The Educator's PLN

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I had a little time on the 4th of July to reflect on the whole notion of Freedom in Education. Much of that reflection was focused on several discussions, both live and digital, I had over the last month on the overall state of education. A recent digital discussion on #edchat focused on personalization in education. My contention, as it has been for many years, is that it is important to personalize education within the context of the information being taught. Those of us who have a background in Reading recognize the transaction that occurs between the reader and the text. This transaction permits meaning to be understood and that meaning may be different from other readers. When higher level thinking skills are applied, the hope would be that the meaning becomes personalized enough that the book makes a difference and is not just added to some inner checklist of completed tasks. In the same way, other disciplines can be personalized so that the meaning stays with the student. We often refer to this as mastery learning.

Yet, there is still a group out there who says that pesonalization is not easy nor necessary to do. Students should learn the facts of the core curriculum and its standards, be able to pass the requisite tests, and move on to college. Some, usually those outside of education, want the passing rates of the tests tied to the overall evaluation of the teachers. Obivously, those folks have never read Isaac Asimov's "The Fun They Had" nor do they have a fundamental understanding of how teaching to the test does not encourage mastery learning. Here is another thought, why do all students have to move on to college immediately? Higher Education is taking new forms, many of which are online. So that line of thinking is outdated and detrimental to the development of the students.

Master teachers have personalized learning for generations naturally. They understand the needs of each student and are able to weave them into daily activities seamlessly. I am not speaking of some Montessori approach to learning, but the type of learning that goes on in the classrooms of these Master teachers. The information that is shared is applied to each student in a natural way that encourages a transaction between the two. When students own information, they know it at a depth that will not let it be easily forgotten. It does not take a lot of work on the part of the teacher, contrary to popular belief. It simply takes some time to reflect on each student and see what approach will help the most. I remember when I heard Ralph Metts, S.J. ask a group of administrators in the mid-1990s what would happen if each student in a typical classroom had an IEP. The general consensus was not positive. However, in many ways, he was right. The Master teacher does not have to write out goals and objectives though. That teacher simply needs to find the way to make the information come alive for the student. Tom Whitby and I spoke briefly about this at ISTE12. He remarked how Ralph was right and presented this notion before its time. But now, thanks to technology, we can shape education to make learning personal and real.

Jennifer Marten and I had a great discussion the other evening regarding the integration of technology into the lives of the students. All too often, our focus is on the integration of technology into the classroom, when the walls of the classroom have already fallen. Students have the ability to learn wherever they are. Talk about freedom in education. Flipped classrooms are an example of how that can happen. The technology is there. We, as teachers, need to recognize the freedom we now have in the structuring on learning. It is not something relegated to 45 minutes of direct instructional time and another 45 minutes of written work. Education should be as seamless as the flow of life. What do I mean by that? Imagine explaining the idea of heat, colors, and thermal reactions to a group of 11 year olds while watching fireworks. Now imagine doing that when the students are miles away from you and each other. That is having education flow throughout life.

We have the opportunity now to shift the idea of education in a way we never could before. Freedom is inherent to education from the context of the word's Latin roots; to lead forth Tom Whitby is absolutely right in saying we have the technology to personalize education for each child giving them freedom to learn anywhere. Jennifer Marten is right in suggesting that every teacher has the ability to recreate themselves and make an amazing impact on their students at any time. Ralph Metts, S.J. is right in that every student deserves to be taught with the individual in mind. So how do we get there? That, my friends, is a topic for another day!

May this summer be one that permits you to become the best you have ever been in all of your roles!

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Comment by Dr. Raymond T. Heipp on July 11, 2012 at 11:22pm

Dear SharLee,

First, welcome to education!  I oversaw a School-based Master's Program where people with backgrounds like yours entered the field of education.  Two things were consistent about all of the participants with whom I worked in that program.  One, they all did not realize what it really meant to be an educator.  And two, the brought a passion that was inspirational to all of their mentor teachers throughout the program.  You have come into education at a time that is both exciting and confusing.  However, we have been here before.  You are absolutely correct that sweeping changes are not something that we will see.  However, if we do this one educator at a time, it will happen.  Thank you for your comments and insights and I look forward to learning much from you!

Comment by SharLee Marie Retzlaff on July 11, 2012 at 1:29pm

I've recently been reading and exploring the Educator's PLN, not quite connecting with much of what I was reading.  Much of it I identify with, understand, practice, etc., but as a special education teacher at the high school level - I was having difficulty making a meaningful, rich connection! However, I'm reading through some of your most recent blogs....and these are definitely more meaningful connections for me.  I'm a fairly recent educator having held an administrative position in a business environment...so being a public figure in the public domain is quite a different experience for me - especially given the current atmosphere related to education.  Everything I do in my classroom, and the classrooms I share with my peers (regular education), are environments where I attempt to authenticate all the instruction/coaching//learning experiences.  Recently, learning more about flipped classrooms and the like, have really brought me to a different place then I anticipated. I have to admit, I was quite naive as to the explosive impact technology is and will have on education and students.  Seeing it from many perspectives as truly enlightened me. It excites me to think of the personalized learning each student could be privy to.  As a special educator - personalized learning is what I do each and every day, but to believe that all students could enrich their educations is beyond thrilling to me!  Your statements that "freedom is inherent to education" and "personalize education for each child giving them freedom to learn anywhere" brings public education to an entirely different level and its impact could be immense if done effectively.  But this change is so massive and invovled that many districts may resist the drastic changes that should be implemented.  When I think of my grandchildren and what their education could be versus what it currently is....it is so inspiring. Although I was a tentative recruit in this regard, reading, collaborating, video watching, etc., have convinced me that we have encounter an immense shift in the paradigm of education - and it's necessary to calculate how to make these  changes so that our current and futures students benefit from, as you state:  "this education flow throughout life."  That phrase alone encourages me to embark on this "recreation" of myself as an educator - I'm anxious to begin this new journey!

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