By: Pam Proctor
[Pam's website is www.honouringthechild.com]
[Pam is the author of Honouring the Child: Changing Ways of Teaching, and was a co-founder of the famous Dickens Annex in Vancouver. In this piece she describes what happens in a school devoted to personalized learning.]
Well-known author and speaker Sir Ken Robinson was in Vancouver during the summer (2011) talking about Personalized Learning, which teachers, administrators and government officials are reported to be considering putting into practice in B.C. schools.
As compelling as Robinson’s ideas are, it’s not surprising that in Teacher, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation magazine, some teachers expressed concern about the meaning of Personalized Learning and how it can be accomplished. PLO’s (Prescribed Learning Outcomes) and standardized tests have been imposed for more than a decade with teachers feeling pressure to teach the basics in what is termed the factory style, the direct opposite to what Sir Ken Robinson proposes.
It’s not easy to switch. In the 1960’s as a visiting teacher in the epitome of Personalized Learning, the “British Infant School”, I had to change to be in keeping with other classes. I stopped preparing and teaching formal class and group lessons as well as assigning and marking seatwork. I stopped telling children what to do. Instead, while the others in the class were involved in worthwhile activities they had chosen, I worked with each child individually.
At first, I followed routines new to me out of necessity, not out of conviction. However, I soon became convinced of the merit of the approach. Even so, it was to be years of study before I could fully embrace the idea at the core of Personalized Learning which is based on the recognition that every student has different strengths, different interests and ways of learning. It is a major shift “to teach children rather than subjects.” (Robinson)
Because teachers, classes and classrooms are also different, no one tells another exactly how to Personalize Learning. However, there are guiding principles that I will discuss briefly under the following headings 1. the environment, 2.choosing and sharing, 3. time, 4. grouping, 5. the role of the teacher, 6.the arts and physical education, and finally, 7. the outcomes.
1. The Environment
It is of utmost importance to prepare an attractive, functional classroom environment (workshop style) where a child will
• have easy access to equipment and materials
• be actively involved independently or cooperatively
• practice, make mistakes and take risks
• satisfy natural curiosity and be inspired to learn
• develop socially, intellectually, emotionally, physically and aesthetically.
The environment is structured with learning centres containing materials suitable for the developmental level of the children (such as the following for children aged 4-8).
1. Reading Centre
Books on a shelf and on display
Carpet and cushions
2. Writing Centre
Paper—various sizes, colour, quality
Teacher made books (blank)
A variety of pencils and felt pens
Word games, puzzles
Computers, recording devices
3. Construction Centre
Blocks of various sizes
4. Creative Arts/Investigation Centre
Paint, paper, brushes, crayons, felt pens
Boodle (junk materials), clay
Table with items of interest
5. Math Centre
Linear measuring equipment
Materials for sorting—buttons
Blocks, Cuisenaire rods
Geometric shapes, geo-boards
Water table, materials for liquid measure
6. Playhouse/Store/Spontaneous Drama Centre
Doll furniture, blankets, pillows, dolls, dolls’ clothes
Dishes and equipment for sweeping, scrubbing, ironing, cooking
Dress up clothes, mirrors
2. Choosing and Sharing
One of the most powerful and empowering principles of Personalized Learning is that children choose where they sit, what they do and whether they work by themselves or with others. Being able to choose helps children to…
• make decisions
• focus and learn more effectively
• inspire one another in sharing what they accomplish
• communicate and cooperate with others
An “integrated day” can be adopted so that all centres are available simultaneously. The timetable consists of open blocks giving children the time they need to work on their chosen tasks, and includes time for choosing, sharing, silent reading, studies of interest, music, and physical education.
There are many benefits for both the teacher and the children to having an age range wider than the usual one year (called vertical, family, or multi-age grouping). Among the advantages…
• younger children learn from older and vice versa
• children are typically in the class for longer than one year
• children have a sense of security and stability
5. The Role of the Teacher
A well organized environment changes the relationship between the teacher and the children. Not imposing learning frees the teacher to focus on the each child’s interests and needs. The teacher’s demeanor and tone of voice changes along with this intent. The teacher…
• facilitates guides and models
• listens and questions
• supports and encourages
• learns from and with the children
6. The Arts and Physical Education
The children are involved daily in these subjects which are considered as basic as language and mathematics.
7. The Outcomes
The children love coming to school. Their interest and enthusiasm carries the day. Their relationship with the teacher, each other, and the environment supports their learning. They learn to be thoughtful, creative, self-motivated, cooperative, and respectful of one another’s differences. The adoption of Personalized Learning brings the joy of learning into the classroom.