Differentiation has been a buzzword in the education world for quite some time. It seems natural to most educators that students who learn differently should be taught differently; however, educators often limit themselves (and therefore their students) when considering what differentiated instruction might look like. Teachers also limit themselves when integrating technology into their differentiation efforts. As Richard Culatta (2013) argues in his TEDTalk, there is a tendency to simply swap a digital way of working for the traditional one, which may be more fun for students, and minisculy more engaging, but does not truly achieve the goals of educational technology. Culatta (2013) also argues that in order to make the most of both education and available technology, it is imperative to reimagine what personalized learning looks like in both the traditional classroom and online education community.
Ideally, education would be able to exist on a 1:1 basis. One teacher for every student to design and implement lessons tailored to their every need. In reality, however, class sizes are increasing, rather than moving toward the unrealistic ratio, and teachers need to reexamine their teaching practices to ensure their students’ needs are being met. In their article “Personalized learning for every student every day,” Childress and Benson (2014) argue that the most effective way to achieve success in this area is for the teacher to move away from instruction and toward facilitation, allowing learning to be more student-centered and discovery based, and inherently more personalized. Childress and Benson (2014) suggest that teachers must reevaluate not only what students learn, but also where and when.
This argument is supported by Culatta’s TEDtalk (2013) as he discusses the use of technology to determine when students learn best and how to capitalize on that data. Childress and Benson (2014) cite numerous studies to support their research and argument that when teachers move toward being curators and facilitators rather than lecturers, student engagement increases and students are more likely to be motivated to succeed. While this entails significantly more planning on the part of the teacher–designing multiple pathways to success, modifying existing texts or reference materials to suit different learning style, offering a variety in the pace of lessons or learning experiences–the payoff for both teacher and student is astounding. Students become the agents of their own education, which allows them to be more self-sufficient beyond the school walls as well. Ultimately, teachers are preparing current students for jobs that do not exist yet, which means they must be prepared to be critical, independent thinkers and workers. As Culatta’s TEDtalk (2013) suggests, technology is one of the best ways to work toward a personalized classroom. By using educational technology in a meaningful way (i.e., not simply digitizing a chalkboard), teachers can benefit from pre-existing learning modules as well as tools for data collection that can drive their students’ learning and assessment.
Generally speaking, technology has been grossly underused in classrooms over the past several years. Teachers, unable (or unwilling) to invest time in learning new technology have resorted to digitizing existing curriculum and calling it educational technology. As Culatta (2013) asserts, this is neither meaningful for students nor an accurate way to measure the impact technology has in the classroom. If teachers are truly invested in reimaging their classrooms and personalizing their teaching, true educational technology must be at the forefront. In an educational leadership article titled “Top personalized learning tools for 2015,” a collaborative team of educators and education leaders has offered their suggestions for the best resources in integrating technology for a truly personalized learning experience. The authors are in agreement with both Culatta and Childress and Benson as they state, “research on cognitive development and learning styles has placed an emphasis on the need to differentiate, and this is something technology does well,” (Vodicka, Gonzales, & Young, 2015, p. 26). The list includes a variety of tools for several purposes, including offering valuable and timely feedback on both formative and summative assessments. Vodicka, Gonzales, and Young (2015) suggest using technology to personalize education in deslivering instruction, offering feedback, collecting student data, and for independent student work. As schools continue to implement technology programs (whether they are 1:1 programs or bring your own device policies) educators are in a better place than ever to truly integrate technology to their teaching and student learning.
This concept applies to technological work without screens as well. The Maker Movement is an excellent place to include personalization and student-centered learning in the classroom. Students, even when given a uniform set of instructions, can experience personalization through play and experimentation with maker materials. It is vital that teachers do not limit themselves to what they already know. Sometimes, the most effective teachers occurs when teachers ask a question that they themselves cannot answer. This is what the Maker Movement does–it asks students to solve problems that don’t exist yet and create something that their teacher may not have even considered. This is personalized learning at its finest.
It is clear that personalized learning can be beneficial for a variety of students; however, as expectations on teachers’ time both in and beyond the classroom increase, personalization may be unachievable for some teachers or schools. Increases in standardized testing, shifts in state standards and prescribed content, and changing evaluation systems all lead to overworked teachers who may be unwilling or unable to reimagine their teaching style and classroom setup. While personalized learning and its benefits should certainly be the goal of all educators, administrators and policy makers must also work to make this a reality in schools across the country.
Childress, S., & Benson, S. (2014). Personalized learning for every student every day: thebest hope for accelerating student achievement is by using a range of pedagogical and technological innovations that deliver personalized learning to each student. Phi Delta Kappan, 95(8), 33. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA367421139&v=2.1&u=msu_main&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=18d22958a88acd8a418c88f48a326059
Culatta, R. (2013, January 10). Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet.Retrieved from http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Reimagining-Learning-Richard-Cu
Vodicka, D., Gonzales, L., & Young, C. (2015). Top personalized learning tools for 2015.Leadership, 44(3), 26-29. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.msu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1645566449?accountid=12598