Friday, November 6, 2015

A Parent's View of Personalized Learning

I asked a parent of one of our first graders to share his perspective of PL.  His son was one of our students last year when we started PL and is now in the K/1 multi-age class.  Here is his father's side of the story :)

Just a little over a year ago, my wife and I met Carrie Mergen who seemed VERY enthusiastic; a good fit for a kindergarten teacher. She explained to us that they were going to try something "NEW" in kindergarten called PERSONALIZED LEARNING. She informed us that this is a whole "NEW" way of learning and that she had to forget the conventional way of teaching and fully embrace this process. She explained that Personalized Learning was a process of getting children involved in their own education, by teaching them to set "GOALS" and make a "PLP" (personal learning plan) to achieve these goals.  Once a child "MASTERS" a skill, they can then assist fellow students who may need additional help with these goals. Oh, did I mention that the kids can do all this at THEIR pace, HOWEVER & WHEREVER they see fit! I don't know about you, but the thought of a bunch of 5yr olds having that much freedom was SCARY!  It left me with a visual of unruly circus monkeys having a food fight! She did give us some assurance,though.  She told us that she'd told the principal if it's not better, I'm going back to the old way. Then asked us to trust her, and told us this COULD be really awesome.

I had no choice but to trust her and see where this would go. I had some real concerns with the unknown, mostly personal, more than with the process as a whole. Our son Landon from a young age has shown that he advanced in most areas.  Would this new Personalized Learning, with what seemed to be less structure than traditional teaching, really keep his interest in learning?  I didn't want to LOSE Landon, meaning, I didn't want him to get lost in what I perceived as a less structured learning environment.  If he did have questions or problems would he be able to get any additional help? If he was going to be helping other students learn, would he still be learning himself? How in the world do you keep 5yr olds from creating complete chaos?

Well it didn't take very long to see the answers to my questions.  Landon seemed to be well engaged in his learning process, coming home from school daily and telling us about where he was on his PLP's and what GOALS he had accomplished. When your 5yr old comes home and tells you, "I'm the count by 10's master and I helped a classmate learn how to count by 10's!" it gives you, as a parent, a great sense of pride.  Something else I noticed was that Landon was always striving to learn something NEW, which always kept him wanting more.  This also meant that Carrie also had to be on top of things to keep challenging Landon.  There never seemed to be a time when either of them were at a stalemate. Seeing that Landon was staying engaged was proof to me that personalized learning was a better process than the old "one shoe fits all" format of traditional teaching. Personalized learning also helps hold students accountable for their own actions, because the format gives them so much freedom to learn at their own pace.  There are rules in the classroom that must be followed and if the rules aren't followed there are Landon has even found out for himself.  By allowing students to learn at their own pace, and making them accountable for their actions, it actually creates a less disruptive environment!  So much for my concerns about "less structure."  This also allows the teachers to have more 1on1 time with students, whether it's because someone needs more help, or because someone needs to be challenged.

We have even seen the process of personalized learning in Landon outside of school.  It has taught him that he needs to come up with a plan (PLP) to achieve his GOALS. Here's an example that took me a couple days to realize myself:  I come home from work and Landon was on the computer.  He was on the LEGO website and said to me, "Dad, I would really like to get this LEGO set.  I have $35, so I need another $15 to be able to get it.  What can I do to get the other $15 so that I can get this LEGO set?"  At first, I just chalked it up to Landon telling me that I needed to chip in $15 so that he could get the LEGOS.  It was only after hearing Carrie explain personalized learning to another parent, who's not familiar with the platform, did I realize that Landon wasn't asking me to just chip in the rest of the money, he was asking me to help set his plan (PLP) to obtain his GOAL!

Being from the "one size fits all" school, of course I had my concerns and doubts.  After experiencing personalized learning with Landon all through last year and into this year, I can truly say that this is an AWESOME experience. My advice to all those who have the chance to experience personalized learning is....SIT BACK AND WATCH THE SHOW BECAUSE IT IS TRULY AWESOME!!

PS...Trust me even you are going to learn something too!!