May 2016

kegley100910stg1821Are you Prepared for the coming Personalized Learning Revolution?

You know it’s coming; surely I’m not the only one hearing the phrase and observing the initiatives happening everywhere across the breadth of all school systems and types.   As just one example, consider the extraordinary attention (and venture capital investment) that’s been devoted to the Alt School model, including a recent feature in the New Yorker.

As your school’s Director of Technology, Website, SIS, Curriculum, Studies, or Communications, or as its Registrar you already, or soon will, have a role to play in supporting and advancing this movement for your students.   Here are five questions to ask yourself to lay the groundwork and prepare for a smooth(er) transition.

  1. Have you Defined Its Meaning to Your School?

The term personalized learning entails and implies a lot of different things, and it’s never too soon to take the lead in clarifying and establishing what it means for your school. One source you could consider examining is the Gates Foundation which has created what they call personalized learning’s four pillars:

  • learners’ strengths and weaknesses are profiled;
  • students are encouraged along a personal learning path;
  • students progress by acquiring competencies;
  • and school environments support the learning goals.

Another resource is the 2010 National Ed Tech Plan, which carefully compares and differentiates the terms personalization, differentiation, and individualization of learning, and defines personalization as a term effectively encompassing all three approaches, saying it is

Instruction paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and adapted to the specific interests of different learners.   In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary.    

  1. How thoroughly do you know your students and their learning needs and preferences?

As it is explained in a Center for Digital Education report on Personalized Learning (Creating a Relevant Learning Culture for the Next Generation), “Teachers will be guiding learners to learn and use the skills they need to select the path for learning based on their interests, talents and aspirations, and to choose the appropriate tools to meet their learning goals.”

51b7PE7MbrL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_To do so effectively, educators need more information than they have now about students’ strengths, needs, interests, and opportunities for growth.   A simple once-a-year standardized test of math and ELA isn’t going to provide enough information.   Schools will have to think about whether to do more formative and interim testing and benchmarking (as is provided by the NWEA MAP test), add in noncognitive skills and SEL assessments to ensure those areas area also being attended to, and do more interviews and surveys of students to help identify their passions and preferences for instructional modality.


All this information, which can be labeled a Personal Learning Profile (Bray and McClaskey, Make Learning Personal), will require a vehicle or platform for organization, storage, and ready access; another thing which technology directors are doubtless already thinking about and working on. (more…)

I had the honor and pleasure of addressing the graduating class of City High School  (AZ) last night, as a member of its Board of its Directors.

Poet, math whiz, kind and compassionate friend, science enthusiast, rapper, headed to engineering-college, record company intern, someone extremely patient and generous with others.

Perhaps you think that with these labels I’m describing many different individuals in this graduating class, but some of you have probably already realized I’m not: all of those descriptors are for just a single graduate sitting here today. And he’s not an exception. Here’s another single student: Artist, farmer, social activist, coffee connoisseur, techie geek, foodie.

I could continue in this vein for each member of the class, and I wish I had the time to do so. Because of the kind of education these graduates have experienced at City High, and because of the kind of young person City attracts, every graduate sitting here today could be described this way, as utterly and uniquely diverse in the breadth and depth of his or her interests, activities, and strengths.

And yet—problematically, for far too long far too many have had the wrong view of our human individuality.   There’s a famous story from 1945, for instance, when a Cleveland doctor, after collecting data about nine physical dimensions from 15,000 women, created a statue of what he called the “ideal girl,” with every part of the statue made to match the exact average of each dimension —“Norma” he named the statue, to represent her “perfect” normalcy.

downloadNorma went viral, in our terms (though not in the language of 1945) . She was the “perfect woman”—the standard all others should aspire to and be judged by, it was said in magazines nationally.   They then conducted a search for the actual human woman who most perfectly matched Norma’s dimensions, a contest 4000 women participated in.   Although the judges expected the contest to come down to a few millimeters difference in just one of the nine dimensions, they were proven deeply mistaken.   None of the 4000 were even near average in all nine, or even eight of the dimensions, and just a handful in six or seven. What would you guess: how many of these 4000 women was at or near the average in even five of those nine dimensions? 40, just 40 out of 4000 were average in even five!  There is no average person, we’ve learned—there is no such thing– —and there is no reason whatsoever to view the mythical idea of an average as an ideal.

Because we are all creatures representing an enormous number of different dimensions: not just physical but intellectual, social, emotional, and many many more, and because there are very little correlations between these many different dimensions—which is to say each dimension is unrelated to each other, that to be very tall has nothing to do with whether you are very thin; that to be very perceptive about other people’s feelings has nothing to do with whether you are very good at solving math problems— none of are Normas, none of us are normal or regular, clean and square in all our many dimensions. Instead, we are all, we might say, “jagged” in our shape, outlying the norm is so many ways. (more…)

Reposted from a piece I wrote for Getting Smart, May 23, 2016

51aje84UleL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Can we grow grit in ourselves and others? And if so, how best might we do so?

Since grit grew to great heights of public awareness in the early 2010s thanks to a combination of magazine articles, best-selling books and TED talks, its significance has preoccupied many educators. Dr. Angela Duckworth’s research struck a nerve, secured her a MacArthur genius grant and launched a million conversations across the nation.

Many educators have appreciated seeing their common-sense beliefs being ratified by scientific research; many also have appreciated that the attention given to grit has led to an expanded recognition of the significance of character strengths and noncognitive skills in general.

On the other hand, some thoughtful educators believe we might be blaming students for their own lack of grit, trading in stereotypes of race and class, and/or perpetuating a Horatio Alger myth. Accordingly, it is essential we carefully weigh this counter-narrative in our judgments and actions when promoting grit.

But for some, the buzz about grit was only appetite whetting—drawing us in but not filling us up. OK, so grit is great—what do we do about that fact? Knowing its importance is barely half the battle: what we really need to know is how to grow it in ourselves and others.

Grow Your Grit From Within

Understandably then, readers are flocking to the recent publication of Dr. Duckworth’s first book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. At the time of this writing, it is the eleventh bestselling book overall on Amazon and second on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.

Dr. Duckworth is to be congratulated: her historical review and scientific research about this somewhat complex psychosocial construct is rendered in extremely accessible language and colored by warm personal stories. Convincingly she articulates the value of grit for success, provides illustrative examples and— most importantly— points the way for educators and others to understand how grit can indeed be grown in children and adults alike. (more…)

Download your free eBookJust out is a new e-book I prepared for client organization ProExam; it can be found and downloaded for free at this link (registration required).

It’s about 20 pages, and provides big picture guidance for leaders and administrators on communicating the urgency of Social and Emotional Learning, defining your terms in your school or district, considering two approaches to embedding whole child education in the curriculum, and exploring the role of formative assessment and standardized measurement for this work.

Enjoy, and please let me know any feedback you might have.