A recent edition of Education Week (Nov, 7, 2018 V 38, Issue 12) is dedicated to examining four big questions as related to personalized learning. In order of how they are presented in the issue they are:
- What is (and isn’t) personalized learning?
- Why do some personalized learning efforts make school feel less personal?
- Is it a good idea to give students greater choice over what they learning?
- Are tech and education companies overselling personalized learning?
While these are great questions to explore and discuss, I think it is the third question that is important for any school to examine. Whether the school is exploring personalized learning or not.
Whether or not a school is pursuing personalized learning is almost immaterial to the question, “Is it a good idea to give students greater choice over what they are learning?” If we look objectively at the 21st century learners, or the Generation Z students, in our classrooms we come to realize that the effect of the constant connectivity and digital choice has created a culture of immediate gratification within our students. You can see it when kindergarten and first grade students are playing Roblox or when high school students are playing Fortnight. The ability to have choice is central to how students interact with the world. In fact, they expect it!
Instead of lamenting the limited attention spans of students, I believe we are tasked with meeting students where they are. That is, we have to give them choice in their learning. Sometimes, this choice needs to be authentic and self-directed. At other times, it is OK if it is manufactured by the teacher to help the student or students master a standard or skill.
If students have never been given the tools or opportunity to practice making decisions about their learning, how can we expect them to make good choices when finally allowed to do so?
However, we cannot teach students using a direct instruction methodology in the primary grades, then, expect students to become advocates for their own learning in middle school, high school and beyond. If students have never been given the tools or opportunity to practice making decisions about their learning, how can we expect them to make good choices when finally allowed to do so? Without developing skills and reflective practices, it is likely students may choose the path of least resistance rather than choosing an option that will provide a strong learning experience.
This is where the 16 Habits of Mind come into play.
Costa & Kallick’s seminal work, Habits of Mind, explores sixteen problem solving and life skills needed to successfully navigate life, promote reflection and develop grit and resilience.
We have found, over the past six years, that having intentional, grade appropriate, conversations with students about the Habits of Mind starting in kindergarten and continuing through eighth grade allow our students to make smart choices and develop a sense of ownership in their own learning.
Our faculty will scaffold learning activities to ensure that students are pushed with challenging learning activities but provide a safety net to help students stumble when they make a mistake or fall below expectations.
The question should not be, “Is it a good idea to give students greater choice over what they learning?” because students are already expecting choice. Instead, the question should be, “How can we prepare students to take agency of their own learning to prepare them for the choices they will face in the future?”
By doing this, we can help students develop the grit to stay focused on a task or project for a long period of time. Furthermore, they will develop the resilience to continue when they experience failure and a project gets tough. And isn’t that what we want? Students leaving school with the ability to communicate, think critically, collaborate and be creative problem solvers.