Education Letter to the Editor

Understanding Personalization

January 15, 2019 2 min read

To the Editor:

The recent special report (“Personalized Learning: 4 Big Questions Shaping the Movement,” November 7, 2018) raises four key issues that deserve clarification. As leaders of the AASA Personalized Learning national cohort, we offer the following reflections.

First, personalization is a teaching and learning process that addresses the strengths and needs of individual learners. Carefully monitoring student progress against clearly defined standards, personalization ensures that every learner’s academic, emotional, and physical needs are understood and accommodated. Personalized schools and districts emphasize a balanced approach to progress monitoring, using a range of authentic assessments rather than single data points like standardized tests.

Second, like every major education movement, personalization can be fraught with stereotypes. The idea that it is “impersonal” reflects a misunderstanding of its central purpose. Personalized classrooms allow for high levels of interaction, discourse, and real-world application. Teachers use cooperative learning, technology, and project-based learning to encourage peer feedback and authentic investigation and research.

Also, personalization is not a model of teaching where students determine everything. Teachers must scaffold the learning process—from initial modeling and coaching-oriented feedback to a gradual release of responsibility to students. Voice and choice are building blocks of effective personalized learning. Without sustained student input and feedback, their talents, creativity, and efficacy can be overlooked or negated.

Finally, we agree that a “canned” instructional design is at odds with addressing the unique strengths and challenges of every learner. Professional development for personalization requires action research and coaching that is site-based and collegial—not pre-structured in a kit or program. Many companies are becoming more sensitive to integrating cultural responsiveness, differentiation, and performance assessments and projects. However, the process of personalizing schools is deeply iterative, collegial, and challenging—with no single program or approach adequate to ensure a personalized classroom.

Daniel A. Domenech

Executive Director

AASA, the School Superintendents Association

Alexandria, Va.

Mort Sherman

Associate Executive Director

AASA, the School Superintendents Association

Alexandria, Va.

Gail Pletnick

Retired Superintendent

Surprise, Ariz.

Valerie Truesdale

Associate Superintendent

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Charlotte, N.C.

A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2019 edition of Education Week as Understanding Personalization