This week the Institute is pleased to have a guest blogger. Darryl Diment, an educator from Australia, visited our region in September as part of a research project he is conducting around personalized learning. Darryl is a principal at Ocean Grove Primary School in Ocean Grove, Victoria. After his visit, we asked if he would be willing to share his reflections on his visit by writing a blog post for us.
Recently, I was very fortunate to visit a number of schools in South-eastern Wisconsin USA. My visit was facilitated by Jean Garrity from The Institute @ CESA #1. The Institute was established to work with member school districts on a regional approach to transform public education to establish personalized learning as the prevailing education approach. The Institute aims to do this using a strategy based on change in three areas and in three phases: learning and teaching; relationships and roles; and structures and policies.
The schools I visited were all at different stages on their personalized learning journey but all displayed a commitment and resolve to make education more personalized for their students. James Rickabaugh spoke about the traditional approach that has all learners experiencing the same content and teaching methods. Sir Ken Robinson describes how our school systems are the perfect model for crushing creativity today. Everyone seems to know it but doing something about it is another matter.
Teachers need to create time and space for the personalization to occur as demonstrated by my time at the Waukesha STEM Academy Saratoga Campus. The furniture and its arrangement dictate what can and can’t happen in regards to personalized learning. Wheels were on everything and supported the idea that learning spaces should be flexible. They can be created or dismantled as required. After my visit I feel we need to develop a whole school approach to the configuration of our learning spaces. A whole school approach to Literacy and Numeracy is important but needs to be reinforced by learning approaches fostered by the teachers within the school.
Schools also question the amount of time a space was used for each week or day. Principal James Murray at the STEM Academy Saratoga Campus suggested “Why would we have that space left that way when it is used only for deliveries twice a week?” Libraries and lunch rooms at schools such as Walker Elementary were being remodelled and used as learning spaces because they were being used for such a relatively short time. At my school we also need to ask ourselves questions about the spaces around our schools and the percentage of time they are being used each week.
In comparative terms schools in my network are better equipped for resources. That doesn’t mean they are using them more efficiently or effectively to facilitate teaching. The resources I observed such as computers, tables and buildings are below those in most Australian schools. However, the schools I visited are doing a fantastic job assembling the necessary equipment to support personalized learning. Teachers are resourceful and the schools had used a variety of sources such as donations or garage sales to find what they needed. Also teachers in Academy 21 at the Asa Clark Middle School had created their own video bank of lessons for students and parents to access – anytime and anywhere. Students could watch it repeatedly to reinforce the big idea or concept to become embedded in their thinking. The teachers thought it was important for the students to hear their teachers’ voices and see their teachers’ faces. Although the Khan Academy had an established library bank sometimes the methods and language they used were different to those of the schools.
All the schools visited adopted the ‘opt in’ approach as a starting point. Personalised learning might begin as concept or belief developed by a school board or district but it becomes a reality because of passionate leaders and teachers. Leaders and teachers can either criticize the prevailing system or have the courage to change it. In CESA #1 a core group of leaders and teachers such as Jean Garrity, Ryan Krohn and Johnna Noll are committed to personalized learning and making real progress.