Roundtable on Personalised Learning (through the BCASCD)

Introduction

On Thursday, November 3rd, 2011, members of the Metro Vancouver education community from a range of perspectives met to address the big questions around Personalised Learning.  As an organization, BCASCD promotes the exemplary practices in curriculum and develops leadership and professional capacity for the success of all learners.  As such, a roundtable on Personalised Learning was held.  The executive invited educators from a range of districts and on various pathways of their careers in education, including student-teachers, classroom teachers, district support teachers, vice-principals, principals, district principals, post-secondary teacher-educators, and senior administrators.

Four areas around Personalised Learning were discussed, with the intent of creating a working document demonstrating what Personalised Learning may look like at a class, school, district and provincial level.  These areas were: stakeholders, structures, general competencies, skills and knowledge, and assessment and reporting.  From these discussions, the following ideas emerged.

Stakeholders: Who are they? What are their needs?

Five major stakeholders were identified: students/parents/families; educators; future employers; other provinces, regions, countries; and the local community.  Other stakeholders were discussed; however, these five formed the basis of the discussion and were identified as the unifying groups that needed to be involved with the direction on Personalised Learning within the province of British Columbia.

  • Students/Parents/Families

This group of stakeholders held the highest level of importance, as it is the students that will be greatly impacted by changes within the education system.  Concerns around their understanding of Personalised Learning and the support needed for this group will be the guiding decision of whether Personalised Learning is successfully implemented within the education system.  The high variety of needs requires a support system that creates a network to allow this group feel connected to the process; giving them the resources, materials and skill sets to fully implement Personalised Learning.  This will take time for a conceptual shift in the understanding of what schools could be.

  • Educators

Educators will be the main engine to propel Personalised Learning into a reality.  This will require difficult conversations around class size and composition (see competencies) and the development and creation of specific environments around work spaces/places for learning.  It was noted that discussions around the implementation would require a lot of professional development, time, resources and materials and an ongoing support network to empower the educators to become confident and have a greater understanding of what this looks like in the classroom.  Again, time and money for the ongoing learning to become specialized educators will require a huge effort from all stakeholders to support educators during the initial growing pains of implementing such a wide spread reform.  An important component of this group will be the support from the teachers’ union.

  • Future Employers

This group of stakeholders will be required to clearly state their needs when it comes to understanding the shift in skill sets for hiring, including abilities.  They include not only the employer, but the unions and the work force as a whole.

  • Community

The local community (including private sector, public sector, and non-governmental agencies and charitable organizations) will need to be consulted and included in discussions and difficult conversations around the needs and beliefs of schooling.

  • Other provinces, regions and countries

As public education does not survive in a space void of the interactions of the rest of the world, British Columbia needs to include visions, ideas, and goals of a wider society.  This does not just include foreign (or out of province) labour forces, but guiding principles around global citizenry.

Competencies/skills/knowledge: What are the ‘must-haves’?  What are the ‘would-like-to-haves’?

The main concepts that emerged through discussions were the necessity of including student voice to the curriculum.  This may include student input into curriculum choices, matching outcomes with processes rather than products and developing inquiry-based learning, to foster self-authorship with students.  Knowledge, processes and competencies need to connect with each student to foster core engagement and processes.

Discussion around core competencies revolved around the importance of developing critical thinking citizens who will continue to learn throughout their lives and fostering intrinsic motivation.  Language and literacy concepts should be expanded to include all core literacies:  mathematics, science, computer, health and English/French.  Students, once they achieve their Dogwood diploma, should have an appreciation of learning, citizenship and world knowledge, along with collaborative skills and theories of knowledge and mind.

Many questions arose in the discussion including finding the indicators demonstrating students’ ownership of their learning and what structures create obstacles to put this in place.  In some instances, teacher education programmes may be too progressive for current, real experiences in schools.

Assessment/Reporting:  How does Personalised Learning change reporting schedules, assessments (AFL) and student engagement?

  • Schedules

The concept of student choice and the provision of more flexible schedules (including the possibilities year-round schooling, out of school learning for credit, etc) were discussed.  Areas that need to be addressed when looking at schedules include a more responsive system.  These include greater social responses, global and cultural understandings, stewardship and healthy living.  Reporting schedules need to be more flexible and responsive to students’ needs and deadlines for reporting need to be changed.

  • Personalised Learning/Assessment

Within the concept of personalised learning, there needs to be an emphasis, but not to the exclusion of other areas, on ethics, collaboration, innovation, digital literacy and critical thinking and problem solving skills.  Providing choice for students to increase student engagement is key.  The concept of assessment for learning and ongoing, formative assessment strategies need to be embedded within teacher training and actualized within every classroom.  Students, themselves, need to know how to assess their own learning/progress.

Structures: What are the environmental/space/time requirements?

Positive, current and progressive structures that are already in place to support each student’s learning were discussed as was the need to incorporate new ideas in what schools look like.  Current examples include The Hub (Surrey) where health services, teachers, recreation and counseling are provided for students who are particularly at risk.  Under the philosophy of 21st Century Learning and Personalised Learning, there needs to be involvement of all the stakeholders within a community with flexible scheduling and some distributed learning.  By knowing our learners and understanding who needs other options, we can provide choice for all students including early graduation, entry into trades, improved technology training and building relationships.

Focusing on the students, the group discussed issues and challenges for students.  These include the challenge of the lack of predictability, student collaboration and the importance of building relationships between peers, teachers and educators and others within the community.  There needs to be increased programmes and funding to meet the needs of vulnerable children (including, but not limited to, behavioural challenged, gifted, those in poverty, etc).

The structures that are in place need to change to address issues around engagement, sense of belonging, and building community.  The physical structures need to include the community and be open for school/space use and versatility within the community.

For teachers and educators, there needs to be ongoing professional development (with time and funds to support this) which may include a portfolio demonstrating educational development/growth over time.  Teachers need time to plan within a structured schedule to allow for differentiated instruction and programmes that support each learner.  This could be peer-supported to help decrease student-teacher ratios (to reduce the need to know 200 learners in the secondary school model currently).  With this professional development, the move towards student driven/focused instruction would be supported, especially with the increase of use of technology and software (to move away from the attitude that “I do not do technology”.

Although this first roundtable discussion focused on four areas of Personalised Learning, many questions remain, including how do we put it into practice.  The BCASCD would like to thank all the members of the roundtable for their insight, knowledge, and time in delving into these issues.

If you have any questions or thoughts, please comment!

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