An Rx for PL

by Jim Rickabaugh, Director

A colleague recently contacted me with an interesting question. He described a school he has been working with to implement personalized learning practices. Historic performance at the school has been about average and one of the goals is to increase student academic learning in addition to building good learning habits and strong skills. They are encouraged by the positive response from learners, due to the stronger relationships they are building with learners and each other and the impact they feel they are having. However,they are not seeing significant increases on formal assessments —  at least not yet.

He went on to note that given the research on which the model rests – the power of intrinsic motivation, the roles of efficacy and ownership in learning, appropriate levels of learning challenge, the power of focused effort and purposeful work, etc. – it seemed they should be seeing more significant academic gains. We discussed the need to allow enough time for learners to begin to build new learning skills. I talked about looking for signs of progress by analyzing some data that reflects leading indicators such as high levels of engagement, commitment to learning, and persistence in response to challenging work. However, after our conversation, I found myself asking: where else should my colleague look and what questions should his team be asking to understand where adjustments in focus, effort or practice are needed?

Obviously, the challenge of lifting academic learning is important to this work, as is the development of the skills and dispositions related to learning. This combination is crucial to the preparation of today’s learners for lifelong success in a rapidly changing and unpredictable world. So, I brought the challenge to our Institute team to tap our collective experience in working with a wide variety of schools at all levels and with a broad array of learners.

Using our honeycomb model and our experiences in assisting educators to engage in personalized learning practices, we have developed a tool to add to our member toolkit – a prescription if you will – for determining the effectiveness of personalized learning implementation. We identified diagnostic questions educators and administrators can use to begin to understand and address situations where academic gains are not readily apparent. The questions fall into three categories, each related to one of the three core elements of the model: learner profiles, proficiency-based progress and customized learning paths. Each question is accompanied by factors to look for to determine if adjustments need to be made. What follows is a “sneak peek” at some of the questions and factors to look for.

As you collect data to respond to the questions, be sure that you ask students about their experience. They likely will provide a perspective that completes the picture of what is really happening.

Learner Profiles

  • Are learners engaged and supported in assessing their readiness for new content as it is introduced?

Look for:
Learners can articulate what they already know, what they are working towards and how they learn best.

  • Do learners possess the requisite skills to engage successfully in the work?

Look for:
The learner profile serves as an active resource to understand the presence and current state of learning related skills and strategies.

Proficiency-based Progress

  • Are learning goals and targets clear and understandable to learners?

Look for:
Learners can describe what they will learn and what success looks like.

  • Are the assessment instruments and activities used to measure academic learning growth sensitive to the learning in which learners are engaged?

Look for:
Learners are prompted to demonstrate the full scope of what they learn.

Customized Learning Paths

  • Do learners have enough input into construction of learning paths to feel ownership for and value in the work?

Look for:
Learners can describe their role in constructing their learning path based on their readiness, strengths, interests, and learning needs.

  • Are learning paths well-aligned with intended learning outcomes?

Look for:
Learners can explain how their work is leading to mastery of their learning goal.

These questions can help a school, team or educator to begin a rigorous review of the core practices supporting personalized learning and ensure that students are positioned and supported to grow academically, while also developing the skills necessary for lifelong learning. If your team is interested in a more in-depth analysis of personalized learning implementation progress in your school or district, we have several service options available that can be customized to meet your needs.

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