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!
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).
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”.
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”.
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* 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.