I had a little time on the 4th of July to reflect on the whole notion of Freedom in Education. Much of that reflection was focused on several discussions, both live and digital, I had over the last month on the overall state of education. A recent digital discussion on #edchat focused on personalization in education. My contention, as it has been for many years, is that it is important to personalize education within the context of the information being taught. Those of us who have a background in Reading recognize the transaction that occurs between the reader and the text. This transaction permits meaning to be understood and that meaning may be different from other readers. When higher level thinking skills are applied, the hope would be that the meaning becomes personalized enough that the book makes a difference and is not just added to some inner checklist of completed tasks. In the same way, other disciplines can be personalized so that the meaning stays with the student. We often refer to this as mastery learning.
Yet, there is still a group out there who says that pesonalization is not easy nor necessary to do. Students should learn the facts of the core curriculum and its standards, be able to pass the requisite tests, and move on to college. Some, usually those outside of education, want the passing rates of the tests tied to the overall evaluation of the teachers. Obivously, those folks have never read Isaac Asimov's "The Fun They Had" nor do they have a fundamental understanding of how teaching to the test does not encourage mastery learning. Here is another thought, why do all students have to move on to college immediately? Higher Education is taking new forms, many of which are online. So that line of thinking is outdated and detrimental to the development of the students.
Master teachers have personalized learning for generations naturally. They understand the needs of each student and are able to weave them into daily activities seamlessly. I am not speaking of some Montessori approach to learning, but the type of learning that goes on in the classrooms of these Master teachers. The information that is shared is applied to each student in a natural way that encourages a transaction between the two. When students own information, they know it at a depth that will not let it be easily forgotten. It does not take a lot of work on the part of the teacher, contrary to popular belief. It simply takes some time to reflect on each student and see what approach will help the most. I remember when I heard Ralph Metts, S.J. ask a group of administrators in the mid-1990s what would happen if each student in a typical classroom had an IEP. The general consensus was not positive. However, in many ways, he was right. The Master teacher does not have to write out goals and objectives though. That teacher simply needs to find the way to make the information come alive for the student. Tom Whitby and I spoke briefly about this at ISTE12. He remarked how Ralph was right and presented this notion before its time. But now, thanks to technology, we can shape education to make learning personal and real.
Jennifer Marten and I had a great discussion the other evening regarding the integration of technology into the lives of the students. All too often, our focus is on the integration of technology into the classroom, when the walls of the classroom have already fallen. Students have the ability to learn wherever they are. Talk about freedom in education. Flipped classrooms are an example of how that can happen. The technology is there. We, as teachers, need to recognize the freedom we now have in the structuring on learning. It is not something relegated to 45 minutes of direct instructional time and another 45 minutes of written work. Education should be as seamless as the flow of life. What do I mean by that? Imagine explaining the idea of heat, colors, and thermal reactions to a group of 11 year olds while watching fireworks. Now imagine doing that when the students are miles away from you and each other. That is having education flow throughout life.
We have the opportunity now to shift the idea of education in a way we never could before. Freedom is inherent to education from the context of the word's Latin roots; to lead forth Tom Whitby is absolutely right in saying we have the technology to personalize education for each child giving them freedom to learn anywhere. Jennifer Marten is right in suggesting that every teacher has the ability to recreate themselves and make an amazing impact on their students at any time. Ralph Metts, S.J. is right in that every student deserves to be taught with the individual in mind. So how do we get there? That, my friends, is a topic for another day!
May this summer be one that permits you to become the best you have ever been in all of your roles!