Learner Profiles Lead to Agency and Self-Advocacy in a WI High School

Guest Post by Andelee Espinosa, Special Education Teacher, Brookfield Central High School, Brookfield, WI

During the spring of 2017, about 20 teachers at my school did a book study on, “How to Personalize Learning,” by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey. This was during a time when our district was just beginning to use the words personalized learning. Elements of personalized learning were creeping into classrooms and there was confusion about what our instruction was supposed to look like. As a high school Special Education teacher who co-teaches and case manages, I planned along side my co-teacher, Mike Mohammed (@Mo_physics), and we moved toward more Project Based Learning opportunities. I observed quickly where the pitfalls for learners with disabilities, or executive function deficits, were in a personalized learning environment and designed specifically for them in the classroom. The main area that I saw amplified as a pitfall was agency.


Learner Profiles: My Personal Entry into Personalized Learning

As we had planned for in the past, there were supports in place for organization, means to access the content and differentiated content as appropriate. However, now learners were being given choices and freedom in how they learned but they couldn’t clearly identify who they are as learners in order to make choices that set them up for success while still encouraging growth through challenges. If our learners are going to be having more choice in their education, they were going to need to be able to articulate, with confidence, what their strengths and challenges are and advocate for supports that help them. After reading the book, there was one chapter that really spoke to me. That was on Learner Profiles in Chapter 4 “Discover the Learner in Every Child” of How to Personalize Learning.

Since beginning my career nearly 20 years ago, I have always made sure my high school learners had an active voice in their IEP meetings, often leading the discussion. This involvement looked different for each learner but I always felt it was critical to building ownership, agency and self-advocacy skills. After reading about Learner Profiles, I knew my personal entry point into personalized learning. I became a fast adopter of the “Who I Am As a Learner” Part 1 and 2 charts.

Learner Profile Leads to Agency and Self-Advocacy 

Today, each child on my caseload has a Learner Profile that we update yearly, sometimes twice a year. Depending on the individual, this process is done interview style or through a conversation. Some of my more independent learners who are familiar with the process are able to fill out the checklists independently and populate their chart using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express (aligned to the Universal Design for Learning Principles). Brad’s Learner Profile below is an excellent example of what a learner is able to share about who they are, how they learn (strengths, challenges, preferences and needs) and what they aspire to be.

brads learner profile

This document is updated before I even begin writing their annual IEP and it’s where real conversations about hopes and dreams, strengths and challenges, and what helps them learn take place. Aligning my IEP writing to the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express allowed the Learner Profile to seamlessly fit into my practice. I find the Learner Profile has allowed learners to have a greater voice during their meetings and therefore become better advocates for themselves in the classroom. This advocacy piece is so important as I prepare them for life after public school when they are completely on their own.

Rethinking IEP Meetings and Goals – Learners Lead

IEP meetings start with the learner introducing the team.

After receiving feedback from a parent that meetings are often overwhelming because of the number of people, I implemented name placards. The learner creates them, often just using laminated card stock and dry erase markers. They each create a Google slide deck that takes the team through all the parts of the IEP but we begin with hopes and dreams first: whatever that post-secondary goal is. Therefore, the learner and I take the team through the Post-Secondary Transition Plan (PTP) which defines the goal. As the highlight of the meeting, we move into the Learner Profile which is projected on a screen at the front of the conference room and team members are given hard copies. As the learners get older and have gone through this process multiple times, they have been known to find a variety of ways to personally communicate who they are as a learner using sketchnoting, videos or presentations. By the time the learner is done explaining their Learner Profile, much of the strengths, challenges, present level of performance and supplementary aids and services have been addressed in an engaging manner. The team discusses progress towards IEP goals but within the context of how those goals support the hopes and dreams of the learner.

Our Why with learner profiles

The Learner Profile is a powerful document which isn’t just used during the IEP development but as a communication tool between learners and their classroom teachers. This document is shared with general education teachers at the beginning of the term, in addition to the paperwork I also provide to make sure accommodations are being provided. I’ve used the creation of the Learner Profile as part of the specially designed instruction provided to address self-advocacy or executive functions.

The process of learners creating their own Learner Profiles is one that creates agency and promotes self-advocacy.

 

Andelee Espinosa

Andelee Espinosa (@AndeleeEspinosa) is a Special Education Teacher at Brookfield Central High School, Brookfield Wisconsin and a National Board Certified Teacher.  She is passionate about meaningful inclusive practices, Universal Design for Learning, Personalized Learning, strengthening co-teaching teams, utilizing Learner Profiles to help learners better advocate for themselves in the classroom and conducting learner-led IEP meetings. She enjoys integrating activities that promote collaboration, critical thinking and communication such as BreakoutEDU and Project Based Learning in her classes. In addition to case managing, she co-teaches Biology and Physics. Outside of school, Andelee has been involved in Destination Imagination and enjoys spending time getting dirty in her butterfly garden or cooking with local and seasonal ingredients.

Follow her on Twitter: @AndeleeEspinosa and on LinkedIn.

To keep on top of her inclusive learning practices, check out Andelee’s Blog.

The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express is a trademark of Kathleen McClaskey

A Learner with Agency is a Learner Who is Future Ready!

 

What should we promise our learners as they walk through the schoolhouse door each day? What can you promise them this year and every year? The answer is simply “Learner Agency”! If your vision and beliefs as an educator is to assure that every child becomes an independent, self-directed learner so that they have choices in college, career, and life, then how do you plan to fulfill the promise of learner agency? Let’s take a look at some ideas that could get you to that promise, but before we do, let’s dive deeper into what it is, what it looks like and why it should be our promise!

 

What is Learner Agency?

In the most simple terms, Learner Agency is “the power to act”. It is about empowering each learner to take ownership to their learning, to have a voice and choice in their learning with the understanding and ability to take action around their learning. Learner agency flourishes in learning-centered environments where the classroom culture is build on trust, respect, and mindfulness and where learners are co-designers of learning alongside their teacher. As you are creating a culture of agency, the most important thing to remember is there is a process to create a classroom culture where the learner is at the center, empowered to take action of their learning. It is most important for you to understand what this process looks like from the perspective of the learner. Discover this and more in the Crosswalk of Learner Agency Across the Stages (see below).

 

What Learner Agency Looks Like

In 2016, How to Personalize Learning was published where we decided to include an entire chapter on learner agency. In Chapter 3 we included the 7 Elements of Learner Agency along with a set of illustrated continuums and descriptions for each of the elements: Voice, Choice, Engagement, Motivation, Ownership, Purpose and Self-efficacy. The infographic below was created from the “Crosswalk of Learner Agency Across the Stages” chart in How to Personalize Learning. It is designed to provide insight of what the learner is doing in each of the 7 elements of learner agency across the Stages of Personalized Learning Environments (PLE), v. 5.

In whatever stage that you are in, consider using this chart as a way to self-assess what is happening with your learners and to appreciate that each learner is unique in the way that they learn and at the pace in which they are developing agency in their learning. But where do we begin to understand the uniqueness of each learner? The first step is for learners to create their Learner Profile using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ so that they can articulate who they are, how they learn and what they aspire to be. In the Learner Profile, each learner can now share their strengths and challenges in how they Access and process information, how they Engage with content and concepts and how they Express what they know and understand. With this information, learners can discuss with their teachers how they can build a Personal Learning Backpack™ of tools and skills to support their learning and then set learning goals in a Personal Learning Plan designed to enhance a strength or support a challenge so they can become more independent and develop agency.

Agency across the stages of personalized learning environments

Why Learner Agency Should be our Promise

When learners experience agency, they can realize their hopes and dreams and make informed choices for college, career, and life. With agency, a child has the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn in a world where jobs have yet to be imagined. Remember that learner agency also provides a reason to commit, take risks, and persist in the face of challenges and setbacks. The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express and personalized learning can be the centerpieces to fulfill the promise of agency for every learner. Always remember…”A Learner with Agency is a Learner who is Future Ready!”

 

The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express, Personal Learning Backpack and Personal Learning Plan are trademarks of Kathleen McClaskey.

 

Ownership to Learning: What Does that Really Mean?

Ownership to learning. what does that really mean

During the past six years there has been a volume of articles written about ownership to learning, personalized learning and personalization with some saying that it should be called “personal learning”. Let’s stop muddying the waters with educators and embrace this one idea:

Personalized learning starts with the learner—not the curriculum, not the standards, not the test and not the adaptive learning systems that claim they are personalizing learning.

Let’s also clarify what personalized learning means for the learner!

Personalized Learning...

After researching and co-authoring two books* on personalized learning, consulting with numerous school districts to launch, build and sustain personalized learning environments, it is evident that the stakeholders in a school community need to come together and agree on a vision and set of beliefs about teaching and learning first. Then they need to create an actionable plan where daily instructional and learning practices empowers every child to take “ownership to learning.” But before we can turn over the remote to the learner so that they can have ownership, we need to ask ourselves:

What does “ownership to learning” really mean?

Ownership to learning means that a learner is motivated, engaged and self-directed. It means they can monitor their own progress and are able to reflect on their learning based on mastery of content. In addition, the learner has the skills, knowledge and dispositions to independently direct and design their own learning experiences and is skilled in selecting and using tools, resources, strategies and a Personal Learning Networks (PLN) to support their learning. But first…

For every learner to begin to understand how they learn, we need to turn to Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is a research-based set of principles based in the neurosciences to guide the design of learning environments and instruction that is accessible and effective for all. In 2012, The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express was created to empower learners to tell their story of who they are and how they learn and to inform us of the variability in the way they learn: their strengths, challenges, interests, talents, aspirations and yes, their hopes and dreams! Above all, UDL is a lens that applies to ALL learners as a means for creating personalized, learner-centered environments where each learner can develop agency.  The next question is:

How can teachers support learners in understanding how they learn and help them take “ownership of their learning”?

Let’s dive a little deeper into the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express!

Simply, it is designed so that we see the learner in every child.

It offers key information about the learner’s strengths and challenges in how they access and process information, how they engage with content and concepts and how they express what they know and understand.

The terms Access, Engage and Express also serves as the common language between teacher and learner where daily conversations can take place about learning with a process to identify the tools and skills that could support a challenge or enhance a strength. A Personal Learning Backpack of tools, apps, resources is discussed with the learner so that learning goals to acquire the skills to support their own learning can be included in A Personal Learning Plan (PLP) where each learner articulates an action plan and how they will demonstrate they achieved the goal. In the end, they acquire the necessary skills to support their learning and become an independent and self-directed learner, a learner with agency that has “ownership to learning”.  Here is just one example of a Learner Profile and Personal Learning Backpack (PLB) that will lead to a few learning goals for a Personal Learning Plan (PLP).

Leaarner Profile and PersonalLearning Backpack table

Let’s take a look at one way the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express and the Learner Profile is being used in practice and how this one school district has turned over the remote to empower their learners to take “ownership to learning”.

Millis Public Schools

 

 

 

Stories that Empower Learners to take “Ownership to Learning”

Jason Phelps is the principal at Clyde F. Brown Elementary School where he shared how Fourth Grade Genius Hour passion projects were created from the information the learners shared about themselves when responding to Part 1 of the Learner Profile, “Who I am as a Learner”.  The fourth grade teachers initiated deeper and emotionally connected learning through goal setting around passion projects. Based upon the famous Google concept of “20% time”, each fourth grade learner selects a personal passion topic and then uses a weekly hour and a half “personal learning time” to work on a project that would improve the school community or society in some way. In the end, learners create passion projects that result in lessons being taught by the learners on anti-bullying, learner-led advocacy and support for local homeless shelters, “adopt-an-endangered-animal” drives, and creation of “care packages” for a local children’s hospital. The “personal learning time” has empowered learners to identify a purpose for learning as they take ownership through voice and choice.

Maureen Knowlton is the principal of the Millis Middle School where they use Learner Profiles to understand a learner’s strengths as well as their interests, passions and aspirations. On entering a classroom in Millis Middle School, a visitor may have to search for the teacher because the learners are front and center, leading the learning! Here is just a glimpse of what you would observe:  Fifth graders writing skits and creating videos following research on the Roanoke Colony and sixth graders collaborating during a Civil Rights unit to write a thirty-three page choose-your-own-adventure book entitled, Living in Segregation, which classmates now read during independent reading time. In seventh grade, learners helping one another deepen understanding of literature themes by designing interactive lessons about topics like substance abuse, social justice and mental health challenges. Similarly, eighth graders enrich curriculum with their own presentations on topics of interest such as Social Media and Conformity. Can learners own their learning? Millis teachers think so.  Using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express with a strengths-based focus to create their own Learner Profile, teachers are able to offer choices that fosters ownership to learning. You see, when learners call the plays, they can exceed teacher expectations and they might even earn a standing ovation!

Millis Public Schools in Millis, MA is an wonderful  example of what can happen when you empower learners with the what, why and how of learning including their passions and interests. The focus on creating learner-centered environments where “ownership to learning” can be realized by every learner was led by an innovative leader, Superintendent Nancy Gustafson, along with her administrative team. Nancy has been a long-time believer in creating learner-centered environments using the UDL Lens and the results are found in these stories. The teachers turned the remote over to the learners where they used their strengths and passions to take “ownership to learning”.

 

Related Blog posts:

* Learner Profile, Personal Learning Backpack and Personal Learning Plan located in Chapter 4 of How to Personalize Learning: A Practical Guide for Getting Started and Going Deeper by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey; also co-authors of bestseller Make Learning Personal: The What, Who, Wow, Where and Why.

 

Personal Learning Backpack, Personal Learning Plan, The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express are trademarks of Kathleen McClaskey.