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 mudding 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.

Learner vs. Student: Who Do you Want in Your Classroom?

It is the start of the school year and you have been preparing to have your assigned children enter your classroom. You have so many questions about them but one you may have not thought about is: Are they students or learners? Think about that… do you want students or learners in your classroom this year? What is the difference anyway? Well let’s take a look at the difference and have you decide for yourself.

Learner vs. Student

We are at a crossroads in education where we understand that traditional school systems are not preparing our children for a world where they will need to learn, unlearn and relearn in an ever-changing economy. As we try to create more personalized, learner-centered environments, it is important to understand that we need to change the language so we can change the culture in the classroom and school. Using the term “Learner” is a critical first step so that we see every child and every person as a learner. So what is the difference between a learner and a student? Let’s look at the definitions:

From Wikipedia, “A student is primarily a person enrolled in a school or other educational institution who attends classes in a course to attain the appropriate level of mastery of a subject under the guidance of an instructor and who devotes time outside class to do whatever activities the instructor assigns that are necessary either for class preparation or to submit evidence of progress towards that mastery.”

From Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, a learner is “a person who is finding out about a subject or how to do something.”

From The Glossary of Education Reform, when comparing learner and student, they point out that “While this preference may seem arbitrary on the surface, it does appear to serve a semantic purpose: learning can occur in the absence of teaching, but teaching doesn’t occur without some form of learning taking place. i.e.,

learners can learn without teachers, but students are only students when they have teachers.”

Now take a look at the comparisons in the chart and decide on the qualities you would like for the children in your classroom to have. This is not a comprehensive comparison of Learners vs Students but it does offer an initial comparison on what the distinct differences are and what qualities would be found in a traditional vs personalized learning system. If you have decided you want learners in your classroom, then the question you need to consider exploring is….

How can I create a classroom culture in which being a learner is more valuable than being a student?

Empower Learners with the UDL LensThe simple answer is to empower your learners to share their story of who they are and how they learn! Have your learners use the UDL Lens to develop a Learner Profile, based on the learning sciences, to discover their strengths and challenges, preferences and needs in the what, how and why of their learning. Value every learner by building a strong relationship with each of them. Help them develop learning goals in a Personal Learning Plan so that they can gain the skills to be agents of their own learning. Reflect with each learner so they can realize the progress they are making with their goals. When you do this, your classroom culture will be filled with learners who are future ready!

 

 

 

 

 

Learner Profiles: Stop Using Learning Styles, Start Using the Learning Sciences

We are embarking on an era of transformational change in education where we have a vision of creating learner-centered environments where learners pursue their passions and interests and develop agency with the knowledge, skills and dispositions so they are future ready for careers yet to be imagined. The question is:

Why are we still using the traditional approach of learning styles to develop learner profiles?

Let’s take at the research and what it says about learning styles.

 

Why Stop Using Learning Styles?

As we are transforming education from the traditional teacher-centered environments to a personalized, learner-centered environment we need to reconsider the learning styles approach that has no basis in research. Classroom teachers and academics have been using learning styles for over four decades to understand learners. During this time the notion that teaching methods should match a learner’s particular learning style has had a powerful influence in education, however, a study published in the Psychological Science in the Public Interest challenged the concept of learning styles and their affect on performance.

Despite the preponderance of the learning styles concept “from kindergarten to graduate school,” and a “thriving industry” devoted to such guidebooks for teachers, Pashler found there wasn’t rigorous evidence for the concept. He wrote:

Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis. We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general educational practice.

The four prominent cognitive psychologists in this study found no evidence for validating educational applications of learning styles into general education practice. This was their conclusion:

Research conducted over 40 years has failed to show that individual attributes can be used to guide effective teaching practice. Rather than being a harmless fad, learning styles often perpetuates stereotyping and harmful teaching practices it is suppose to fight.” (Pashler et al, 2009).

So as schools move from a traditional system to a personalized, competency-based system, we need to evaluate the traditional tools we have used around learners and learning and teachers and teaching, and understand how a learning science can be used to nurture and build a culture of learning.

 

Start Using the Learning Sciences and the UDL Lens


Empower learners with the UDL lens

We need to stop using learning styles and start using Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a research-based set of principles based on the learning sciences to guide the design of learning environments and innovative sustainable systems that are accessible and effective for all learners. UDL tells us that there is variability in the way each learner learns: their strengths, challenges, aptitudes, talents, and aspirations.

The UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ 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 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 in their Personal Learning Backpack™. This leads to a Personal Learning Plan™ (PLP) where each learner can set goals to acquire the necessary skills to become an independent and self-directed learner, a learner with agency that has ownership to their learning.

 

Ownership to learning requires the learner to understand how they learn.

Empower Learners with the UDL Lens

Start the next school year with having every learner create a Learner Profile. From the learner’s perspective, the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ in a Learner Profile would give him or her an opportunity tell their story of who they are and how they learn by:

  • sharing their strengths, challenges, preference and needs in how they access and process information, engage with content and concepts, and express what they know and understand;
  • express their interests, talents, aspirations and passions;
  • set learning goals and actionable plans with teachers to support a challenge or enhance a strength; and
  • have regular conversations about their learning with teachers, peers, and parents.

Let’s take a closer look at the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express™ and how a learner can share how they learn by using a Learner Profile (LP) that also includes their interests, talents, passions, aspirations and the words that would describe them.

The information in the Learner Profile (LP) helps each learner tell their story and how they learn with their teacher. This is the foundation from which conversations, relationships and partnerships in learning are built. What are the possible messages and outcomes from a learner using the Learner Profile?

  • It helps validate the learner and how they learn.
  • It tells the learner that you care about who they are.
  • It creates a community of learners based on trust and respect.

“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” – Dr. James Comer

 

3 stepprocess to develop agencyTo learn more about how to personalize learning and the three-step process of the Learner Profile, Personal Learning Backpack™ and Personal Learning Plan™, refer to How to Personalize Learning: A Practical Guide for Getting Started and Going Deeper by Bray and McClaskey (2016) or the blog posts on the Learner Profile, Personal Learning Backpack and Personal Learning Plan.

 

 

 

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

Reference: Paschler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., and Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 105-119.  https://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/pspi/PSPI_9_3.pdf