Personalized learning often has become a sales pitch for technological platforms that promote individualized learning activities and assessments tied to grade level expectations. Although this may be a more efficient way of schooling, this is certainly not the transformation that employers expect or rising up to the global challenges that citizens are facing right now.
When personalized learning is defined from our perspective, it opens the door to the necessity for students to not only be prepared for the workplace but also for their lives as active citizens as they confront the complex challenges they will continue to face.
We believe that personalized learning in the modern era is a progressively student-driven model in which students deeply engage in meaningful, authentic, and rigorous challenges to demonstrate desired outcomes.
Given this definition, personalized learning is a mindset, not something that can be purchased or an additional program on top of what schools are already doing. Personalized learning is a mind shift in the mindset of the culture and all of the participants–teachers, students, community–need to use it the thread the way they are reimagining learning.
This mind shift is essential to grow learners’ capacity for meaningful participation and engagement within the workplace and across communities. Based on our international work with schools, those skills are best cultivated as school communities work with the Habits of Mind. The habits, a set of dispositions identified to build social, emotional, and thinking skills, help to develop the ability for students to effectively engage with teams on projects or tasks that require the deeper understanding of complex problems, generate creative ideas, and develop actions. These foundational skills are the bedrock of relationships.
Let’s take a look at how attention to the habits can create the conditions for meaningful collaboration on the development of prototypes, projects, investigations, and ideas. Each of these habits can be taught, practiced, and assessed for growth.
• Listening with understanding and empathy
◦ It is important to pay attention to what others are saying. To take the time to listen and make certain that you understand clearly what the other person is saying. Check for your understanding of their ideas and open your mind to being influenced by what they are talking about. For example, when we are using Design Thinking to begin to identify a problem, listening with understanding and empathy is vital to see the concerns from another’s perspective.
• Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
◦ The great value of sharing your ideas with others is the opportunity to clarify your thinking. Considering what it is you are really trying to say and working to be clear on your intention, is significant when communicating important ideas. Whether students are working with a group in their classroom or across town or the globe, it is important to ask for feedback about the clarity of their ideas. They recognize that effective communication is understood best from the perspective of the receiver.
• Questioning and posing problems
◦ Raising questions facilitates deeper thinking. Being a healthy skeptic encourages you, as well as others, to consider the implications of ideas. Generating new questions opens the opportunity for new learning. When we are raising questions, the value of paying attention to what others are wondering about enlarges the scope and depth of the issue at hand.
• Responding with wonderment and awe
◦ Sharing with others as we celebrate their ideas, their successes, their willingness to jump in and try new things. Noticing what is positive, aesthetic, affirming. We need to recognize and appreciate our work in public. Our work, seen from the eyes of others, affirms what is positive and sheds new light on how others interpret and attach their own meaning to what we have done.
Paying attention to habits such as these build and strengthen relationships that motivate deeper thinking, learning, and connections. This type of “face time” is the bedrock of what modern learning should look like and what makes us uniquely human.
Bena Kallick is the co-director of Institute for Habits of Mind and program director for Eduplanet21. She is a well known consultant providing services to school districts, state departments of education, professional organizations, and public agencies throughout the United State and abroad.
Allison Zmuda is an education consultant and author specializing in curriculum, assessment , and instruction. She is passionate about and excited to be part of the personalized learning movement, working on site with educators to make learning for students challenging, possible, and worthy of the attempt.