Sunday, December 12, 2010

Learning Today and in the Future

In my classroom visits I encounter all sorts of great examples of flexible learning environments.  I’m specifically interested in how technology is being used, good or bad, to support teaching and student learning.  What I increasingly see are natural, seamlessly integrated uses of educational technology and less of the standalone technology focused uses.  Check out this cute K/1 class learning about the number 10 using a variety of technologies, physical objects, and student interactions.

K’s and 1’s learning about the number ‘10’
This teacher created opportunities for kids to use a variety technology with other traditional classroom objects and tools.  It is important to note that the technology really does need to be in the classroom and not in a lab for the occasional “field trip”.  I had a great time that day – if I was a teacher I’m pretty sure Kindergarten would be high on my list of preferred grades to teach.

It is interesting how the notion of “personalization of learning” or “personalized learning” has taken the stage, seemingly around the world.  There seem to be a lot of opinions on what this should be.  At the recent BC Superintendent’s Assoc. meeting (see BCSSA Webcasts) this was a key topic.  Chris Kennedy wrote on this in What is BC Talking About?

To begin to develop a local understanding of this “new” agenda, our District recently did the 21st century thing and held a skype session with Andy Hargreaves (from Boston), our school administrators, and other partners.  Andy asked to write our own definition for personalized learning - I wrote

Personalized learning is tailored to the individuals preferred learning style and includes student choice in the method and tools used to learn and represent their learning.

Sidebar: I have written recently about other classrooms I visited where I’ve seen this type of learning in action:

Some highlights from our meeting with Andy include:

  • Moving away from standardized curriculum and tests
  • More creative and flexible learning
  • Learning is tied to agenda of innovation
  • More learning technology
    • virtual opportunities – bring people together from anywhere
    • assistive for special needs students
    • 21st century skills and global agenda

He posed some key questions including “How is learning connected to my life, what I want to be, what learning is for, how I can be in the world for other people, to what kind of world we want to become”.  Andy points out that these are not in BC’s agenda but need to be.

My kids (now all graduated) attended Thomas Haney Secondary School (THSS) in Maple Ridge.  THSS is designed to be a self-directed learning school and has existed since 1992.  They describe themselves in much the same way as people describe personalized learning: “all students learn at different rates and in different ways”, “students will learn better if they take some responsibility for their own learning”, “current learning should support students’ life-long learning” – perhaps the beginning of 21st century learning.  My kids did have a lot of flexibility and learned a lot of self-direction skills that are serving them well in their young adult lives.

I am almost finished reading 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn (Leading Edge) (recommended to me by Doug Sheppard) which includes a multitude of authors writing from diverse perspectives on this topic.  Examples the authors advocate for include Professional Learning Communities, Problem Based Learning, Project Based Learning from places such as Singapore and Hi Tech High.  Some quotes from the book that resonate with me:

“in the 21st century, the most valued mind will be the synthesizing mind—the mind that can survey a wide range of sources; decide what is important and worth paying attention to; and then put this information together in ways that make sense to oneself and, ultimately, to other persons as well”, Kindle location 602

“Those who can synthesize well for themselves will rise to the top of the pack; those whose syntheses make sense to others will become invaluable teachers, communicators, and leaders”,

Kindle location 607

“The notion that anyone can get deep, rigorous, high-quality learning in a system that treats students as assembly-line widgets is implausible. If we are serious about the kind of learning needed in the 21st century, redesigning our schools is imperative”, Kindle location 1176

“the skills of learning to learn, problem-based learning, decision making, and technology should be woven into the subject-matter content, not merely as implicit tools used to navigate a unit of study, but rather as a set of invaluable lifelong learning tools, explicitly taught and purposefully imbedded into meaningful core curriculum”, Kindle location 2004

“there are no students and no teachers. Instead, learners fill the classrooms and project rooms and are supported in their work by facilitators. The school has adopted a new language to describe the new roles of both students and teachers. Students are now learners responsible for their own learning; teachers are now facilitators, responsible for designing projects and assessments and guiding and coaching learners and learner teams on their project work”, Kindle location 2414

I could keep including quotes but rather I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book and read it for yourself as I think the book represents the best current and diverse thinking on this subject.  I leave you with a few questions for you to comment on…

  • What definition would you provide for personalized learning?
  • What examples might you share where you think this is occurring today?
  • What might teaching and learning, using your definition, look like in 5 or 10 years?