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Tag: personalized learning


Put the "Person" Back in "Personalization"

This is a cross-post of a blog I just wrote for Personalize Learning:

There is a lot of talk going around about “personalization” and “personalized learning” harming kids. We need to clarify this NOW. It’s time to put the “person” in “personalization” and stop the conversations going in directions that take us off course.

We went back to the post and webinar from Elliot Washor (@elliot_washor) on April 2014 about this concept of  putting the “Person” in “Personalization.”

“There is a great deal of discussion and a strong ramp up of what is called “personalized learning” in schools both with and without technology.” Where is the person in personalization? What are the expectations that students have for deep productive learning?”

We decided we need to bring back this idea that Elliot shared and expand on this discussion. We need to focus on our learners and learning and take semantics out of the conversations. 


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Right now it’s so easy to be pulled in different directions and think you have to take one side or another about the terminology. Consider yourself as a learner and what you need. Yes – technology makes it easier to access information, engage with the content and express what you know. Mobile devices make everything available at your fingertips just when you need it.It’s not about technology. It’s not about the test or improving test scores. It’s really not about school. It’s all about the learner, how they learn best and that what they learn is meaningful and for a purpose.  It is all about the relationships that learners make and need to support their learning. It is also about the teacher – a valuable person in the relationship. Teachers and learners can work together to develop learning goals and design activities that are authentic and relevant for the learner so they are engaged in learning. Learning has to have a context that learners can grasp and understand. And, of course, an important person in the relationship is the parent who wants the best for their child but they may not know how to support their learning.

digitaltattooHere’s the catch: today’s kids brains are wired digitally, so they will figure out how to use the tools by experimenting or teaching each other. What they need is to acquire the skills to choose the appropriate tools for the task. They also need to understand who they are, how they learn best, and how to be global digital citizens. They probably don’t realize that their digital footprint is actually a “digital tattoo” that can never be removed. They need to become self-aware of who they are, how they learn best, and be aware of what they do online can affect them and impact others.

When we put the focus on each learner and how they can own and drive their learning, then we see engaged, self-directed learners with agency. They become the ones responsible for the learning. Isn’t that what we want?

Our traditional education system was designed to create compliant workers who follow orders. That’s why it looks like a factory model. This isn’t working anymore for today’s kids, but that’s all we know and how most of us were taught. Teachers also think they have to teach like a champion because they are the ones responsible for the learning. Don’t you think that this is backwards? Teachers are an integral piece of the puzzle, but the focus has been on curriculum, teaching to the test, and teaching subjects instead of kids. When we focus on learning and not on curriculum, teachers roles change. We still can teach to standards but let’s involve learners in the process and give them a voice so they own the learning.

The system is changing now because it has to change. Our future depends on it. Consider this quote from John Dewey:

“If we teach as we taught yesterday,we rob our children of tomorrow.”

It is our children’s future, not our past. So what that means is that what we know about school will have to change and change is scary. That’s why we understand the discourse about the terms. There are companies that frame “personalized learning” as adaptive learning systems using algorithms to choose the right path for learning. So we’re going to end this blog emphasizing learners need to be the ones who choose their path with their teacher guiding the process. It is about encouraging learners to have a voice and choice in their learning. It’s happening now all over the world.

We’ll be sharing more and more stories of learners being empowered and teachers who are excited about how engagement and motivation has changed the landscape of learning. This is just the beginning of a new world of learning and it’s time to put the “Person” back in “Personalization.”


Connecting the Maker Movement to Authentic Learning


I love the idea of making, inventing and tinkering. Just watch kids who are immersed in the activities and you can see the engagement. But is the learning authentic and relevant?

One Work Place Maker EventI presented three sessions at the Free Maker Movement event at One Work Place on Wednesday, September 30, 2015 with some amazing educators who presented hands-on activities. The event will took place at our Oakland Center for Active Learning .

I decided I needed to spend some time researching where the Maker Movement was happening and find examples of authentic learning. This gave me the opportunity to talk to several of my friends and share how they have transformed learning spaces to Makerspaces. Everyone I talked to made a point that it is about creativity not consumption. Yet when I went to different Maker events, I saw activities that an adult set up, purchased a kit or provided directions for activities. They were all fun, but I was having trouble seeing the connections to real learning or any ownership from kids.


I read Jackie Gerstein‘s post: MAKE STEAM: Giving Maker Education Some Context where she wrote “recent discussions with other educators and administrators made me realize that the idea of maker education is often vague and seems unrealistic in terms of regular classroom instruction.”  She shared her thoughts of Maker Education in the context of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) where teachers integrate maker projects into their classrooms. Read her blog and check out the Thinglink by clicking on the dots for more information.



I reached out to Shannon McClintock Miller, @shannonmiller, who is a Teacher Librarian at Van Meter Elementary in Iowa. Shannon stretches the imagination of children and manages the Library Voice as a place to be heard through creating, technology, connecting, reading, collaborating and noise.  I love her quote:

“We as librarians and educators and as people
who care about young people need to CHANGE!”

Shannon emphasizes the power of story where learners can play with content, media, narratives, remix, mashup and then tell their story. She encourages her learners to connect to the story in different ways: Skype with authors, create their own stories, and publish eBooks. One learner loved the “I Spy” books and wanted to Skype with the author “Jean Marzollo so Shannon set it up. What came out of the Skype was for learners to create their own “I Spy” book for Van Meter School.

Screenshot 2015-09-26 11.10.07

Shannon redesigned the library to move to creative, innovative spaces: Makerspaces around the concept of stories. Learners took their iPads and used an Augmented Reality program, Layar, to add multimedia to texts, posters, and books. She found different apps and organized them in a Digital Makerspace using Symbaloo. After pulling together different Makerspace activities, Shannon wanted a way to provide opportunities for making in the classroom.  So she created Makerspaces Mobile bags that teachers could pick up and use in their classrooms.

Digital Makerspace


Screenshot 2015-09-26 11.37.09Laura Fleming, @NMHS_lmsis a Teacher Librarian at Milford High School in New Jersey who is a strong advocate of using New Media and Vanguard Techniques for Interactive and Transmedia (multi-platform) Storytelling. Her website is Worlds of Learning.  She wrote the book World of Making where you can find invaluable guidance for creating a vibrant Makerspace on any budget. The book includes practical strategies and anecdotal examples that help you:

  • Create an action plan for your own personalized Makerspace
  • Align activities to standards
  • Showcase learner creations


Laura’s goal is to create learning experiences that empower and equip students with necessary skills to effectively produce and consume content across multiple media platforms. She went from K-8 to the high school to a library that was very traditional that was under-utilized.

Milford HS - NJ Library

In less than two months she transformed the library by just adding activities aligned to classroom instruction. She even used DonorsChoose to purchase a 3D printer and provides multiple suggestions to build your own makerspace.



Diana Rendina, @DianaLRendina,  is a Media Specialist/Librarian at Stewart Middle Magnet School in Tampa, Florida. Diana is passionate about school libraries being places for students to discover, learn, grow, create, connect and collaborate. She shares her journey on her blog, Renovated Learning: Building a Culture of Creativity and Discovery in Education.  She has worked to transform her school’s library from a quiet, dusty, cluttered room into a vibrant and active learning space where students want to be.  In 2014, she created a Makerspace in her library to serve as an informal STEM learning space for her students. 

Diana Rendina Makerspace Journey

Diana shared how their Makerspace has changed, grown and evolved since it was first conceived and started in January 2014.  Follow along with the story of their journey here.  Hopefully it will inspire you to start your own Maker journey.


This is just the beginning and a short overview of how libraries are transforming to Makerspaces. But one thing I did find from talking to Jackie, Shannon, Laura and Diana is that the librarian’s role is changing and Makerspaces can connect to learning. The Library is changing and bringing stories to life. Makerspaces can be digital and mobile. If Teachers and Librarian/Media Specialists collaborate on curriculum design, projects can be integrated in to STEAM and other curriculum activities. So this is just the beginning of my investigations how these Makerspaces can expand authentic learning activities.


Making Professional Learning Personal


These days, too many teachers are leaving the profession because they may not be getting the support they need to do the job they are required to do. Now is the time to reverse the trend of teacher burnout. This can happen with improving their own professional learning by making it personal.


Every class, every teacher, and every learner is unique so each situation could bring up questions, opportunities, and even confusion. Teachers could find that they will be learning something new more often than not.  Teachers are the most valuable element in the classroom.

Teachers can be partners in learning with learners. To do this effectively, teachers need to determine their purpose for professional learning that defines learning goals specific to learning outcomes. Then they can identify instructional practices needed to implement so learners meet those learning outcomes. “One size fits all” professional development will not meet each teacher’s purpose and plan. Every teacher will need a plan with specific learning goals to personalize their professional learning.

Learning Forward [] created a workbook for States, Districts, and Schools: Professional Learning Plans as the navigation system for the comprehensive professional learning system as the engine that powers educator learning. A program of professional learning is “a set of purposeful, planned actions and the support system necessary to achieve the identified goals.” Professional learning plans focus on the specific content, learning designs, implementation support, and evaluation of professional learning. The comprehensive professional learning system establishes the overall infrastructure and operations that support effective professional learning. The workbook provides teachers, schools, and districts the tools, resources, examples and models that will assist them in developing whole system professional learning plans and personal professional learning plans.


Some key questions to drive the development of your plan:

  • What results do we seek for our learners?
  • What teacher practices contribute to those results?
  • What must change in order to achieve those results?


The goal of professional learning should be stated in terms of learner outcomes. Changes in educator knowledge, skills, dispositions, and practice are the means to changes in learning. Learner and teacher goals written in the SMART format increases the strength and clarity of the goals. Working SMARTER, not harder: SMART goals keep key objectives in focus as follows:


S  = Specific
M = Measurable
A  = Attainable
R  = Results-based
T  = Time-bound

Consider this question: What learner outcomes do you want to see that can be transformative?

Teachers need collaborative time to review and analyze learner data. There are schools that are scheduling time once, twice and, in some cases, daily, where teachers meet to plan together. Teachers usually work alone and have been isolated behind closed classroom doors for too long. When teachers have the time to work together, they can review how their students are learning, what they are learning, and any challenges. They can use SMART goals to develop learning objectives. For example, if teachers determine that 42% of their high school learners do not understand linear equations, they can develop a learning goal that targets these learners.


Example SMART Goal

42% of the high school learners will have resources and opportunities for small group, one-to-one instruction and ongoing peer support to increase their knowledge and skills around linear equations.

Teachers only know what they know or were taught. Many follow a pacing guide and use existing curriculum even though we now know that doesn’t work for all learners. A teacher who is trying to “cover” the curriculum based on the pacing guide will never meet the needs of those learners who are falling behind.

When teachers start putting together SMART goals around learning outcomes based on data, they can go several steps further to determine how each of the 42% learners learn best along with any challenges they might have. There are always several learners in your class that stand out with unique characteristics. Teachers may find out that more than one learner may have trouble understanding math symbols where others have issues focusing on how the problems are stated. When you know specific issues that are challenges for your learners, you can pull together strategies to target those challenges. This is where the Personal Professional Learning Plan comes in for each teacher.


Sample Personal Professional Learning Plan

(adapted from source:

  1. State the Action you will take
  2. Describe an Area of Focus for the Learning
  3. Include the Rationale
  4. Add the Activities


State Action Describe Focus Include Rationale Add Activities
Improve Teaching Skills Assist at-risk students Stay current with new practices
Develop Proficiency in technology tools Support instruction Identify specific tools and resources


The activities are personal to each teacher. This is where teachers can take control of their own learning. If a teacher wants to improve their teaching skills to assist at-risk learners, they can use alternative learning opportunities to support them with their research. Traditional PD usually doesn’t allow time for personalized support and attention. Some questions teachers have asked about PD:

  • How do you stay current with new practices if you sit in a lecture that does not support your learning goal?
  • How do you find specific resources around Algebra if PD that day is on classroom management?


Teachers can get support by building their Personal Learning Network (PLN) in their school, district, community, and in social media. There are multiple learning opportunities outside of traditional professional development. This is where “personal” expands professional learning with opportunities that include:

  • Common Planning TimeTeachers helping teachers
  • Unconferences
  • Edcamps
  • Using Social Media
    • Twitter chats
    • Facebook pages
    • Google+ Communities
    • Linkedin Groups


Common Planning Time

Common planning time is different than “teacher preparation time” or “prep periods,” which are periods of time during the school day when teachers, typically working on their own, can plan and prepare for their classes, meet with students, or grade assignments. Common planning time is an evolution of the traditional preparation period to time that encourages more frequent and purposeful collaboration among educators. Its primary purpose is to bring teachers together to learn from one another and collaborate on projects that will lead to improvements in lesson quality, instructional effectiveness, and student achievement.


Unconferences and Edcamps

An unconference is a conference organized, structured and led by the people attending it. Instead of passive listening, all attendees and organizers are encouraged to become participants, with discussion leaders providing moderation and structure for attendees.

Unconferences are founded upon The Law of Two Feet, which states that:

If during the course of the gathering, any person finds themselves in a situation where they are neither learning nor contributing, they must use their two feet and go to some more productive place.

An Edcamp is a user-generated conference – commonly referred to as an “unconference“. Edcamps are designed to provide participant-driven professional development for K-12 educators. In both cases, instead of one person standing in front of the room talking for an hour, people are encouraged to have discussions and hands-on sessions. All of the space and time are reserved for the things people want to talk about.


Twitter Chat

A Twitter or Tweet Chat is a planned “chat” on Twitter that organizes a group of people with similar interests in a particular subject matter. The host of the chat is the person that arranges and promotes it to their followers by picking a regularly scheduled time for the chat to happen. Teachers that are looking for specific resources can find them fast. Sign up with your own handle and find hashtags to follow like #edchat, #edtechchat, #tlap, and #plearnchat.

#plearnchat is our Twitter chat we host every other Monday at 7pm ET, 4pm PT. Join us!



These are just a few strategies that teachers can use to take control of their own learning. Learning is personal and teachers are learners too. Check out what Vicki Davis wrote about 12 Choices to Help You Step Back from Burnout if you find yourself feeling a little blue.

Learning Forward. Professional Learning Plans.

This post was first published in OnCUE  Spring 2015 Vol 37 No 1 p. 23 and 26


We are not there yet

After attending conferences and reading numerous articles that focus on personalized learning, I just have to say it. We’re not there yet. Some of us are, but the focus keeps moving back to traditional teaching methods. There is also much focus on companies that boast about their technology that personalizes learning. I’m having an uneasy feeling that the rhetoric is really confusing people, and sounds too good to be true. Are these methods and programs doing what they’re supposed to be doing? Are we talking a good talk when we say all the right things but then continue with the status quo? Or are some taking a good idea and framing it one way but actually implementing personalized learning  for the wrong reasons?

Why am I saying this? Because to do it right, we have to transform the whole system. There are educators that jump in head first, take risks, turn the learning over to their kids who become expert learners responsible for their learning. Teachers share their successes. We share their stories. It’s great and the kids win. The teachers win. The school community wins. Then we hear from these same teachers stories of these kids moving to the next grade (the system may not be competency-based nor have all teachers adopting personalized learning) where they may go back to a traditional system with grades, tests, etc.

It’s just not fair to do this to our kids. We give them opportunities to celebrate their successes, let them take risks, maybe fail and learn from mistakes, unlearn and learn again. Then when they move to another teacher or grade level, we take their voice and choice all away. I hear kids say “I just do what I have to do in school so I can get out.” or this: “I just want to pass the tests.” Oh my!!!

Grant Lichtman’s article Take aim at innovation with students at the center is what made me think about all of this. He mentioned that technology is not innovation and stated, “As a group, schools are still mired in the mindset that technology is the innovation, not that it is a tool embedded in innovation.” Lichtman also says  – it’s about flipping the learning to what he calls it Flip 2.0 – turning the learning over to the kids. This is different than flipping the classroom. This got me thinking that it is not just the confusion about how to personalize learning. it is about coming up with a shared understanding of what personalized learning is.

Then there are districts that start in high school but they don’t take the time to plan or involve the kids. It’s about time to ask our kids several questions:

  • What is working and what is not working for you in school?
  • What advice would you give your teachers about how to teach you?
  • What do you need so you can learn?
  • How would you design school?


Personalizing learning means the learner owns and drives their learning. It means the teacher plays the role of facilitator and advisor. They become a partner in learning with their kids. Think about the current system. Personalizing learning turns everything upside down. Teachers don’t know how to do this. They need help. All of us need to work together on this. Actually most of us experienced learning in traditional teacher-directed classrooms. In fact, during the last 10 to 12 years, the focus has been mostly on creating prescriptive curriculum that teaches to the test. We didn’t involve the kids. We didn’t ask them what they wanted. It’s time to change that.


Update about this site:

Make Learning Personal BookI’ve been focusing on making learning personal for years and am co-founder of Personalize Learning, LLC with Kathleen McClaskey since 2012. I keep this site,, so I can share from my own view what is happening with learning, to learners and teachers, and how the system needs to change. Everything I do with personalizing learning now is with Kathleen. Two heads are better than one and I have learned so much from her. We co-authored Make Learning Personal, published October, 2014 by Corwin Press and, yes, I highly recommend it if you want to make learning personal. Just had to say that :o)

So why am I writing this here? It’s because I want to keep this site so I can do a little of my own ranting. I need my readers to go to our website, Personalize Learning to get the latest information and resources about personalized learning. All of the latest charts, resources, and even my services around personalized learning are on the Personalize Learning website.


This Time It's Personal and Dangerous

2013 has been an interesting year. Education is being juggled more than ever between pedagogy and corporate control AND it is personal — for you — for me — for our children. The marketing strategy of adaptive learning systems is that of 24/7 services that you can access at any time, in any place and at any pace. Education has adopted this language to reduce costs with business-like customization and streamlined productivity. The expectation is for a flexible education system that will also be more efficient and cost effective. Rebirth of the Teaching Machine Through the Seduction of Data Analytics: This Time It’s Personal by Phil McRae]

“The adaptive learning system crusade in schools is organized, growing in power and well-funded by venture capitalists and corporations. Many companies are looking to profit from student and teacher data that can be easily collected, stored, processed, customized, analyzed, and then ultimately resold”.

There’s money in it, but not for the right reasons nor for the right people: our children. I read this research by Phil McRae and it all made sense. This time it is personal. Corporations are taking our educational system, shaking it up and spitting out children who cannot think for themselves. They are calling it cost-effective but actually, adaptive learning systems are more costly than we know. It is all about the data this time. This is so dangerous for our society that I have to speak up and hope you speak up about this also. We need to fight for our children and their future and their data.

Framing adaptive learning systems as “personalized learning” has to stop.  This image “At School in the Year 2000” – a futuristic image of learning as depicted on a postcard from the World’s Fair in Paris, Circa 1899 predicting what learning will be like in France in the year 2000. It is scary that this depiction is becoming true in the US and other parts of the world because we are being sold a bill of goods. Corporations and politicians are really good at framing what they believe we want to hear around a philosophy or concept that markets something they want to sell or use.

Teaching Machine

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons The idea of children having their own personal choice how they will learn is being redesigned as increasingly data driven, standardized, and mechanized learning systems. Children should not be treated like automated teller machines or credit reward cards where  companies can take their valuable data. It is all about control and saving money. But who’s money? Yes, technology can help personalize learning, but what technology and how? And who’s data?

Let’s be real: adaptive learning systems are for those things that can be easily digitized and tested like math problems and reading passages. They do not recognize or encourage high quality learning environments that are creative, inquiry-based, active, relevant, collaborative, and what our children need to be global citizens who are critical thinkers and problem-solvers.

We did this before. McRae reviews the history of using technology to control learning. It was all about feeding information to kids and controlling what they learned. B.F. Skinner did this in the 1950s where learning was about measurability, uniformity, and control of the student.

I grew up then and remember having problems understanding some concepts. That was mainly because everyone in the class was supposed to learn the same content at the same pace — too much content — too fast for most of us. I was provided an “intelligent tutor” outside of the classroom and sat in front of a screen answering multiple choice questions about what I read. I felt stupid and ashamed. It still didn’t make sense, but the teacher didn’t have extra time to spend with students falling behind.

I know I’m smart, but I felt stupid in many of my classes. If I went through that then, how many others felt like me? I wanted to give up, but one teacher and my parents believed in me. They spent time with me figuring out why I didn’t get it. That’s all I wanted — time with a real person who cared. We didn’t have all the technology then that we have now or I would have googled it and figured it out by myself. The problem with the technology then was that it wasn’t personal for me. It was the same worksheet I didn’t understand in the first place now on a screen.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI) became the next big thing. Programs like PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations)and Computer Curriculum Corporation (CCC) were building labs for schools for large numbers of at-risk children paid with Title I money and categorical funds. I remember these because I was asked as technology coordinator and professional developer to help set them up. Schools put these labs in any area that would fit. Some high poverty schools had them set up next to heaters and most were managed by a parent or para-professional. Teachers would rotate their classes in and out every week. Kids were so excited at first to play the games that supposedly taught concepts they needed to learn.

After about six months, kids got bored with the games and clicked on any keys just to get through the games. There was nothing relevant or made sense for them to be there. Kids are so much smarter than we give them credit. When they were in their classes, they felt like they could maybe ask questions about their learning. But, in the lab, there was no one or no way to question what or if that was the one right answer. After a few years, the labs were dismantled or used for other purposes. But all the money was gone so there was no one left to run the labs or train the teachers. <p> CAI is now back as “adaptive learning systems.” Some of the old programs have been repurposed with more interactivity. McRae states it as “adaptive learning systems still promote the notion of the isolated individual, in front of a technology platform, being delivered concrete and sequential content for mastery. However, the re-branding is that of personalization (individual), flexible and customized (technology platform) delivering 21st century competencies (content).” [Source: McRae’s research]

CCC’s SuccessMaker is now Pearson’s adaptive learning system. Other adaptive systems have repurposed content but they still promote building mastery with sequential content. It is similar to the old worksheets repurposed using new technology. Dreambox refers to Skinner’s teaching machine and “adaptive learning as a computer-based and/or online educational system that modifies the presentation of material in response to student performance. Best-of-breed systems capture fine-grained data and use learning analytics to enable human tailoring of responses. The associated learning management systems (LMS) provide comprehensive administration, documentation, tracking and reporting progress, and user management.” [Source:] Source: U.S. Department of Education , Office of Educational Technology, Enhancing Teaching and Learning Through Educational Data Mining and Learning Analytics: An Issue Brief October 2012, page 30

Dreambox is now framing their system as “Intelligent Adaptive Learning” and others are starting to use the term “Intelligent Tutors.” Companies are creating hundreds of white papers and studies to prove that adaptive learning systems benefit our children. Be careful! Read them closely for the messages being delivered. We need to be critical consumers for our children’s sake. McRae writes why we are so seduced for adaptive learning systems:

“First, it is seen as opening up possibilities for greater access to data that can be used to hyper-individualize learning and in turn diagnose the challenges facing entire school systems. Second, the modern teaching machines, and the growing reach and power of technologies, promises to (re)shape students into powerful knowledge workers of the 21st Century.”

As I said in my own situation, all I needed was time and someone who cared and listened to me. Today the technology is at our fingertips and children are using technology at younger and younger ages. We don’t need to spend millions on these systems. Information is available when we need it now. We just need to teach our children how to acquire the skills that help them access, evaluate, and use the information they find. We cannot feed information to children from “Teaching Machines” like what was in the 1899 postcard and what Skinner projected. It didn’t work in the 50s or the 90s. It won’t work now. This is dangerous for our children and our society.

Our children need caring and compassionate classrooms that encourage independent, creative and collaborative work. Technology is changing rapidly. We don’t need to go backwards and plug our children into machines.They will do that on their own but they need guidance in a different way. They need to know what is happening with their data. Schools protect student data, but adaptive learning systems sell the data to third party companies. Consider all the free social media and other programs available that collect data from you. You probably are aware when you sign in to certain programs, they know you and your data. But you might not have known that your child’s data including social security numbers and health concerns are being sold to third parties. This is dangerous! It will get even more dangerous if the government funds it and encourages the use of adaptive learning systems without some oversight.

Teachers need to know how to facilitate a different kind of learning environment that is flexible, personal, and creative. Personalized learning means that learners own and drive their learning not the technology using algorithms based on performance that controls learning. Learners need to learn how to think on their own. This will not happen if adaptive learning systems control how and what they learn. It is personal now! Let’s all work together and do the right thing for our children. Teach them to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Show them that they can drive their learning so they can reach their fullest potential.


Reflections on Change and Learning

I find myself in an interesting time in my life. I could retire but I don’t want to. This is an exciting time where all the efforts I’ve taken for years to change education are starting to come together. I can taste it, smell it, and feel it. I’m working with schools around the world and the issue seems to be the same.

There are a few pockets of excellence but we tend to still be embedded and entangled in a system of traditional education. The questions I get from teachers all over the world have the same tone:

  • how do I give students voice and choice when I am accountable for their learning?
  • how do I become a co-designer with students who don’t want to be at school?
  • what if I transform a lesson and it fails?


I can go on but the issue seems to be about trust.

  • Does the administration trust that the teacher will meet all the required curriculum?
  • Does the teacher trust that their students will do the work?
  • Do the students trust the teacher to teach them what they need to know?


I have been thinking about this for a long time. Kathleen McClaskey and I as co-founders of Personalize Learning, LLC were brought together because we needed to be. Both of us were going in similar directions fighting this issue alone. Our mutual friend, Julie Duffield, brought us together several years ago. We created a chart defining what Personalized Learning is and is not in January 2012 and then from all the feedback, we updated the PDI Chart this March 2013. It has changed our lives.

After we created a process with the Stages, we started getting interest from schools, districts, regions, states, and companies. We opened a pandora box. We created an eCourse about the What, Who, Where, Why, and Wow of Personalized Learning and are on our sixth session since February. It is more than exciting. Yesterday was our first session with 34 educators from around the world most from Australia. We are doing several sessions simultaneously. One with Kettle Moraine School District in Wisconsin. The questions and conversations are the same but they are getting deeper and more reflective.

So that’s why I thought it was time for me to reflect on everything that has happened the last 2 years. All I can say to teachers who venture down this road to turn the learning over to the learner so they own it, thank you! I am in awe at all you are doing. I am amazed when a school system says it’s time to rethink learning and change how we teach and learn. I want to thank Kathleen for sticking with me through this. We are fighting an uphill battle against structures and entities that have been entrenched in a system that is over 150 years old.

We wrote a post Learners NOT Students and the response was overwhelming — most good but a few educators got upset. What we and others are saying shakes up the system. It needs shaking up. My granddaughter is starting kindergarten this year and all I can think is Oh My — she’s so creative and the school will take that away from her. We have to give the learning back to our kids. They need to own it — drive it.

I cannot stop now. We cannot stop now. This is the time for a revolution like Sir Ken Robinson said in the latest Ted Talks Education along with Rita Pierson and others who talk about passion, interests, human interaction. Watch this and then we’ll get this revolution going and finally do it right for our kids.

Watch TED Talks Education on PBS. See more from TED Talks Education.


Driving My Way

Driving Stick ShiftI like to drive. I guess I like the control and know how I drive. I also drive a manual (stick) and love it. I was driving this morning to get to an appointment and realized that there were many cars with only one person (the driver) in the car.  The system rewards you if you carpool, but many of us don’t want to give up control to others especially strangers. I think I might have been one of very few driving a stick. At one point, I was cornered between a large truck and a slow car. I know you can do this with turbo-charged automatic cars, but I was able to downshift and maneuver to another lane easily. I did it safely and made it without causing any problems. Now if I had a passenger with me, they might have lost a little faith in me if I maneuvered like this without explaining what I was doing.

Now why am I saying this? and what does this mean in reference to learning?

When you allow someone else to drive, you are putting your faith in that person that they are a good driver and will protect you. It’s about trust. It is the same thing when you are a passenger on a plane. You trust the pilot to get you to your destination. And the airline will probably not let you fly the plane — :o

Trust is a big part of letting go. As a teacher, you are like driving the car and flying the plane. Your students trust you to get them to their destination — their learning goals or targets or whatever you are required to do.

“I remember sitting in one of my graduate class realizing that I already took the class with a different title. The notes were the same, the required text was the same, the professor was the same — that is, except the title of the course. I raised my hand and asked the professor if this could be the same course we took several quarters ago. He emphatically said “NO!! and please follow the lecture.”

That moment was the turning point for me as an educator and why I wanted to find ways to make learning personal. I quit that masters program and signed up for another. They were all the same. As a professional developer with a little background in coaching and building communities, I was required to take a course on coaching from someone I had coached. The system just wasn’t working for me. If it wasn’t working for me, then maybe it wasn’t working for many others.

What about the classroom today. The teacher is driving and responsible for all the learners in their classroom. They are given the manual and told what to teach. Let’s look at the learner today. They know how to drive their learning. They had to take control or they wouldn’t have walked or talked. They had to take the first step and fall and then get up again. Their parents couldn’t do it for them. The same with every word they learned.  If you get a chance to watch this Ted Talk from Deb Roy about the Birth of a Word, you get it. We are the observers.

His child would eventually learn how to say “water” his way. Why and when did we think we could teach everyone the same thing at the same time? Why is it that someone who can demonstrate mastery of a skill is required to learn that skill or content over again?

Times are changing. Put yourself in the passenger seat of someone’s car that you are not sure how they drive. Do you trust them? Put yourself in a class where you are learning content you already know and the teacher is driving the instruction. Now how do you feel?


Mindset for the New Year

I have a growth mindset– anyway, that’s what I thought. I believe that anyone can grow and change. I learned that the brain is plastic — they call it neuroplasticity. That means you can change your brain. In reading, Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” people have either a growth or a fixed mindset. Dweck states that everyone is born with a growth mindset and potential to do whatever they want to do. Fixed mindsets happen from experiences and relationships that keep them from believing in themselves. They might give up easily because, for some reason, they don’t think they can do it.

In an interview on Education World, Dweck discusses mastery-oriented qualities.

“There is no relation between students’ abilities or intelligence and the development of mastery-oriented qualities. Some of the very brightest students avoid challenges, dislike effort, and wilt in the face of difficulty. And some of the less bright students are real go-getters, thriving on challenge, persisting intensely when things get difficult, and accomplishing more than you expected.


This is something that really intrigued me from the beginning. It shows that being mastery-oriented is about having the right mind-set. It is not about how smart you are. However, having the mastery-oriented mind-set will help students become more able over time.”

I just read George Couros’ great posts More Mindset than Skill Set and More about Mindset and Learning where he shares stories about an 82 year old woman who wanted to learn how to play the cello so she took lessons. It didn’t matter that she was 82. She knew she could learn something she always wanted to do. He shared about his father who had a limited formal education, but was willing to learn new things. George showed his father using an iPad to communicate with his grandchildren. If you want to do something and you have a growth mindset, you can do it. It really is not about talent. All of us have some talents, but if we don’t believe we can do something or don’t believe in ourselves, we might not take the risks to change.

So why did I ask about having both mindsets? I am usually very optimistic with a glass more than half full. Sometimes the glass is running over. I read Public Agenda file: a Mission of the Heart: What Does it Take to Transform a School? that talked about “transformers” and “copers.”  This is about leaders either being one or the other. Transformers have an explicit vision of what their school might be like and bring a “can do” attitude to their job. Copers are typically struggling to avoid being overwhelmed. They don’t have the time or freedom, or for some perhaps, the inclination to do more than try to manage their situation.

Growth mindset = transformer. Or does it? What if you have a “can do” attitude and believe that anything can be done, but feel overwhelmed with your situation. The situation may make you question if you can “do” something especially during a stressful time.  I know administrators that are very optimistic with most activities, but have trouble coping with or managing specific situations.

I believe I have a growth mindset and so do so many teachers I work with. However, some may have trouble coping in specific situations. Teachers have so much on their plates. Some days, they are overwhelmed, because there is just not enough time in the day to do everything. That’s how I feel some days. It doesn’t mean that I have a fixed mindset, but I may have a situational “mindset.” I want to do something about this. I like that I am optimistic. I always believed I had a growth mindset, but wasn’t sure what it was called before. I want to be able to handle most situations and continue to be optimistic.

So instead of resolutions for the New Year, I’m looking at setting my mindset to a growth mindset. If I get overwhelmed with any situation, I’m going to pause and reflect on how I feel. I just have to focus and believe in myself.

What about you? What is your mindset? Why not make 2013 the year that you can do anything you put your mind to do?


Didn't we do this already?

It’s Sunday and a great time to reflect on the last week. All I can say is that it was a whirlwind. Working 12-14 hours every day on Race to the Top proposals, refining our process, talking to different groups about what is and what isn’t personalized learning. The talk always goes back to technology.

It’s not about the technology. It’s about the philosophy you embrace around personalizing learning.

If it’s all about the learner and starting with them, then everything about teaching and learning changes. Technology supports personalizing learning but should not be the focus.

Just putting technology in teachers’ and learners’ hands doesn’t mean they know how to personalize learning. I remember the early days of technology in schools. I believe the late 80s and early 90s, schools built labs called CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction) such as Computer Curriculum Corporation, Success Maker and others.

Old Computer LabAs a technology consultant during those times, I was asked to help build those labs. Most of these labs were built in high poverty schools in rooms that weren’t made for computers. Even the electricity in some of these older buildings couldn’t handle the capacity. They would string together extension cords from other classrooms and hold them in place with duct tape. In some rooms, we had to step over the cord that was 2 feet high. There were some rooms where they moved the computers next to the heaters. Actually, that didn’t matter, because the heaters didn’t work. I needed the work at that time, and that’s where all the money was going. One lab with 50 computers and the software took all the technology budget. There was no money left for training. Only enough to train a paraprofessional who managed the lab. There was no integration with any curriculum in the classrooms.

I observed these labs. Kids loved them in the beginning because it was new, interactive, and included games. They loved the idea of playing in school. The paraprofessionals collected the data and shared with the administration. Scores were going up. The kids rotated through the lab once or twice a week.

But after about six months, kids started talking about how boring it was. One third grade told me that it didn’t matter how he answered the questions so he just hit any key to make it go to the next screen. Scores were at a plateau then dropping. Dropping all over. All the labs. Everywhere. Few years later, the labs were changed. They took off the headphones and brought in technology teachers. Teachers with credentials. Only issue I saw was that they were prep teachers. This meant that there tended to be very little integration of what was happening in the classroom to what was happening in the labs. I know so many of these fantastic computer teachers who did amazing projects. When I was asked to come in, work with the computer teachers, and help integrate technology into the classrooms. Classroom teachers were so busy teaching the curriculum that they didn’t have time or the energy to take the work in the lab and connect it to the classroom. So once again, the work in the labs stood alone and was mostly focused on building isolated technology skills. But there were some amazing computer teachers and librarians who found ways to integrate the skills with projects happening in the classroom.

So now fast forward to today and learning labs to support blended learning rotations. The labs look similar to the CAI of the past and, yes, the scores are improving.

Rocketship Education

But the real learning that is needed seems to be lost. In some of these environments, the student to teacher ratio has increased because the computers “individualize” the student’s learning and they don’t need as many teachers. Maybe that’s how or why schools are looking at this solution — to save money. Based on algorithms and data, teachers keep track of performance and work with individual students to respond to intervention — to increase scores based on standardized tests. This may sound good to some people, however, to prepare our children for the global workforce, they need different skills then they acquire sitting in front of computers like this. It just cannot be about the scores.

The skills needed for today’s jobs include:

  • collaboration and teamwork
  • problem-solving
  • critical-thinking
  • creativity and innovative thinking
  • choosing and using the appropriate resources for a task
  • building a network of learners locally and globally
  • learning how to learn, unlearn, and relearn


Computer labs like the ones some schools are building to blend learning are fitting learning into strict schedules: 20 minutes at one station then move to another station. Real learning doesn’t work that way. We did this already, and it didn’t work. Now we have mobile technology and learning can happen anytime anywhere. Let’s rethink this strategy before we invest millions again into set labs with desktop computers that are just trying to increase scores and use curriculum that adapts to their performance based on algorithms instead of how they learn best.

Personalizing learning needs to be social. It starts with the learner not the technology. Real learning encourages play, creativity, experimenting, taking risks. Learning is supposed to challenge the learner and that cannot happen if they don’t have a stake in it. Learners have a stake in their learning if they have a voice in their learning and are motivated and engaged in the learning. Learners just cannot own and drive their learning when they sit in front of a computer with headphones on clicking through adaptive activities that keep track of their keystrokes.


Reflecting on Reflection

Reflection is a powerful tool. Today I woke up and wondered why I haven’t written a post in so long. I paused, thought about it, and realized my life has been spinning the last two months. Usually the words just come to me, but these past months have me working every minute. I am a co-founder of Personalize Learning, LLC with Kathleen McClaskey. We are being written into many Race to the Top applications around the country. My eCoach has been approached to support different groups Communities of Practice, so that is growing at the same time. It’s very exciting, but I need to write about ideas that may not be about the work I do. I love to write. These ideas come to me, and I need to put them down. Even if I am working 20 hours a day, I need to stop, pause, and reflect.

So reflecting on reflection came to me. Actually reflecting means capturing the moment when it happens.  Today is the day for me to capture the moment.  First a quote:

Reflection is what allows us to learn from our experiences: it is an
assessment of where we have been and where we want to go next.
~ Kenneth Wolf

For the last two months, Kathleen and I have been writing every day supporting different RTT-D applications. The last week, we have been bombarded with calls from districts and consortiums of districts wanting our support. We are getting requests from schools and organizations from other countries. Today I need to stop and breathe and reflect. I use Gibb’s Model of Reflection:

Gibbs Model of Reflection

What happened?

Kathleen and I developed a model for personalizing learning over a four year period that meets the requirements of the Race to the Top application. We defined the differences between personalization vs differentiation vs individualization and ended up having Porvir in Brazil create an infographic in Portuguese around our chart that we translated in English. We were hired by Grant Wood AEA in Iowa to talk to their superintendents and now are doing a webinar overview, offering an eCourse and webinar series, and setting up a Community of Practice across the state. That was just the beginning. We are getting requests from all around the country and Mumbai, Singapore, and more.

What am a I thinking and feeling?

I am excited about the interest we are getting. Now about my feelings. I haven’t had time to reflect on everything that is happening so fast. This is good. Pausing. Reflecting. I think I got too excited about the interest and stopped thinking about me and what I love to do — write. This also made me think about kids today and all that is on their plates in school — especially middle and high school kids running from class to class in schools with crazy bell schedules. I need time to reflect. I don’t know how kids do it — starting and stopping thinking– thinking in one subject and then jumping into another subject.

Personalizing learning means creating time to reflect, pause, and have flexible schedules that allow for risk-taking and reflection. There is no time for risk-taking or reflection when you are preparing for a test or writing an application.

What’s good and bad about the experience?


Kathleen and I are revisiting and refining our model and process. It is getting better every day. I am excited about what we are coming up with and know there is still lots more to do. Every school, district, teacher, and learner is unique — there is no cookie-cutter answer to meet the needs of everyone involved.


My feelings are that I’m overwhelmed. Guess that’s the way kids feel daily. I get it. That’s why we are doing what we are doing. School does this same thing to kids that is happening to me right now. Overwhelmed. No time to think about thinking. I say that reflection is very important and needs to be part of every day. Pause. Think. Reflect. Write.

What sense can I make of the situation?

Kathleen and I complement each other. We both bring a lot to the table. I live in California where the education bubble burst some time ago. Professional development budgets crumbled and professional developers fight over the same dollar. I thought this was happening everywhere in the US. Kathleen, who lives in New Hampshire, opened my eyes to what is happening in New Hampshire: competency-based learning in all the high schools and 1:1 iPad schools in the Northeast. We interviewed leaders and transformational teachers and found CESA #1 in Southeastern Wisconsin where Jim Rickabaugh shared how there is co-teaching, learning plans, and learning changing. British Columbia is transforming learning across the province where Dave Truss shared about the Inquiry Hub. So much is happening in other places around the world. Why couldn’t it happen here in my backyard?

It can. It is but in pockets, but not the way I was hoping. Some large corporations are coming in and spouting that they can personalize learning by adapting the curriculum and blending learning with learning labs and algorithms. They can “Personalize” the learning for students. Sorry — but personalizing learning means starting with the learner — changing teacher and learner roles. That’s why we made our chart and had to do what we are doing. We see the importance of knowing how learners learn best using Universal Design for Learning principles which then changes teaching and learning. Motivation — Engagement — Voice. That’s what works. Technology can support this but not be the only thing that personalizes learning.  Whew!!  Pause. Reflect.

What else could I have done?

Take time off every day and pause. I need to stop and reflect every day somehow. When I write, it seems to put everything in perspective for me. I still write my column for CUE, but this site is for me to share my thoughts and findings. I will never go months again without writing something even if it is another reflection about my reflections.

If it arose again, what would I do?

Write on the calendar in big letters: Pause. Reflect today. 

It is important to capture and treasure every moment. This is my learning environment that is personal to me. I forgot that every day I am learning something new. How cool is that?