Allison Zmuda Presents with Aveson Charter Schools on Personalized Mastery Learning

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personalized mastery learningPersonalization, personalized learning, and personalized mastery learning have been used to describe a vast range of initiatives, ideas, and platforms over the past few years — it has become the “next big thing” to reform education.

Aveson Charter Schools opened its doors to create a personalized mastery learning experience nine years ago. At Aveson, teacher and student work in partnership with one another. This session at the ASCD Annual Conference in Atlanta, Ga., highlighted key ideas Aveson has learned by implementing and refining the vision of Personalized Mastery Learning. To see the slides, click here.

“Aveson Charter Schools was designed from the inception to support personalized learning,” said Allison Zmuda. “Kate Bean, Sebastian Cognetta and their entire staff opened the school over eight years ago believing that learning starts with the curiosity and fascination of the child. Teacher advisors design opportunities for students to pursue their areas of interest through passion projects, guided instruction, 1:1 conferences, and service projects to create a world where every learner has a voice and an opportunity to develop ideas (aligned with California State Frameworks).”

“Personalized mastery learning is a collaborative effort between teachers and students in which they define what gets learned, how it gets learned, and when the learning happens,” said Cognetta, Director of Instruction and Curriculum at Aveson, and one of the session’s presenters.

This method allows teachers to make expert decisions on what is best for their students while their students are able to drive their own learning. Most decisions are shared by both and the collaborative effort creates a fun and effective learning environment.

“We believe in a multi-age model because right off the bat we know all kids don’t learn the same way just because they’re the same age,” said Bean, Executive Director at Aveson and another one of the session’s presenters. “So we use ‘advisor’ and ‘learner’ which automatically sets the idea that it’s a collaborative model.”

One of the distinct differences in Aveson’s model is the continuum of relevance. In a traditional education model, the teacher establishes the relevance, telling students why they need to learn a particular skill. At Aveson, on the other hand, the way relevance is established is always shifting.

Teachers are always asking and answering questions like “Who needs to learn this skill?” And “How can we use what my students are curious about to help drive what they’ll learn next?” Students leverage interests, passions and previously mastered skills to decide what they’ll learn.

Why should you attend this session?

Personalized Mastery LearningAveson has been growing Personalized Mastery Learning at K-12 schools for nine years and can therefore provide you with incredible insight on the personalized learning model, including:

  • Magic of teacher-advisor relationships and how that has transformed classroom culture
  • Utilizing tools, including technology to increase a student’s access to content, strategies and resources.
  • One-to-one conferences where teacher and student define learning outcome, process, and related resources based on the learning preference of the student, the intended learning outcome and the students interest in the topic.

Comparison to Other Instructional Approaches

Individualization, differentiation, and blended learning are other instructional approaches with distinct differences from personalized mastery learning.

Individualization. The student is in charge of the pacing rather than the content or product. Students can replay videos, take practice problems or questions, and receive instant feedback on their work. Individualization typically uses technology to provide a self-paced instructional path for a given topic. Personalized mastery learning, in contrast, requires students to take charge of not only the pace but also the nature of the challenge itself and the active direction they take. Engagement does not come from how quickly a student races through the material; it comes from how relevant, interesting, and worthy the topic is.

Differentiation. Differentiation requires teachers to tailor content, process, product, and/or the learning environment for individual students in the classroom to make it more likely that each student will succeed. Carol Tomlinson (1999) describes the hallmark of differentiated classrooms: “teachers begin where students are, not the front of a curriculum guide. They accept and build upon the premise that learners differ in important ways.” Personalized mastery learning has students envision the investigation, idea, or challenge, and allows them to have a significant influence on the “what” and the “how.” The larger aims of a given course or program are fixed, but the content of the exploration is shaped by the individual tasks.

Blended Learning. While blended learning can be a component of any of the three instructional approaches explored above, it does not, in itself, equal personalized mastery learning. This is a classic example of confusing ends and means.  Blended learning is a vehicle.  It is an approach that can help us to achieve something. It can liberate us from using the classroom as a delivery platform and allow us to engage in other, deeper learning enterprises.  But, by itself, blended learning is not personalized.  In fact, it is a delivery platform for very standardized, “box sets” of learning content and assessments.

This is true whether we’re speaking of Khan Academy modules or the growing sources of MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses).  These are very standardized content packages delivered to a crowd of largely faceless consumers via the Web.  It is in how students and teachers use blended learning as a contributor to (and not synonymous with) a personalized learning approach that is important. Although we agree that technology is a powerful tool to aid in the consumption and production of knowledge, it is not a substitute for the deep thinking, problem solving, and reflection that are at the heart of every powerful learning environment.

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