Boundless Learning - Powered Up and Personalized

CEO, One-to-One Institute

It never fails. When we ask learners about learning, they’ll tell us.  My nephew is supercharged about the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test 2.0 (FCAT). Why? Likely because he aced it. How? That’s the part in which I’m most interested.  I know Lee’s background in Montessori Schools provided a great jumpstart when he moved into his city’s public elementary. That and his Mom’s and Dad’s focus on education were key, but I did assume that at his elementary school, like many others, were teaching to the test. By the time Lee finished telling me about his achievement journey, I couldn’t deduce that he’d been ‘learning’ to the test. Indeed, he’d been learning to ‘learn’ in many experiential and personalized ways.  His is a mix of personalization, group learning, and blended learning activities.  Is his experience the ‘rule’ or the exception?  I haven’t delved that far into the question, but it is clear that in Lee’s peer group there is a lot of critical thought expectation and a personalized approach.  I know that his school is ranked #3 in the state. Here is what I discovered.

Digital Access 

Lee (and his Mom, Shannon) really like the FCAT Explorer program. The resource is aligned with Florida’s Sunshine State Standards 2.0 aka Common Core. The tool provides resources for educators, students and parents/caregivers.  They can login anytime, anywhere, work at any pace.  Feedback WITH explanations for students is immediate.  Opportunities/resources for further investigation are incorporated. Students access this outside regular ‘school’ time.  We worked on it last Friday night. 

But it wasn’t drill and kill, redundancy for redundancy sake….There were heady problems that required deep thinking/planning.  It was clear that if Lee hadn’t had in-school learning activities from which he built knowledge and skill, he could not master the explorer tasks, and his understanding for each of the problems we encountered was deep.  He articulated answers for everything we asked. (i.e. How is it that there are 4 states of matter?  Where did plasma come from?) There were complex, multi-disciplinary tasks required to process and respond to questions.  We worked alongside Lee, trying to find solutions to each question/problem.  Lee got at each one 2 or 3 different ways.  We were tempted to stop him – to do it the ‘right’ way.  He informed us that there were numerous ‘right’ ways. What mattered was how each of us best understands the process toward the solution. He was right.

Personalized and Self-Directed

As it turns out, Lee’s teacher personalizes his learning/instruction because he is at a different level from others.  She’ll activate his activities so that he progresses at his pace – self-directing his efforts.  This happens on a computer in the classroom, through regular class group work and extending those learning activities while he’s at home independently, on computer and with Mom as coach. His work and history is neatly cloud-available and accessible. He pretty much self-directs his efforts.  I don’t know specifics about security of his unique data. We talked about it and that’s a question he and Mom will ask.

I checked out the teacher’s recent project-based learning rubric and assessment processes.  The rubric contained all the components of an ideal endeavor. Her feedback regarding Lee’s final project was highly personalized, specific, reinforcing and redirecting.  Lee was using the feedback to lay groundwork for future projects and better practices.  As it should be.

All of this struck me for several reasons.  First, it’s my nephew; he’s special and deserves the best possible education.  Second, our Project RED research showed that when learners regularly used technology interventions/programs/content, they achieved at higher rates.  However, that research focused on special needs populations.  I’m extrapolating that each learner is a unique ‘population’ requiring a personalized approach. That personalization is powered up, expedited and can be consistently accomplished through effective integration of technologies.  In my nephew’s case, his school is not a one-to-one environment.  Fortunately, Lee has access because his teacher has seen to personalizing his learning and given him the tools and resources to self-direct his progress and pace.  FCAT Explorer is one of the digital resources that bridge his learning through home access. And it’s good stuff based on my cursory experience.

Learning Potential with no Bounds

Personal technology and personalized learning in a mandated testing accountability landscape seems contradictory.  Lee’s teacher and, I believe, his school, have found ways to assimilate these expectations into a purposeful learning system.  Lee loves his teacher, his school, and is proud of what he has accomplished.  He feels no bounds to his potential for learning. 

Leslie Wilson, founder and CEO of One-to-One Institute, has served education for 38+ years  in top level, key decision-making roles at state and local levels. Recognized as an international expert in education technology, Wilson is a frequent writer, presenter and interviewee. Among her many publications, she co-authored, “Project RED-The Technology Factor, Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectiveness” which is the most broadly used research around successful implementation of 1:1 technologies in schools.  


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