Choose Guideposts over Pavement

My son sent me a preview video of the new Assassin’s Creed Unity game because he knows I’m a huge fan, have played most of the series, and pre-ordered both of the coming editions. It was exciting to see that in this new world, they have provided the player with a large array of options for achieving a goal. Previously, the game play was somewhat laid out before you and if you followed the road and did some serious button mashing in spots you found success. Engaging and fun, but didn’t require a lot of finesse or deep problem solving. This new landscape appears to require some further contemplation, planning, and decision making as you take into consideration strategy, skills, historical context, and reputation.

How does this relate to education? In the classroom, we’re trying to achieve the same goal. Provide our “players” with an engaging and fun learning experience but one that provides depth and many different avenues to the learning objective. That idea of personalization which keeps cropping up but is difficult to achieve on a large scale. In the traditional classroom, standardized curriculum guides carefully lay out a paved road to learning outcomes, with little room for deviation. There is differentiation, but not personalized learning. It gets a bit confusing as we start tossing around terms such as differentiation, individualization, and personalization, because on some level, they address the same idea, but they are very different. I love this Personalized Learning Chart by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey and shared through Sue Strautz’s blog, as it clearly states that the main key to personalization is that it’s learner centered instead of teacher centered, a key difference. This can be difficult to accomplish in a large classroom with various student needs, testing pressure, and technology access that can vary. The good news? It’s not an all or nothing.

In this Stages of Personalized Learning chart from Bray and McClaskey, there is a progression through three defined stages. The first is more teacher centered with a gradual move to giving students more choice and control of their learning. I think of this as teachers starting personalization with a dirt trail. Students need a path to follow as they learn to navigate a new learning trail with a few forks in the road that allow for choice but that ultimately lead them to their destination. As they become more comfortable, teachers can slowly remove the path and replace it with guideposts, suggestions that point them in the right direction but allow them many different routes to the end. When they fully understand how to map their own trail, that’s when we turn them loose. At that point, we’ve given them something that is far richer than anything that comes from a textbook; skills, tools, and grit that will get them through the rough patches and lead them to the finish. It becomes more than just personalized learning, it becomes a way to navigate the world.

cross-posted at Innovate, Create, Educate

Kami Thordarson is a graduate of the 2011 MERIT program through the Krause Center for Innovation and has led classes on project-based learning, digital storytelling, and design thinking. She is the Innovative Strategies Coach for the Los Altos School District. Read more at Innovate, Create, Educate.