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.

 

For the Learner, the UDL Lens begins with “ACCESS”

Doscover the learner using the UDL LensIn working with educators from around the country and in Europe the last 3 years, I have had the pleasure in showing them how to use the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express to help empower learners to understand the what, why and how of their learning. The 3-step “Discover the Learner”™ process is intentionally designed for each learner to develop the skills to support their own learning so they can become independent, self-directed learners, learners with agency.


A question came up about why the UDL Lens begins with Access, the “what” of learning. They pointed to the definition of UDL in How to Personalize Learning (Bray and McClaskey, 2016), Chapter 2 that…

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that provides equity for all individuals so they have opportunities to learn. UDL provides a framework for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone—not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.”

You see the UDL Guidelines where changed in 2014 to begin with the “why of learning” for curriculum development and that is the point; it is a framework for creating universally designed lessons. The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express was designed to empower the learner to understand the what, why and how of their learning.

These educators also shared a blog post where the author emphasized that learners needed to be engaged before they are given access to the content. The author used herself as a learner to describe “engagement” and why it should come first. This added to the confusion among educators so the intention of this post will hopefully “clear the air” in why Access comes first for the learner and how using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express can lead to learner agency. But before we do that, let’s take a look at a brief history of UDL.

A Bit of History Behind UDL – A Framework for Curriculum and Instruction

The originators of UDL (Dr. David Rose and Anne Meyer) from CAST reintroduced the UDL principles and guidelines (2014) in its publication Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014) and changed the sequence of the UDL principles to begin with “why of learning”. The original UDL principles began with the “what of learning” (multiple means of representation) for almost 20 years. In it’s revision in 2014, CAST wanted to point out the importance of engagement in curriculum development and instruction in how teachers should first provide options for engagement, the “why of learning”. This made sense in that the focus in how to engage learners in the lesson should be considered first when universally designing instruction.

 

For the Learner, the UDL Lens begins with “Access”

Giving access to the content for all learners is by far the most important step when designing instruction or introducing new content or concepts. Understanding what your learners’ strengths and challenges in accessing information is key in designing lesson materials that will accessible to all the learners in your classroom from the start. Access as described in this chart below comes directly from the UDL principle of multiple means of representation, the “what of learning”. Access takes different forms of representation so that the learner can transform and process information into useable knowledge and become an active participant in their learning.

UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express

Consider the variability of the learners you may have so that each has Access to the content, anytime and anywhere.

  • For all learners, accessing and understanding the vocabulary as it relates to the content in a lesson is critical before engaging the learner.
  • For the learner who has difficulty reading, lesson materials would need to be in a digital format so they can use a text-to-speech tool to access the information or in an audio format or combination thereof.
  • For the learner who has visual impairments or blindness, audio and/or Braille files of the lesson materials would be needed at a minimum to provide access.
  • Learn more about the ways that educators provide access to the curriculum at the National Center for Accessible Educational Materials (AEM).

 

The Progression in Developing Expert Learners (Learners with Agency)

The purpose in using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express is to empower each learner to understand the strengths and challenges they have in accessing information, engaging with content and expressing what they know and understand. This chart below shows the progression from left to right where you begin thinking about how you can provide accessibility for the variability that your learners have in their learning. In the next progression, you want learners to develop specific skills and learning strategies to support their learning through guided practice. With daily independent and self-directed practice over time, the learner becomes resourceful and knowledgeable, purposeful and motivated, strategic and goal-directed—an expert learner, a learner with agency.

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UDL lens of Access Engage and express progressions chart[From How to Personalize Learning, Chapter 2. Table content adapted from CAST, Universal Design for Learning Guidelines, Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice, 2014]

 

It is an important distinction for educators to know that they are not creating experts. They are creating learners who are capable of being self-directed and self-reflective.” Steve Nordmark @snordmark

 

Learn more about the 3-Step “Discover the Learner”™ process in these posts on the Learner Profile™, Personal Learning Backpack™ and Personal Learning Plan™.

The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express, Learner Profile™, Personal Learning Backpack™ and Personal Learning Plan™. Discover the Learner™ are trademarks of Kathleen McClaskey.

 

 

Personal Learning Plan: Empowering Learners™ to be Future Ready

Part 3 of the 3 Part Series on Using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage, and Express to empower learners to be Future Ready.

Just imagine learners turning challenges they have into strengths! Consider those same learners enhancing their strengths so they are self-confident in what and how they learn. Wouldn’t it be great if your learners were able to set their own goals to explore careers and determine what experiences they need to be college and career ready?

This post is the last part of the three-part process for all learners of any age to build agency so they become independent and self-directed learners.

Hopes and dreams quote

Your learners shared with you how they learn best using the Learner Profile (LP). Your conversations with your learners when using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens of Access, Engage and Express™ describing their strengths, challenges, preferences and needs in how they learn helped them decide what to include in their Personal Learning Backpack (PLB). You collaborated with your learners to choose the skills, tools and apps that can enhance their strengths and support their challenges they have in accessing and processing information, engaging with content and expressing what they know and understand.

The next step in the process is to help each learner develop the skills to be an independent, self-directed learner with agency. The Personal Learning Plan is where the learner defines goals, describes actions steps, and indicates a way to measure progress and achievement.

 

Introducing the Personal Learning Plan

The purpose of a Personal Learning Plan (PLP) is to assist learners to develop goals with a set of action steps to achieve those goals, ways to monitor their own progress, show evidence in reaching the goal and a reflection on achieving it. The PLP has four specific focuses:

  • Learning Goals (Access, Engage and Express) to develop independent skills to support their own learning;
  • Personal Goals to explore their interests, talents, or passions;
  • College and Career Goals to gain first-hand experiences in career areas where they have strong interests; and
  • Citizenship Goals to become an active citizen in the local or global community.

Personal Learning Plan


Learning Goals for Skill Development

In Part 1 (LP) and Part 2 (PLB) of this series, the learner shared one of her Express challenges was that she found it difficult to put her thoughts on paper, and that she needed a speech-to-text (STT) tool to help her write her thoughts down. She has seen that tool being used by other learners but would like to learn how to use it on her own. She works with her teacher to describe the Express Learning Goal along with a set of action steps to learn the speech-to-text tool, ways to measure progress and showing evidence in reaching her goal and finally a reflection on achieving the goal.

Express goal action steps reflection

On reflection, she has taken a challenge she has had for a while and has now learned new skills so she can independently write her assignments. What a great feeling she has in achieving a goal she set for herself! Her next focus is on a personal goal. Let’s take a look back at how she described her interests, talents and passions to illustrate what a personal goal would be.

 

Personal Goals to Explore Interests, Talents, and Passions

For this learner, having a personal goal that she can focus on gives her an opportunity to explore what she has only dreamed about doing.

Interests, talents, and passions: I love drawing and want to take more art classes in different mediums. I am interested in helping others and maybe can see myself as a teacher or a business leader when I grow up. I am starting to learn about social media and may even look at starting to create a logo and website to showcase my artwork.

Setting a personal goal and taking actions to meet that goal ignites engagement and encourages ownership to learning. Her personal goal is to create a logo and website to feature her artwork. The action steps to help meet this goal can include:

  • Consult with art/design teacher on personal goal.
  • Create several logo designs.
  • Invite art/design teacher to help her choose the best design.
  • Prepare artwork to display on the website.
  • Locate low or no cost websites and review features and specs to display artwork.

She decided with her teacher that her evidence in reaching this goal would be featuring her artwork with written and audio narratives on a website with her self-designed logo. Next, she wants to focus on her college and career goals.

 

College and Career Goals to Pursue Opportunities

The high school where this learner attends offers Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs). She is excited to have an opportunity to teach art with younger learners in her town. She meets with her ELO Coordinator and begins outlining the action steps that include:

  • Discover who are the elementary art teachers in the local and adjacent schools.Hearts on Fire
  • Develop a proposal outlining her goals for an art teacher mentorship.
  • Decide on two art teachers and set up a time for an interview to share goals of the mentorship.
  • Begin mentorship with art teacher and coordinate a schedule.

This experience of being mentored by two art teachers helps this learner make college and career decisions about going into this profession. During the mentorships, she created a visual portfolio of her experiences in the classrooms on her website with audio to show evidence of reaching her goal for college and career.

Realizing that she enjoys working with younger children and learning from her mentors, she was inspired to look at ways to give back to the community since she received so much help from others.

 

Citizenship Goals to Contribute to our Democracy

A Citizenship Goal contributes to a learner’s understanding that a democracy thrives when you are an active citizen in the community. This learner meets with her teacher/advisor to discuss how she would like to give back to the community by being actively involved with the local food pantry. Now that she has decided on the goal, she discusses what her action steps could be.

  • Meet with the food pantry coordinator to discuss how she could contribute and the time she could commit.
  • Make up signs to post at local businesses and schools.
  • Collect non-perishable food for the food pantry.
  • Organize food at the pantry for distribution.

She decides that one of the best ways to show that she has reached her goal is to share her experiences on her website and invite her peers to join her in working with her at the food pantry.

Learner Agency and Future Ready

Learner Agency means that someone has developed the skills to become an independent, self-directed learner. A learner with agency is a learner who is future readyThis learner has created her Learner Profile (LP) using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express to identify her strengths, challenges, interests, talents, and passions. The Personal Learning Backpack (PLB) defines the skills. strategies, tools, and apps that will help her become an independent learner.

Future Ready means that the learner knows how to set her own goals, develop action steps and show evidence in achieving these goals. The Personal Learning Plan (PLP) guides the learner in gaining the skills and experiences she needs to support her learning and make choices for college and career. This post provided one example using an older learner who turned her challenges into strengths and enhanced her strengths so she developed the self-confidence to follow her passion for art and in helping others.

We want you to know that you can build a learner with agency at any age by using this three-step process. We provide an example of an older child only as a model for you. Consider building a relationship right away with young children by starting with a Learner Profile. Get to know your kids and how they learn using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express. Have them share with you their preferences and needs and build a Personal Learning Backpack with them. Then encourage them to choose and set goals with your guidance. Just imagine what your kids can do when they have the confidence in how they learn and that they know how to set goals for themselves. This is the Wow! of learning that we all want for our kids.

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Part One defined how the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express and introduced the Learner Profile (LP) and how it can be used by both teacher and learner to discover the learner.

Part Two explained how to take the Learner Profile and develop a Personal Learning Backpack (PLB) that includes tools, apps, resources and the skills the learner needs to become an independent, self-directed learner.

Part Three describes how you can take the Learner Profile and Personal Learning Backpack to to develop goals an effective Personal Learning Plan (PLP) so that each learner can develop agency and gain the personal experiences make decisions for college and career and to be future ready.

All of this along with similar templates are in our new publication, How to Personalize Learning: A Practical Guide for Getting Started and Going Deeper!

 

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

This post was revised and updated from http://www.personalizelearning.com/2016/09/the-personal-learner-profile-goal.html