Highlander Institute, the Learning Accelerator, and the Clayton Christensen Institute hosted the 6th Annual Blended and Personalized Learning conference this past weekend (check out the hashtag #BPLC2017 for the conversation). At first glance, one might assume the aim of the conference was to push platforms and products that can yield oodles of student data or adapt to all kinds of student and teacher needs. However, the overarching themes of the conference this year were equity, identity, and cultural relevance.

Equity – Do all students have access to models, strategies, resources, and programs that are fair and just? Remember, fair is not equal; equity and equality are not synonymous.

Identity – Are students’ complex identities explored, honored, and infused into instruction and assessment?

Cultural Relevance – Can students see themselves in what they are learning? Can students see others in what they are learning? Are differences among students explored with dignity?

In a recent staff survey about the challenges that surround designing personalized learning, “Student Know-How” was the bucket into which most respondents put their challenges. Folks questioned and commented about student tenacity, motivation, reticence to try something new or different, and general lack of inspiration.  We can’t help wondering if reflecting on and addressing concepts of equity, identity, and cultural relevance would yield different results in the “Student Know-How” category. That is, if students felt more connected to the work we are asking them to do and to the processes through which they complete it, would they be more willing and able to do it? 

As we continue our work with personalizing learning for all students, equity, identity, and cultural relevance are layers of consideration for instructional design. We all know the technology variable is one which we have limited control over. We do have control over our instructional design though. As any good researcher knows, controlling one variable at a time allows any effect to be attributed to the one thing that was manipulated.

Though manipulating solitary variables in our classrooms is a great starting point, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that schools which are most successful with implementing blended and personalized learning at scale have a supportive, invested, cohesive and respectful school culture. These schools are united in their mission, their core values, their expectations of each other and expectations of students. They treat each other and all students with dignity and respect and believe that all students can do great things. If we want true change at WHS, we all need to work toward manipulating this variable together.

Thank you to May Toscano and Liz Sanfilippo for representing WHS with Amanda and Erica at the conference this weekend.

As always, join the conversation by tweeting to #bulldoged.

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