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Monday, November 16, 2015

Blended and Personalized Learning

I recently returned from iNACOL 2015, an international annual conference that specifically looks at best practices for blended learning and digitizing classrooms.  I was privileged to present on a session about Shelby's multi-year technology integration plan, along with John Leeper (our Director of Innovation in College and Career Readiness), Maddie Meyer (teacher at Southside Elementary), and KDE's David Cook (Director of Innovation and Partner Engagement). We also attended some intriguing sessions with valuable information, but I was particularly taken by a pair of keynote addresses.  The first was a highly engaging, motivating, and moving presentation by Buddy Berry, the superintendent of Eminence (Shelby's district neighbor).  Mr. Berry challenged us to stop doing school the way it's always been --  because we can show how much we care about students and truly meet their needs by evolutionizing education with digital tools and old-fashioned compassion.  The second was by Craig Kielburger (one of the founders of We.org), who talked about becoming a social activist at the age of 12.  Years later in Ecuador, he shared his story of a village chief who called a "minga" in order to finish building a school:



Isn't it time in education for us to call a minga?

An entire conference about blended learning made me reflect on what is happening here in Shelby County.   But first, some definitions.  I find the articulation of blended learning in Straker and Horn's Blended to be the most useful: "Blended learning is any formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace.”  This focus on the student is what makes blended go hand in hand with personalized learning; although you could personalize without technology, it would be difficult to facilitate. (It should be noted that simply using or integrating technology does not guarantee a personalized experience.)  So how does one define personalized learning?  In short, unlike differentiation or individualization which is managed by the teacher, personalization is unique because it is truly driven by the student; the student has "voice and choice" what will be learned, and when.  (For a comprehensive chart comparing personalization, differentiation, and individualization, click here.)

Thanks in large part to Chromebooks, personalized and blended learning are proliferating side by side.  One example is at Martha Layne Collins High School.  Madelyn Sterrett is a math teacher who uses Blendspace as a way of digitally organizing unit materials and resources for her students.  As students combine analog and digital materials to track their progress, they take ownership of their own learning:

Another math example is at the other end of the age spectrum, in third grade at Heritage Elementary.  Julia Lyles had confidence that her students needed only a few days with their Chromebooks before they would get past "how to use the device" and get down to the business at hand: a personalized learning environment managed by Google Classroom.  Now the students' math learning is self-paced.  With daily exit slips and a large chart on the back wall, Ms. Lyles can see when skills are mastered and track their current stage of progress.


Julia Lyles in front of her students' exit slip packets and class progress chart.

In the past, these model examples of student personalized learning may have been silo'd or overlooked. Now, however, social media has amplified teacher voice and given instructors unprecedented access into each other's classrooms.  That's exactly what Shelby County High School math teacher Bart Roettger shared in a recent meeting of Shelby's "Guiding Coalition" (a group of educators and community partners willing to share our district's vision and successes outside of a school building's four walls).  Mr. Roettger explained that, thanks to Twitter, he heard about and was inspired by the personalization of learning occurring in Mrs. Sterrett's classroom.  Now that he knows a high school resource who is a click/tweet/email away, Bart will begin his own transformation of his classroom.  How powerful that we can find inspiration not only from outside our district, but also from within!

Blended learning takes a willingness to fail forward, a strong infrastructure, and patience.  Personalized learning takes teacher time for all the required front-loading of lessons and units in preparation for students that pre-assess themselves ahead of others, and the teacher's courage to loop back to more traditional structures if the class is not progressing as they should.  And yet, even though the moon has only grown full twice since our Chromebooks have been deployed, the future of education is already becoming the present for Shelby County.

Have Comments about blended and/or personalized learning?  Please share below.




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