States Opinion

Launching Personalized Teaching in the Classroom

By Contributing Blogger — August 13, 2015 6 min read
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This post is by Rebecca E. Wolfe, director of Students at the Center at Jobs for the Future, and Sarah Hatton, program manager at Jobs for the Future.

This Monday, the nine states that are part of the Innovation Lab Network, a group convened by the Council of Chief State School Officers, gathered at a meeting hosted by CCSSO, in partnership with Jobs for the Future and other organizations, to advance the work of the ILN states. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss and engage with the newly released “Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-Centered Teaching,” a document developed by Students at the Center, an initiative of Jobs for the Future, and the ILN. The competencies serve as a first step in identifying the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that educators need in order to create and thrive in effective personalized, learner-centered environments. Cognizant of the excellent innovators who have already taken us far down the tracks, we arrived at this list through a careful and intentional process of merging research on learner-centered approaches with analysis across a spectrum of existing frameworks and competencies from the thoroughly tested ones for excellent teaching and learning in today’s system (e.g., Danielson, InTASC), to ones firmly future-focused (e.g., iNACOL, Digital Ready), to those in between (e.g., UDL). In multiple rounds of vetting and editing, we sought feedback from close to 100 educators, researchers, and thought leaders deeply enmeshed in all aspects of teacher preparation and support.

The Council of Chief State School Officers’ Innovation Lab Network Director, Jennifer Davis Poon, noted at the beginning of the day that we have passed the “define” stage (creating the competencies), are entering the design stage, and moving steadily ahead supporting states as they figure out the equip, enact, and succeed phases to helping educators prepare for and deliver high-quality personalized instruction. Or, as one state department of education official noted: “This train’s a-coming. States can either be in the engine room driving this thing, or we can board late and hope to hang on.”

(Note: Due to recent shifts in meaning, we increasingly use the terms student-centered, learner-centered, and personalized as largely interchangeable in our literature. For the purposes of these competencies, we have decided to use one consistent phrase--"personalized, learner-centered"--which we believe best captures the spirit of approaches that build on the learner’s needs and interests, regardless of age. As much as possible, personalized instruction meets students’ individual developmental needs, skills, and interests. Effective personalized learning requires that the educator and the institution be capable of seeing and addressing differences in each learner’s outlook, behaviors, beliefs, and cultural capital. Students develop connections with each other, their teachers, and other adults in support of their learning. Personalized is not the same as individualized learning, which entails teacher-driven instruction tailored to ensuring students achieve basic skills.)

Though the language might be new, the concepts undergirding personalized teaching and learning have been around for a century. John Dewey first emphasized the importance of providing students the opportunity to learn by doing in the early 1900s, and his ideas influenced the progressive education movement’s emphasis on whole-child development. Nevertheless, talking about personalization and deeper learning ideas today often meets with a healthy dose of skepticism from an education community weary and wary of anything that feels like the next flash in the pan.

So what’s different this time?

The many 21st-century demands we face are requiring us to retool our approach. Merging the wisdom and hard-learned lessons of the past with a new urgency to adapt has created this current resurgence of interest in these approaches. In fact, our education environment is amidst a unique confluence of factors that makes it primed to take up personalized learning:

  • Increased clarity around what it means to be ready for college, career, and civic life and how to assess it;
  • A growing body of research on the brain, metacognition, and motivation underscore the importance of restructuring education to emphasize the development of deeper learning skills and dispositions;
  • The widespread adoption of the rigorous, higher learning standards for all demand a new approach to teaching and learning;
  • Cross-aisle support for innovative approaches to education that allow for more voice and choice at the local level and firm attention to deeper learning and college, career, and civic readiness; and finally,
  • Technology. While it’s important to note that personalized learning is not 1:1 programs or drill and kill software applications, technology is a key lever for scale. Technology allows easier, more accurate, and more efficient record keeping and data tracking, and can be a great resource in the toolbox of a personalized, learner-centered teacher.

What’s next? Where do we go from here?

Learning from previous failed efforts to enact personalization sustainably and at scale, we recognize that educators are our most critical implementation resource and partner. Our opportunity and challenge now is to foster the spread of these teaching and leading skills to enough educators to give long-lasting life to these approaches.

The state teams in attendance on Monday left with specific ideas for how to bring these competencies back home. As a group, we articulated three critical areas to move the competencies forward into wider implementation:

  • To continue to build on the value and widespread adoption of other frameworks in the field, we need to work to connect the new framework to the work that is already underway. These competencies are meant to augment and enhance existing teacher development work, not supplant or add undue burden. The document already includes a crosswalk with the inTASC standards, and we’ll continue to articulate how and where the competencies integrate with other work.
  • We need to increase the comprehensiveness of the competencies to aid districts and states to embed the approaches. We’ll explore the development of leadership competencies that parallel the educator competencies, as well as progressions for each competency to show what they look like from novice to expert adoption. In addition, we’ll be releasing a digital version on the Students at the Center Hub in late fall that will connect artifacts, examples, and videos to exemplify the competencies.
  • Together we’ll work to communicate the importance, meaning, and timeliness of the competencies to state and district leaders, teachers, parents, and in national contexts, and will continue to initiate thoughtful conversations about the strategic use of this document to support educators in the development of personalized, learner-centered teaching competency.

Up next: In part two of this post, we relay highlights from a conversation with early adopters at the national, state, and classroom level.

Images in this post are excerpted from graphic facilitation provided by Emily Shephard of The Graphic Distillery.

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