Thursday, January 3, 2013

Personalized Learning

It has now been over four years since the original Alberta Education "Setting the Direction for Special Education" consultations that took place around our province.  I remember vividly attending those sessions wearing both my parent and teacher hat at the time.  In time, the "Setting the Direction" initiative became "Action on in Inclusion".  Through all of this the definition of what inclusion actually is seems to remain rather illusive. 

It is easy to get caught up in trying to define "inclusion".  And in my role, it is eay to get caught up in advocating for inclusion for the students I serve. 

But on many levels, when it comes to my students, inclusion is a bit irrelevant in the bigger picture. What matters is what has matter since the day I started this job.  And that is that we are personalizing their learning and ensuring that we are meeting their individual, often complex, needs.  With so many of the students that I work with, this means first and foremost finding ways to actively engage them in learning.

The question is what should they be learning?

As a parent, as my son gets older, I find myself more and more often projecting past the time he is in school.  What will his life be like?  Where will he live?  What will he do both for work and leisure?  How will I ensure his financial security?  How I will I ensure his health... particularly his social/emotional/phsycological health?  And it gets as basic as how will I ensure his safety?  What can we do now to ensure that his adult life is meaningful?  

He is in school for such a short time and yet what we do while he is in school can have a major impact on the quality of his adult life.  How do we personalize his education so that he has the greatest chance of that quality adult life? 

According to Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (, qaulity of adult life comes down to:
  • relationships with people who love and care about them
  • the opportunity to contribute
  • a home to call their own
  • supportive decision making
  • financial security
According to Giangreco, Cloninger and Iverson (Choosing Outcomes & Accommodations for Children, 3rd Edition), who take a look more from the school-aged standpoint, valued life outcomes consist of
  • safety and health (physical and emotional)
  • a home, now and in the future
  • meaningful relationships
  • control and choice (suited to the student's age and culture)
  • meaningful activities in various and valued places
In the end, what we want for any student as they move to through the system is for them to gain the skills to take control of their own life.  I have heard it often said that this comes down to "life skills" or "being independent" or "vocational skills".  I would argue that it comes down to self-awareness, communication, autonomy and socialization. 

Personalizing is more than individualizing.  Personalizing means giving the student (and their family as they know the student best and some interpretation of communication might need to happen given the non-conventional ways that some of thest students communicate) an ever-increasing voice in the process.  This perhaps is the most important skill in moving towards the adult life we want for all of our students. 

If we are looking to personalize programs and focus on things like self-awareness, communication, autonmy and socialization the next question then becomes how do we do that and part of that question is where is the best place to work on these skills. 

So it is about inclusion on some levels but the bottom line is that it actually is about students and learning. 

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