Curriculum leaders from around the state of Vermont were recently asked: “What does instructional practice look like in this new age of goal setting and personalization?” Responses from around the room varied but themes included: In this new system all teaching and learning is based on learning targets; student choice and voice in how the targets are achieved are at the center of instructional decisions; feedback and reflection is an ongoing process; redos and retakes are encouraged and based on prescriptive feedback. Ultimately, everyone agreed that the goal with this educational shift is about equity.
In the article, What does personalized learning actually mean? Depends on who you ask (Education Week, Oct. 2018), Friedman argues that personalization creates a tremendous challenge for organizational change. For some, personalization is about individual efficacy while for others it is about developing agency. I most definitely fall in the learner agency camp. Students need to enjoy learning plain and simple. If they do not, we as educators will struggle to build relationships and motivate them to pursue their interests and passions at school. From what I understand about Act 77, learner agency is at the heart of the legislation so that students get what they need in order to be college and/or career ready.
As most administrators can attest, with any change there are ultimately some major hurdles to get over. With Act 77, we are being asked to implement a hypothesis, or an idea about how we might get to the vision of personalization and goal setting. Some hurdles that Vermont educators have faced on this path to “proficiency” are:
- Changing instructional practices. This is critical but for most educators we have experienced school in one way so we need to retrain the way we “do school.”
- Confusion about the intention. Without a firm understanding of the “Why” its like being in a dark room looking for the light switch. Educational leaders need to be able to clearly articulate their vision and communicate it regularly.
- Elements of effective school change are difficult no matter how you slice it. School change needs coherence, a model of distributive leadership, collective purpose and efficacy, and with intentional and effective professional development. Paradigm shifts are notoriously difficult considering teachers understanding of learning is hard wired. This shift needs to be incremental.
- Changing instructional practices instead of grading to fit an old model. This is a major one! Students, parents, teachers, and administrators have a wide array of philosophies and beliefs about what is in a grade. In this new system, grading should focus on evidence towards intended outcomes, as well as the idea that it is about student growth. Imagine if your final grade on learning how to parallel park included the first time that you tried to do it!
In closing, our moral imperative must focus on deep learning. If we moved on after trying once to parallel park to some other driving skill where we would be as a society of drivers?! Maybe self driving cars would have come sooner! Joking aside, if we create environments with learner-centered opportunities that are connected to what we want all students to know, understand, and be able to do than we will achieve an educational vision that is about deep learning.