Personalized Learning for All: What Requisite Dispositions All Educators Need

By Arthur Costa, Bena Kallick, and Allison Zmuda

While many initiatives and programs come and go, there are some concepts or ideas that are timeless. We must make certain we sustain them for the sake of our students. The true goal of personalized learning is for every learner to become increasingly comfortable with self-direction as they engage in interesting, relevant, rigorous and important work regardless of age, past successes or failures.

We define personalized learning as, a progressively student-driven model in which students deeply engage in meaningful, authentic and rigorous challenges to demonstrate desired outcomes. The heart of personalized learning is personal. It is about knowing the learner in front of you and expecting the best of them.

Let’s read the text a bit more closely:

“Progressively student driven model”

This hearkens back to the pedagogy of gradual release of responsibility, from teacher modelling to students taking the lead. Progressively also indicates a shift in traditional assessment and instructional practices, policies and habits at the systems-level to grow personalized learning.

“Meaningful, authentic and rigorous challenges”

This is the trinity of designing learning challenges. Content must relate to learning (meaningful), honor work outside of school walls (authentic), and be cognitively complex based on the student’s zone of proximal development (rigorous).

“Demonstrate desired outcomes”

Personalized learning is grounded in the goals of learning that are valuable to the governing body (i.e., state, provincial or national standards), local schools and student aspirations.

When we provide the pedagogical conditions to personalize learning, the Habits of Mind serve as a set of foundational dispositions to grow effective thinking. We are aiming for students to have greater agency over their own learning as they work to become responsible, self-directed learners. The following are five Habits for educators to pay attention to as they grow the pedagogical conditions:

  • Listening with Understanding and Empathy: Educators strengthen their relationship with students by seeing the world from their perspective and resonating with their feelings and emotions. Educators listen closely as they withhold their own agenda, asking questions to better understand the student’s context, working to elevate the thinking.
  • Persisting: Children do not become self-directed overnight. We need to recognize this may be a mind shift and it will take time for students to behave their way into taking charge of their learning. Educators need to take a long range view and learn how to stay true to those behaviors, despite new, external demands that often serve as a distraction from what really matters.
  • Gathering Data Through all Senses: Educators in a personalized learning environment must constantly observe and document learner behaviors, products and processes. They must also pay attention to the learner’s “gut feelings” about becoming more self-directed.
  • Thinking Flexibly: As students are becoming more self-directed, educators must increase their own repertoire of instructional strategies and processes to deal with the wide range of developmental growth.
  • Metacognition: Educators need to plan for, as well as monitor and reflect on their learning design, as they pay attention to how the four attributes of personalized learning (voice, co-creation, social construction and self-discovery) create a stronger relationship with their students.

Personalization of learning is as important for adults as it is for kids. Educators need the support of the system to encourage the mind shift and its impact on practice.

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