Some teachers also create podcasts that are used to flip the learning so that learners can choose when they engage with the information they need.
We have a Creative Writing group which is run at lunch time for those who enjoy writing. These learners can choose to complete the internally assessed writing standard at either level 1 or level 3 as these are not part of the English programme. We also have a choice of English course at level 2 and 3. At level 2 learners can choose either a literacy heavy reading and writing course or the viewing and presenting course which is focussed on visual texts and a speech. At level 3, learners can choose a literacy course to catch up on missed literacy credits or the mainstream English course offering the usual subjects.
As a school, we offer Academic Counselling instead of form classes or tutor groups. Academic Counselling is focussed on goal setting and reflection, creating digital learner portfolios, and preparation for the Learner Led Conference held in the middle of the year. The Academic Counsellor mentors each learner in their group by offering support and guidance. They will contact home and the learners’ teachers when necessary to advocate for their learner.
The Social Science faculty offer social projects where learners identify a social issue and plan a campaign to help. Recently a couple of our learners were on television and interviewed by John Campbell about the issue they had chosen. Our PE department have a Sports Institute that learners apply to become involved in and this has proven to be very successful.
Cross disciplinary personalised learning opportunities?
We have made a solid start towards the dream but I wonder about the following:
1. How do we move from where we are now to a cross disciplinary approach?
2. How might we involve the community?
3. How might we incorporate and value diversity?
The Heads of Learning at Whangaparaoa College have begun to meet regularly and we discussed personalised learning recently. We have created a spreadsheet and each added a page detailing what topics our faculty will be covering each term. We then looked at each other’s pages and identified areas where we could work together. For example, when year 9 social studies are investigating political systems they could write a descriptive piece for English based on a dystopian setting. It’s only small steps but its a start.
To really achieve the dream of truly personalised learning it is going to take a massive disruption to schooling as we know it. Timetables will have to go; faculty silos will have to go; year levels will have to go and that’s just the beginning!
I’m up for it, are you?