Friday, 20 January 2012

Personalizing without Technology

Technology definitely improves the classroom experience and has been an important tool for personalizing our program at Greenwood College School. However, is it possible to personalize a program without using technology?

While presenting at a conference last week, this argument was presented to us by several participants who felt that the personalized approach adopted by Greenwood is only suitable for schools with technology. While I would agree that it is easier to create a personalized experience if every student has their own electronic device, it is not imperative.

Personalized learning is about good teaching. Personalized learning is about providing the learner with some choice about what is learned, when it is learned and how it is learned, and these goals can be attained with or without technology.

In the early 80s, I was fortunate to be a student in a personalized elementary classroom. While in Grade 7, I attended a rural school that did not have any computers. My first computer, a Commodore 64, did not arrive until several years later.

However, despite the lack of technology my teacher did a tremendous job personalizing our program. At the beginning of every month he would post a chart on the bulletin board. On the chart was a grid with every student’s name in a column on the left and all the assignments for the month across the top.

As you completed an assignment, the teacher would cross it off the chart. This approach allowed students to work independently and at their own pace which in turn allowed the teacher to spend more time with students who needed extra support.

While the program I experienced was delivered without any technology, most schools in the 21st century have access to at least some technology. Even though many schools have limited access to computers, teachers can be creative and effectively utilize what technology they do have.

For example, suppose a classroom has access to only three computers. The teacher of this classroom could design a unit that can be completed in non-sequential order. While one group is working on the computers, other groups can be conducting a lab, completing a problem-set or participating in a debate.

The key to personalized learning is not technology. The key is to develop structures that provide students with more control and responsibility for their learning. When personalizing a classroom, one goal should be to eliminate the “one size fits all” teaching approach.

Problems will always be present when trying to personalize a program - but difficult obstacles should not be seen as a reason to abandon efforts, but as an interesting challenge and opportunity to develop creative solutions.

Kyle Acres
Science Teacher

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