Robert Amenta and Robert E. Lowery
An increasing number of schools are rethinking their educational philosophy, on the realization that students have their own will, their own mind, and their own way of thinking. If students are not sufficiently motivated to challenge their own knowledge and encouraged to take charge of their own learning, there usually is no growth, no gain in personal esteem, and no success for the school. As Peter Senge states: "Personal mastery goes beyond competence and skills, although it is grounded in competence and skills. It goes beyond spiritual unfolding or opening, although it requires spiritual growth. It means approaching one's life as a creative work, living life from a creative as opposed to reactive viewpoint." i
Schools today are moving in the opposite direction from personal and creative mastery to a more standardized group approach. The emphasis is on standardization and national testing. School districts are devoting considerable effort and resources to aligning their curriculum standards with their state and national tests. Teachers are under great pressure to raise test scores and to devote more time to test preparation skills. Reading and mathematics have become “mega subjects” at the expense of those disciplines not currently tested by national exams. Although reading and mathematics are extremely important, a curriculum so limited will have disastrous effects for the future.
This retrenchment is based on the assumption that all students can and will learn the same material at the same time. This notion is based on traditional scope and sequence concepts, and more recently, on national testing standards. The current approach ignores the research and the reality of the classroom where teachers working directly with students must adapt and adjust lessons on the basis of the student's individual strengths and weaknesses. Martin and Jacqueline Brooks, noted constructivist educators, have carefully explained that "rather than set standards for professional practice and the development of local capacity to enhance student learning, many state education departments have placed even greater weight on the same managerial equation that has failed repeatedly in the past:
Originally, assessment systems identified higher-order thinking as a reform goal, but policymakers dropped this goal because it was deemed too difficult to quantify and assess. As a result, most preparation for national tests focuses on memorization of facts.
Personalized learning goes beyond facts and attempts to prepare students for adaptation to new situations. The purposes of schooling must be much broader than memorization and must include opportunities for students to engage in problem-based learning. According to the National Research Council:
Children become "learning persons" by exposure to caring persons and a rich environment. LEC believes that the schools should focus on helping young people develop their minds and provide the adults and a learning environment where this can happen.
The learning environment in most contemporary schools is
the traditional classroom with one teacher and a group of twenty to thirty
students. Personalized instruction requires a more flexible environment
with small group activities, appropriate large group instruction, and
individual assistance in subject area resource centers and community settings
Students can receive instruction or coaching whenever they need it. Below
are some comparisons that typically exist between what we call traditional
schooling and one form of personalized learning environment, the continuous
Teacher A: Has several classes of 25 to 35 students for
a semester or a year.
Personalized Educational Environment
Teacher B: Works in a resource center learning environment based on a continuous progress format, with students of various grade and achievement levels. Responsibilities:
The methods of instruction and teacher facilitation vary between traditional and personalized learning models. The instructional process also varies, as follows:
Example - Mathematics
Personalized Learning Environment
Example - Mathematics:
Student Role in a Personalized Learning Environment
Students come to school with differences in life experience,
In the personalized learning environment, the student is
appreciated for these differences, and is assumed to have strengths and
limitations that are demonstrated within these differences.
Teachers in a personalized environment serve as advisors,
diagnosticians, instructors, and facilitators. The teacher is an advisor
to students, a facilitator of learning, a diagnostician of the learning
process, and a role model. The teacher is first and foremost a person
dedicated and committed to students and their work. To be successful,
teachers must be innovative and risk-takers, excited about learning and
willing to improve. They must have a commitment to ongoing professional
development. Typical challenges for teachers under personalization include
identifying student needs and learning style, and developing a flexible
array of programs in order to provide all students with opportunities
For a school to operate in a continuous progress fashion, each student must have an individual schedule or timetable. This scheduling process involves teacher to student discussion and teacher monitoring of student achievement and behavior on a regular basis. The teacher advisor becomes the vehicle for communication between the home and the school. This constant contact between teachers and students over a period of time can promote the positive and humane climate so desired in all schools. LEC teachers have heard students say, "Trust me, give me some power to act and let me be responsible, but don't wash me out if I fail a task." Students want someone to stand by and be ready to support their actions. It is here that the role of teacher advisor is so important.
A personalized school must develop a strong educational vision and commitment to provide all students with opportunities for maximizing their individual talents. Within this vision, it is also possible for teachers and administrators to develop and display their individual professionalism and skills.
The personalized learning environment described here is only one among several personalized strategies and is"…not a model to be imposed on schools but rather a broad blueprint for ongoing improvement in school organization and good practice." v It should be obvious that there is no silver bullet for building and sustaining change. Each school must investigate best educational practice and research and apply them to its own situation. But openness to new ideas and adaptability within one's school culture can increase the probability for success in designing a personalized learning community.
i Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline, New York,
NY: Double/Currencv, 1990.