Personalising Learning

Picture the scene. 30 8-year old children file in to their classroom after morning break for a Maths lesson. The teacher enters the room, distributes books from homework collected in the day before. She spends 5 minutes responding to questions about the marks given for the homework and things like “But, Maam, that was only a little mistake, why did you cut one whole mark” or “maam, my answer is the same as his, but you gave him half a mark and me nothing.”

Eventually, there’s enough calm, everyone is facing the front and the teacher starts her lesson. She begins to explain a new concept, with examples on the board. She’s a teacher in a good school, considered to be a good teacher, so she doesn’t just do all the talking/ explaining. She calls children to the board at times to answer practice questions, she asks the whole class questions to test and check the extent to which they’re understanding the concept.

After ten minutes, if you could go inside the heads of all 30 children sitting in the room, you might find 6, 8, maybe 10 whose thoughts approximate to, “Ok, thanks, teacher. I’ve got it. Can we move on now, please.” However, of course – in the one size fits all, industrial model of education teacher can’t move on at this point.

Different teachers try different things to meet the needs of that group of children; more advanced worksheets, involving them in peer teaching and other differentiation techniques. Regrettably, too many teachers are ill-equipped to help these children so they leave them to fend for themselves, ignore their needs or cobble solutions together. One mother recently told me how her daughter has been asked to bring her own book to school so she can read when she starts to feel bored!

let’s now fast forward to the end of the lesson. if the teacher has planned well she uses the last few minutes of the class period to summarise the concepts and lesson content. However, as she gathers he papers to leave the room there’s a good chance that, at least at the back of her mind, is the nagging doubt that there’s a group of children out of the 30 (however small) who still didn’t ‘get it’, who needed something more, something different if they were to get real value from the lesson. However, if the teacher is to keep doing her job with motivation she can’t dwell on this too much. she has another class to go to.

So, what happens to those children? The lesson’s over but they still don’t have solid understanding. Well, the first port of call may be a parent to try to help the child fill the gap. If that doesn’t work, the gap might not be immediately apparent until it hampers learning of later concepts. Then, possibly, ‘remediation’ will rear its head. However it’s dressed up it’s likely to feel like a punishment to the child. It might involve staying on late after school or it might mean missing a much loved lesson such as Art, Music, Drama or Physical Education.

When we paint the scenario like this, can anyone really wonder why so many doubt the industrial model ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to education? I believe the solution lies in strategies that truly personalise learning, that accept and acknowledge (even embrace) the fact that everyone is different and everyone learns differently. I believe that we’re on the cusp of a revolution in personalised learning, facilitated by information technology. This is the approach at Kunskapsskolan and one of my biggest motivations for joining this exciting new venture, in India for the first time.

In later posts I’ll write more about the Kunskapsskolan way of personalising and how it represents a refreshing new opportunity for children’s learning. In the meantime, I would love to get people’s views on methods for personalisation, accepting that there will be other effective models and ways to achieve this desired end.

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9 Responses

  1. Such personailzed learning strategies are surely going to make every student feel safe in the world of education.What more would a teacher ever dream of….but to be part of a learning process that makes every child feel that he/she matters, is heard, is wanted and is loved!!! Such an environment will have challenges that can be easily overcome as personalized learning strategies come into active play both for the student and the teacher……!!!!!!
    I sincerely hope that this new project will be embraced by the Indian Education system and help nurture the young generations…………..

  2. i personally feel a motivating Teacher or a motivated Teaching has this charm of kindling that right spark which would make the learner move in the direction . And you see the point is , Teaching or Learning both are continuous and life long processes , so Information Technology , I do agree has significant role to act as Support System for Information & Education are like Catalysts & Stimuli in one shell .

    One right curiosity inspired is a tiny step. Personalisation of Education is a very , lets’ say Premiere responsibility . Its ‘ nice , we are discussing this together , I can breathe fresh green crisp hope.

  3. Dear Mark,

    You have hit the nail on the head. Personalised coaching is badly needed now, especially when average strength in a regular classroom is more than 50. In fact, a college I visited recently had on average 170 students per class. A teacher has to have ‘superhuman’ powers to do justice to his job.

    Well, thanks to the developments in science and technology, persoanlised coaching seems feasible. There are many things that can be done. In fact, in Gujarat, we have started a project called SANDHAN. ( http://www.facebook.com/SANDHAN.BISAG/info ) Experts from all over the state and even guests from other states and countries are invited to lecture (actually teach) various subjects. The programmes are telecast via satellite and even live q&a session is carried out. Some of the lectures are available on public platforms such as YouTube.

    A more systematically run set of programmes is on platforms such as Coursera and Alison, which you mentioned in some of your earlier posts. I myself am doing an online course on Global History on coursera. It’s so wonderful and personalised becasue I can watch/listen to lectures when I like, I can post questions, classmates and teachers respond to queries, I learn from others queries and responses and I can revise as often as I can. The only hitches are testing and certification.

    Another point worth considering is such an online model is good for adult learners. And it is more for knowledge rather than certificates or degrees. For young learners, we need to devise special material along the lines of ‘programmed learning’ where there is not peer competition or pressure.

    I look forward to others’ comments.

    Best wishes,
    Dharmendra.
    Surat, Gujarat

    • This is impressive . But , Mr. Dharmendra , what do you personally think about role of Learner in the Process , in general ?

  4. Oh ! You moved out of SRF. Great !

    You know the other day, I was thinking that Mr. Mark is able to speak big words about teaching/teacher/methods etc because he happens to be at already a top notch school and what if, he is made in charge of a altogether new chain of school and then we see how tough life can be 🙂

  5. In UWCSEA, Singapore, my 13 year old learned far more advanced concepts than the TSRS here, which was extremely surprising for me….since Indian curriculum is supposedly far more rigorous….but i guess, the system in UWC of grading students (esp Maths and languages) and sending them to appropriate classrooms, where they could be challenged / nurtured / or supported, is amazing…!

  6. This definitely struck a chord!! One can make out the children who have got the concept in the first 5 minutes but have to somehow endure repeated explanations because one can also make out that there are some children out there who haven’t a clue about what we are talking about.
    Looking forward to incorporating some of these strategies in our current scenario.

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