Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey have done an amazing job of showing how to view the process of personalizing learning by using the lens of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The UDL model looks at the process of learning in three distinct processes.
- Access - Learner is presented with new content or skill
- Engage - Learner works with new content or practices skill
- Express - Learner demonstrates mastery of content or skill
By providing multiple methods/modes for each of these processes, students can allow students to design their own pathways to mastering content and skills. As students experiment with these different modes, they will discover who they are as a learner. But, this is not simply a practice done through trial and error. It needs to be done with intention. Bray and McClaskey present a framework through which learners can learn how they learn best and communicate it to others as well.
This process of the learner knowing themselves has three distinct steps.
- The Learner Profile
- The Learner Backpack
- The Personal Learning Plan
Below is a sample Learner Profile from one of my students.
In addition, to the profile that I have presented, Barbara and Kathleen include something I have yet to include but look forward to. This is a section where students add words that describe them.
This document is not a piece that students simply fill out. Many students have not been asked to look at themselves as learners. So, it needs to be built with guidance from the teacher. The first step is to ask students to think about their interests, talents, and passions and take time to write them down. This helps them realize that this process is not about a right answer it is about themselves. At this point the authors recommend students also share things they find challenging and would like to better at or learn to do. The next step is to introduce the idea of the three phases of the UDL model and have students list all of their strengths and challenges in each area. When I do this, I usually have a list of different example for students to work from. In the book, Barbara and Kathleen have a wonderful list I hope to use. Honestly, the more ideas you introduce to your students the better picture they will have of themselves. Now, we’re ready to have students complete the Learner Profile. In addition to strengths and challenges, there is a section for preferences and needs. It is no longer about looking inward. This is an actionable step where students can begin advocating for their needs as learners.
The Learner Profile is not a static document, the authors recommend learners return to it quarterly and revise as necessary. As learners are introduced to new modes/methods, they may discover new strengths and challenges. The may also be able to better communicate their preferences and needs. Also, they may discover new tools that empower them as a learner. The ultimate vision is that this is a document that travels with the student from year to year. It really is not meant to be a document that is recreated every time a student enters a new classroom. It belongs to the learner not the teacher. The sooner the learner owns this document the better.
The Learner Profile: Get Up Close and Personal Using the UDL Lens
The Learner Profile helps us realize why we need to personalize education in our classroom. All learners have different strengths and challenges. Their preferences as learners help us see that. To increase learner autonomy, it is not enough for learners to simply be in a position where they are voicing their needs. The Learner Backpack asks the learner to identify and assemble the tools they will use to meet their own needs. This process will ultimately make the learner less reliant on an external agent, like a teacher, to provide them with the tool they need. They will have a set of proven tools that assist them in their own learning. In addition, they will know when and where to use each tool. They will have a Swiss Army Knife with different tools for all the challenges they face.
The learner Backpack is not a brand new document. In fact, it builds right on top of the Learner Profile. For each preference and need identified in the Learner Profile, students need to identify a tool or strategy to address that need. These can be technology apps that could help students access content (like YouTube or Khan Academy), engage with content (Kahoot, Quizlet, Popplet), or express their understanding by creation of media (Explain Everything, Book Creator, or GSuite). More than just technology, students also consider the strategies that the apps allow them to employ. It’s not enough for the learner to know they like to access content via YouTube, they need to realize that accessing video is beneficial to them but also what types of video do they learn best from.
The following page from Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey provides a visual for what the Learner Backpack form looks like. As the term is winding down in my classroom, I hope to deploy this as an addition to their Learner Profile.
Personal Learning Plan
Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey realize that the process of learning becomes autonomous when the learner is setting personal goals, plan steps to meet those goals, and tracking progress towards meeting those goals. To this end, they have created The Personal Learning Plan (PLP). The PLP is designed to help students set and achieve goals across different realms
- Skill Development - aligned with learner profile and backpack
- Personal Goals - aligned with learner interests and passions
- College and Career Goals - aligned with professional and academic aspirations
- Citizenship Goals - aligned with desires for a sense of purpose in their life
The template for the PLP as designed by Bray and McClaskey can be found here. Each goal is outlined in a different table. Each table has different sections.
- Statement of Goal
- Outline of actionable steps to meet the goal
- Identification of evidence that goal was met
- Supports and tools needed to support reaching goal
- Reflection upon achieving goal
The PLP requires the learner to create, plan, and monitor the following goals: access goal, engage goal, express goal, personal goal, college and career goal, and citizenship goal.
These three steps provide a framework for how a learner can discover how she learns best and what tools and strategies work best for her. In addition, it allows the learner to identify challenges she faces. By setting goals and a plan to reach those goals, the learner is able to control what she will learn and how she will get there. As an educator this is a daunting process, but I can’t help but see the incredible value it holds for creating lifelong, intentional, and reflective learners.