Kathleen McClaskey interviewed Stephen Petrucci because he was the first British Columbia administrator discussing UDL (Universal Design for Learning) in relation to a personalized learning environment. Stephen is Director of Instruction in School District 60 – Fort St. John, BC.
1. What is your vision of personalizing learning?
Personalizing learning is education through the eyes and brain of the individual learner. This entails building a relationship with the learner and creating a profile that reveals personal interests, strengths and prior learning, as well as academic needs. It involves determining and getting a learner’s input on how they learn best, using a framework such as UDL to collaboratively design instruction and finally, employing the vehicles of technology and the arts to drive that personal learning forward.
** My vision of personalizing learning has been developing over the past couple of years through our own professional development and through initiatives from the BC Ministry of Education. Just over a year ago, we took a close look at the report from the Premier’s Technology Council that outlined a vision for 21C education. In addition the ministry put out a call for input from the public through it’s collaborative BC Ed Plan. The ensuing discussions we had at a district level were around the shift from the 3 Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic) to the 7 Cs:
- Critical thinking and problem-solving.
- Creativity and innovation.
- Collaboration, teamwork and leadership.
- Cross-cultural understanding.
- Communications, computing and ICT (information, communications and technology) literacy.
- Career and learning self-reliance.
- Caring for personal health and planet earth.
The above graphics are from the Technology Council Report.
As a school district, we continue to reframe our educational practices to try and reflect this shift, particularly as we are beginning to encompass all these new understandings under the umbrella of Personalized Learning.
For myself, I recently attended the UDL course at Harvard in July 2011, which has inspired me to frame our Professional Development using UDL as the filter for Instructional Design. This is at the very beginning stages and has been complicated by a teacher job action that has been in place since September (no meetings, pro-d, etc.). A big part of my growing understanding of Personalized Learning has been through a Personal Learning Network (PLN) that includes my blog, twitter, conferences, webinars, collaborative nings (like UDL Connect).
2. What steps have you taken to create personalized learning environments in your schools?
As I am new to my position (August, 2011 but have been in the district since 1995), I have not personally initiated these projects but as a district, we have done the following:
- Provided coaching and collaboration time to redesign classroom instruction around Project-Based Learning. This process allows for learning based on student interest and input. It is based on the philosopy of High Tech High in San Diego, as envisioned by Larry Rosenstock.
- About 3 years ago, the district initiated an Appreciative Inquiry process called “world café”, where the community, students and staff gave input and developed a vision for a positive learning experience. This culminated in a new school built in a hockey rink! Please see the Youtube video on this here: Energetic Learning Campus Overview
- Through professional development of Assessment for Learning on a district-wide level, teachers have collaborated and executed a different approach to assessment. Rather than relying heavily on summative assessments, we have introduced assessment as learning and assessment for learning as a more common and student-centered practice. This is particularly evident in one of the criteria of AFL, which is feedback both from the students and the teacher. Students use peer-feedback as well as give their own reflections on their learning and performance
- Through the use of BC Performance Standards, we are able to use descriptive rubrics that allow educators and students to establish a more personalized learning journey. This includes input from the students as far as self-assessing their progress based on the criteria provided.
- Specific interventions such as the Reading Recover program for grade 1 students who are struggling with reading. This is a very comprehensive 1:1 program that works on increasing reading and writing levels based on the individual needs/results of a student.
3. How do your schools determine how students learn best?
- I’m afraid I can’t say that this is done in any systemic kind of way. At the Elementary level, there would certainly be more feedback from the students than at the secondary level. This usually entails activities that are related to Gardner’s multiple intelligences.
- Where it is done in a more formal way is for special needs students through their IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Ideally, the classroom teacher along with the learning assistant teacher, specialist teacher and administrator, collaborate on a plan that reflects the learning styles and needs of the student. Of course, the UDL model teaches us that we should be going through this collaborative process for the entire class… Unfortunately, this process has had mixed results, particularly when the classroom teacher does not take ownership for the IEP..
4. How do your students understand how they learn best?
- We’re not there yet…
5. How do you see UDL principles working to create personalized learning environments? How are your teachers implementing the principles of UDL in their daily practice to create a personalized learning environment? Please give examples, share photos and/ or tell a story.
See also the responses from question #2, particularly the Energetic Learning Campus video.
- We are at the beginning stages of telling the story of UDL. Nevertheless, whether they are aware of it or not, many of the practices our teachers employ fit in the UDL framework. This is clearly the case with our school and regional science fair. It is also the case in our environments and classes immersed in the arts such as at our fine arts elementary school – Ecole Central Elementary. At this school, students are given options for fine arts modules, based upon their interests.
- As we broaden our understanding and use of assessment in the classroom, we are seeing teachers adjust to the learning needs of their students in a much more timely and effective manner. All our schools/teachers have had in-service on the Assessment For Learning program
- We have a 1:1 wireless writing program whereby every grade 6 and 7 student in our district is given a macbook for the year. They use it at school and can bring it home. What’s important about this initiative is that the focus is on improving student writing, not on the technology of the laptop. We have seen our writing results improve over the last few years – particularly with our boys. Each of the computers is imaged in the same way and include the writing performance standards rubrics for their grade levels. Students constantly refer to this rubric when writing and most importantly, articulate where they using the assessment language. The other benefit of this program is of course the spinoff uses for the laptop and the personalization that the students accomplish with it.
All the reports we have on this program are located here: Wireless Writing
- Several teachers/students are using technology tools such as Prezi, YouTube, Livebinder, Moodle, etc. to make a more personalized learning environment. These tools fit well in the UDL framework.
The UDL framework is the ultimate tool for Instructional Design and professional reflection. It will enable us to move away from content towards process and learning how to learn. We are a long ways from this but fortunately in our educational jurisdiction of British Columbia, the ministry of Education is allowing us to take the risks necessary to make it happen. I can’t emphasize enough the power of a Personal Learning Network and how it has helped construct my approach to education.
Stephen Petrucci’s Bio
- Grew up in central British Columbia, Canada
- Bachelor of Arts in French Literature from University of Victoria, BC. Language Diploma from Université de Caen, France. Teacher’s training from Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC. Masters in Ed. Leadership from University of Calgary, Alberta.
- Started off as French Immersion and Leadership teacher at the secondary level in 1995.
- Taught Grade 7 French Immersion
- Vice-principal at the Fine Arts dual-track school (English/French Immersion)
- Principal of Fine Arts school
- Principal of K-10 rural school
- Presently Director of Instruction in School District 60 – Fort St. John, BC. Since August, 2011. Responsible for Professional Development, Fine Arts, French Immersion, District Band, Assessment and Evaluation. And lots of other stuff…
Stephen’s Contact info: