“I am still learning.” Michelangelo, age 87
Conversations about personalized learning are increasing throughout the education community. The language, frequently a matter of semantics*, includes adaptive, rigorous, customized, and paced. Many of these assertions come from the technology sector that continues to leverage research in support of their personalized learning tools. Yet, the evidence of positive effects varies by program design, content area, local implementation, and more. (Herold, 2016, Pane, 2017)
Learning by its very nature is active and inclusive. Assessment too is intended to be a reciprocal and dynamic process (see assidere) rather than solitary periods of time with an electronic tutor.
Everything is Personal
Every experience, event, and interaction with others passes through our limbic system, the emotional center of our brain, that immediately decides whether something, including learning and assessment, is beneficial and enjoyable, or too difficult, dangerous, or boring. Stress and fear can activate a student’s primal flight or fight response, adversely affecting learning outcomes.
Each person sees the world through their individual lens that is formed from experiences, beliefs, and feelings. Assessment, when considered through the lens of personalization, may be feasible or daunting. For a teacher, designing and scoring 22 different versions of an assessment is unimaginable. On the other hand, there are practical ways to personalize assessment without activating students’ or teachers’ fight or flight response.
Not Everything is Within Our Control
Think about the things educators can control: Lesson sequences, instructional strategies, seating configurations, and classroom routines. Students too, can recognize what is within their skill set and sphere of influence. These insights lead to self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-confidence. However, teachers cannot control a student’s home life, their mental health, abuse, fear, trauma, or poverty: Students can’t either. Nor can artificial intelligence respond to emotions in real time.
Personalized assessment engages learners by linking standards to local learning intentions, relying on meaningful learning routines, monitoring progress, and modifying learning based on informative feedback from peers, teachers, and specialists. Personalized processes include:
Scaffolding begins with what students know and supports them as they move towards deeper understanding and greater independence. Scaffolding includes chunking learning, activating prior knowledge, and using multimodal exemplars. For example, if students are expected to calculate the area of a rectangle but haven’t quite grasped the concept yet, they can begin by drawing a grid of one-inch squares and counting the boxes. “The Boy Who Loved Words” is an ELA example of embedding new vocabulary throughout teaching and learning.
Student Choice in displaying learning as it relates to and supports explicit outcomes and objectives. For one student 10 multiple choice questions and a brief paragraph may be feasible. A more independent student may choose 10 fill in the blank and a graphic organizer to show their comprehension. Students can also show their expertise through press releases, illustrated guides, or multimedia presentations. Scoring is based on benchmarks such as content, organization, and conventions of writing.
Sequencing of assessment means arranging assessments that start with basic foundations and then proceed to higher levels of learning. In doing so, students can decide (or in some cases, teacher indicates) where to stop when they have responded to the required number of questions at each level of complexity. This allows students to safely stretch beyond their comfort level without serious consequences.
Autonomy increases when students define personal learning intentions, develop actionable and timely learning plans, and have options for displaying learning. When showing their understanding of text complexity, younger children can decide how they would like to explain or demonstrate the who, what, or where of their reading. Older students can use words or visuals to analyze and unpack how a character changes and ideas unfold over time. A checklist or rubric supports consistent self, peer, and teacher appraisal. (Note: Autonomy requires structure, sequence, expectations, and opportunities in support of choice.)
In Summary: Assessment that is Personalized, Purposeful, and Practical
*Is consistent and aligned with standards, learning intentions, and outcomes.
*Involves modeling and teaching the skills of self-assessment.
*Engages and empowers learners in assessment
*Incorporates variable process and expression of learning.
*Provides realistic yet achievable levels of challenge.
*Relies on formative guidance that informs the next steps for both students and teachers.
Quality assessment supports and guides flexible groupings, identifies and intervenes in lingering gaps, and records progress towards goals. Technology can have a role in quality assessment, but it is not the primary resource.
Proceed with the 3 Cs: Caution, Care, and Common Sense
There are already many educational initiatives and reforms demanding our attention: Mastering new learning management systems, frequent reauthorizations of ESEA, project-based and experiential learning, and a myriad of life skills such as collaboration, metacognition, and technological fluency. Each new initiative (1) contributes to initiative fatigue. Instead, slow down and consider ways to blend personalized assessment into existing routines. Be sure to encourage and support students as partners in learning.
(1) The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent billions on teacher preparation, educational inequality, and coherent standards; other initiatives include teacher retention, increased technology in school, charter schools, redesign of learning spaces but admit these initiatives haven’t resulted in the expected improvements.
Applying your learning to this image (or select a video in your content area):
The learning intention: Utilize proper form to hit a golf ball a specified distance
Analyze the student’s strategy based on the learning intentions and criteria
What modifications to performance would you recommend?
How would you quantify and qualify the learners progress?
How can your transfer this learning to your setting?
Herold, B. (2016) https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/10/19/personalized-learning-what-does-the-research-say.html
Pane, J. F. (2017) https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2016/06/08/personalized-learning-trendy-and-true/
(1) Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: https://www.edweek.org/ew/collections/personalized-learning-special-report-2014/a-working-definition.html
* Semantics The language used (as in advertising or politics) to achieve a desired effect on an audience especially through the use of words with novel or dual meanings https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/semantics
Extend your thinking: