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Personalization starts with "Why?": #PLCon15 Day 1

Finished this before dinner, forgive typos.

Today marked day one of the Institute for Personalized Learning's 6th Annual Convening.  Last year was my first time attending and I was lucky enough to be allowed to share my experience in personalized learning at a breakout session.  After the first day this year, my head is spinning and I feel like I need somewhere to let what my senses picked up pour out and maybe take some shape.  So here we go.

Keynote - Allison Zmuda


This year's keynote address was by Allison Zmuda.  Here is a link to her presentation.  Save it, so much goodness within.  I just want to highlight some of my takeaways.

During her address, she encouraged us to engage in a backchannel.  In this case, it was Twitter.  I started to think of possible ways for students to engage in backchannels during my lectures.  Think of this as encouraging responsible use of technology.  The only way students will learn responsible use of technology is if we show them.  I just think about my apprehension to create a Twitter account or engage in Twitter at all.  Now, I look at all the great conversations that are going on and think that I would have missed because I wasn't informed of how it could be a tool for good not just narcissism. Not to mention the great educators I have got in touch with!

She began with this idea.
Rethink what we mean by space.  Space is not only a physical dimension.  It is also personal, emotional, and temporal. When you give your students space, they can determine the purpose behind what they are doing.  They can create the "Why" of their personalized learning journey.  That is a powerful piece of personalizing learning.  The motivation is internal.

A second idea that struck home and has caused me lots of frustration in my instruction is that in the most efficient education models the first level is the transmission of simple facts and procedures.  It seems like the most engaging activities are called enrichment and are saved for "if we have time"  or "after the test".  It is these activities which are usually the hook to spark interest and get at the why of the learning.  It's my move to a Problem/Project Based Model in which I hope to start making this shift within my classroom.  I'm not there yet, but I've seen the light. Isn't that the first step?

It was then that Allison shared her definition of personalized learning and had us reflect on it at our tables or via Twitter to see what resonated with us (I love that the physics term resonance is something we have brought into daily conversations).



The two key words that resonated with most of the audience were "student-driven" and "authentic".  If it is authentic to the student, then they have a purpose.  Again, before the personal journey can begin for a student, she needs her "Why?" 

Allison then went on to speak of her work with Bena Kallick to help define the essential elements of a personalized learning environment.  They were able to synthesize these essentials into 4 key elements: The 4 C's of Personalized Learning (not to be confused with the 4 C's I had been familiar with in terms of success skills: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Communication.)


I'm going to leave it here because I really want to dig into the rest of the presentation before I'd be able to share it out.  I recommend you do the same.  There are some great slides about the evolution of each of these elements from minimal student input to student-driven that I'll for sure be keeping on my digital desktop as I continue my journey into personalization.

The first breakout session I was lucky enough to take part in a panel on assessment which I briefly mentioned in a separate post.

As far as lunch goes, it was a fantastic box lunch.  I usually don't comment on lunch, but as a vegetarian I like to make sure I mention when lunch options are done well for all.  There was an option for me and there were enough so that I was able to get that option (unlike at a different conference I went to this summer). Great personalization by the Institute!

Breakout Session: INSPIRE


In the afternoon, I attended a session hosted by the INSPIRE team at Waukesha North High School.  Here is the link to their presentation.

Right off the bat, I was excited to met Greta Voit.  She is a physics teacher I happened on to via social media.  To see her speak in person was exciting.  She is so energetic and passionate.  She's the type of person you hear speak for 10 minutes and you feel like you've know her your whole life.  Greta and her colleague Chris Del Pointe started with the most important question: "Why?" (sensing a trend?) 


This vision led them to create a learning environment within the school where students would have a stronger role in the design of their learning in terms of schedule, pace, focus, and mode.  They currently have 44 students who practice cross-curricular project-based learning in a proficiency-based environment.   I'm not going to detail their journey, but it started with the why last fall and ended with the logistics this summer and the model is in place as we speak.  

They have done some great things.  To highlight one that blew me away was the ability for students to plan their own schedule.  This link will take you to the planning document. Another wonderful feature they are following started with the great work of FLIGHT Academy.  This feature is 1:1 conferences between student and teacher in which reflection, goal setting, and academic advising occur.  Also, they have created true interdisciplinary projects that tie in multiple content areas in meaningful ways.  The video below features a student describe her project.




Greta walked us through a great example of Proficiency-based math using 3-Act Math, which is a philosophy I had never heard of.  Check it out starting with slide 26 of the presentation.

Greta and Chris along with their principal Becky Newcomer have really shown how the high school model can be dramatically changed to meet the needs of students and should be commended for their bravery.

Breakout Session: High School Idea Swap


The last breakout session of the day I attended was with a group of high school teachers from Oconomowoc High School.  They provided another great example of personalized learning that can happen at the high school level.

Like every meaningful innovation, Oconomowoc started with (all together now) "Why?" This led them down the road of breaking down barriers to specific areas of the Learning and Teaching Elements in the Honeycomb.  The vehicle they found to best 


these barriers was Universal Design for Learning.  If you'd like to learn more about UDL, check out cast.org. UDL has become a guiding principle in designing my personalized learning environment, so it was great to hear that others are using it as well.  Honestly, I have to thank Kathleen McClaskey and Barbara Bray for their great work in personalized learning for helping me connect UDL to personalization.

What was great to hear from the high school staff is that they are transforming their classrooms to more personalized environments by offering choice to students.  It is not an all or nothing model.  Different content areas are progressing at different rates. But, they are all progressing!

Students with disabilities are working on goal setting and IEP generation with the help of this document.

Spanish classrooms have gone to an all open-assessment design in which students design how they will meet the standards. Students are given choice of presentation modes but must address both written and oral means during the course.

In Literature and Film course, students create a daily menu which is a nonverbal plan that communicates what they will be accomplishing. Here you can find a great general menu document.

In another language arts area, students complete their own action plans in Speech class to determine their purpose and direct their learning.

In Social Studies, students and teachers are identifying the important skills to be assessed rather that basic content knowledge.  Students will be assessed based on how they demonstrate these skills and tie them to the big ideas in history rather than simply presenting trivial facts.

In science, special educators have helped identify ways to incorporate UDL strategies to help all students access and engage with content more easily and demonstrate deeper understanding that traditional testing didn't allow for.  In chemistry, this may mean altering the format of the test to be in more manageable chunks with questions that address deeper understanding to a Biology class in which students have complete autonomy in how they will demonstrate understanding of key genetics targets.

Simply put, Oconomowoc is demonstrating how any high school can find a way to be more personalized.  They presented a wonderful continuum with a plethora of different strategies.  At the core of all of them, though, was breaking down the barriers for students to personalize their learning.   

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