Guest Blogger: Personalized Learning, Do It!

I have this theory that adults don’t listen to kids enough. I realize how arrogant and naive that sounds coming from a kid, but I really believe the world is missing out by telling those of us still in school that we need to wait to have our voices heard. I could go on for days about why my 10 year old cousin’s ideas are better than mine, but that’s not what I’m writing about today. *sigh* Personalized learning has become a rather hot topic recently, and day after day I find myself increasingly more frustrated with the fact that adults are the only ones talking about it. My classmates have never even heard the two words used together, and here I am reaping the benefits of it every day. So back to this adults not listening to kids idea; they also don’t like to tell us stuff. It’s as if us knowing that there are other ways to do school than the traditional classroom will suddenly lead to an imbalance of power. So, because I have rarely seen the student side of personalized learning in word form, and because I believe that if I’m going to complain about it I had better do my part to fix it, here it is: I’m about to sound like one of those weight loss commercials, “I lost 15 pounds with ____ and you can too!” Bear with me. Personalized learning. Do it. Here’s my story: Last year I took a class called Engaged Citizenship. My summary of the syllabus is, “Find something you want to fix in your community and do what it takes to fix it. I’ll figure out how to grade you. Do some good.” I’ll admit, it’s scary to be left to structure 8,100 hours of your year with that much direction, but I can proudly say that we did it! A couple classmates and I managed to raise awareness for a nonprofit organization in our community working to build a track and football field for our school along with hold a few fundraisers and solicit some rather large donations. It would be easy to say that my biggest take-away was the good we did for the cause, but selfishly I know that isn’t true. That class taught me that you can learn so much more when you don’t mean to than when you’re trying to. It taught me that you set the standard for your own progress. This year I have had the opportunity to embrace personalized learning in a whole new way. I am taking a class we call CBE or Competency Based Education. In a nutshell, I need one English credit to graduate and can get any other credits I desire. My classmates and I find projects we are interested in, or that we see need to be done, or that community members have asked us to take on, and we just do them. Later we sit down and look at standards laid out in the Iowa Core Curriculum and match up what we have done to standards. We will not be given grades, but I can say that I have completed an English class this semester which meets well over 20 literacy standards. (In this process I found that not many of my peers realize that our teachers are required by law to teach us certain things. To me that’s just messed up. You know Yeah it shows up in my browser history more than YouTube, but why shouldn’t it?) Why should a teacher choose to facilitate personalized learning in their classroom? Why should they give up control for a bunch of completely different projects which will of course be horrible to grade, and risk losing the structure of their classes for total and complete chaos? Because teachers care, and students need to learn to be thinkers. It is plain and simple. If we are going to be completely honest with ourselves then we can say that there are few teachers that pursue education to get rich and retire early. Teaching is a profession that’s more about passion than paychecks, and while we’re on the topic, isn’t that how it should be? Shouldn’t we go through every day with goals that build us up and help something or someone improve? It’s time for me to be real with you now. It would be so much easier to just keep things the way they are. This isn’t something that just happens, but it is something I think needs to happen. It’s important that the next generation of adults (that’s us) knows how to follow instructions, but I saw something today that said 65% of us will have jobs in fields that don’t even exist yet. Whether that’s true or not, it gets me thinking. Yes, we need to know about how our world works now, but we also are going to need to be ready to learn as we go. Right now, we’re at the risk of becoming adults who are way too skilled in the art of memorizing, regurgitating, and forgetting. If we learn how to be learners, problem solvers, question askers, thinkers, and communicators, however, it’ll be close to impossible to throw us a curveball we can’t hit. I’ll call my own bluff here (someone has to), personalized learning isn’t the only way to do this, but Jenny Craig isn’t the best weight loss program for everyone either. Taylor Trimble