Sunday, March 29, 2020

Introducing the Personalized Learning Action Team!

Every single young person in America deserves the right to learn; it is arguably the most powerful tool a person can have. Schools take millions of Americans every year, all with different and unique backgrounds and goals, and prepare them to be responsible citizens able to sustain themselves in the world. With so many unique individuals aspiring for so many different futures, shouldn’t our education systems better reflect the particular paths that each of them take?
Recently, the Vermont State approved Act 77 to implement Personalized Learning in schools. This aims to make school more engaging and meaningful to students by focusing on their individual goals, styles, and abilities. To help students understand their strengths, there is the personalized learning planning process, centering around the student’s PLP (personalized learning plan). The PLP becomes a road map through which other aspects of personalization - independent study, standards based grades, and so on - can be tacked on.  Unfortunately, though, this adjustment has been long and difficult, and in some schools, this process does not meaningfully engage students. 


Why we exist:
The PLP is a solid framework, but many people don’t realize that. In part due to a lack of effective models to follow, school systems have struggled to implement the system. At Vergennes, many students waste time reserved for working PLPs and year end presentations or use it on other projects. The presentations (given at the end of the year) are supposed to represent a culmination of the personalized learning process. Instead, many presentations fall short of that goal - either forced or sarcastic, they fail to reflect a year's worth of learning and growth.
This is where the PLP action team comes in. Through a grant from the Vermont Agent of Education, we came into existence to try to improve the ways that personalized learning is implemented into the school environment. We are a collaboration between students and teachers working to make PLPs a tool that students and teachers can use to advance their own education. They should be relevant; most students don’t do them because they don't think they are valuable to them. But in order to do that, we have to first take a deeper look at the ideas that they stem from; namely, the idea of Personalization. 

But What Is Personalization Really?
    If you enter any educational setting, there is a good chance you’ll hear the terms “personalization” or “personalized learning.” The meaning of the term varies by context, from sales-people trying to sell a product to teachers trying to justify a curriculum, but what does it really mean? What is personalization, really?
    Put most simply, it is the idea that students should be able to tailor their learning to their individual needs. Personalization diverges from the conventionally rigid classroom environment, giving students a chance to excel in areas that they are passionate about while still getting the help they need elsewhere. This could be as simple as having multiple ways to demonstrate learning, or the ability to be an active member of the curriculum creation process, but it can also become more elaborate, ranging anywhere from opportunities for independent study projects to pursuing alternative educational frameworks, vocational or otherwise.

    In terms of actual structure, it has three main components: flexible pathways, personalized learning plans, and Proficiency Based Grading. Flexible Pathways give students multiple different methods of fulfilling any educational requirement, as opposed to a firm “one size fits all” learning structure. A Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) is an academic plan designed to improve a student’s learning process and experiences by giving them the ability to set-up their own paths to reach their goals. Proficiency Based Grading provides a way to assess learning that ensures that students are building off of the foundations of their previous learning, and indicates how far they have progressed on a standard. 
These three pieces are meant to make students be more conscious of their learning and progression through their school experience. 


What are we going to do about it?
The PLP Action team’s overarching goal is to improve the way personalization is implemented into the school environment. We want PLPs to become a relevant tool in the classroom and outside - not a distraction from learning. But this a broad agenda to pursue, and we are breaking the process into smaller steps.
As a result, we have been following the Action Research Cycle, a method used to implement change in a way that remains conscientious of information and community sentiment. So far we have visited several schools to gain valuable information about how they have already integrated personalized learning into their educational processes. Analysing that data and looking at how our community is set up will be a large part of the paths that we take to achieve our goals. 
We understand that this is a multi-year process. All change takes time, and we realize that the changes we will propose may not come next year or the year after that. But by starting the process now, we can set a strong foundation for personalized learning for the years to come, both inside the Vergennes school district and beyond

Why should you care?
You should care because this is about YOU. The school is a part of our community, and no matter what your role you play, be it as a student, a teacher, a community member, or otherwise, your influence affects their learning, and their learning affects their futures and the future of the world. Education is a powerful thing, and we must do our part as a community to provide today’s youth with the best we can.  

Accordingly, keep in tune for updates about community conversations and presentations near you. And always, if you have feedback or ideas, don't hesitate to email us at plpactionteam@anwsd.org