Personalized Learning: No Robot Teachers

cup of robots ~ on whiteAs students left for Physical Education, Mrs. F. reminded them that when they returned, each student would have an individualized list of the math concepts they needed to work on later in the day.  These lists were created by looking at the classwork, homework, and formative assessments students completed recently.  This is personalized learning.

E. is in fifth grade but is dyslexic and reads significantly below grade level.  He is able to access a digital version of the Social Studies textbook with text-to-speech capabilities.  After listening to the text, he can participate fully in classroom discussions about the events leading up to the American Revolution.  Using the speech-to-text option in Google Docs, he can also respond in writing to the comprehension questions, and writing prompts, and take notes on his reading.  This is personalized learning.

Ms. M.’s class is working to increase their multiplication math fact fluency.  Once students have mastered the concept of multiplication, memorizing the facts in order to better utilize them in problem solving is most often done through the tried-and-true method of flashcards, excruciatingly boring for both the student and the person working with them.  By using a service called Reflex Math, students can practice their math facts with adaptive algorithms that repeat facts that students still need to master, have progress tracking available to student and teacher, and positive feedback.  This is also a form of personalized learning.

Universal Design is personalized learning.  P-B learning (take your pick: Problem-, Passion-, Project-based) is personalized learning.  In none of these scenarios is the teacher replaced by a robot, and yet this is the cry being made by those convinced that human teachers will go the way of the dodo and all students will spend their days from age 3 through 22 seated in front of a computer.

While some will claim that the third scenario essentially replaces a teacher, I disagree.  Flashcard practice has been a home assignment and one that teachers have found parents less and less available to do with their students.  Flashcard practice doesn’t take a Master’s degree in Education to perform; creating rich problem-solving projects that utilize math facts in order to complete them, does require well-trained educators.  Where would you prefer your child’s teacher devote their time?  As an educator, where do you think your planning and teaching time is best spent?

While technology can help facilitate personalized learning, personalized learning is about people and pedagogy, not boxes and screens.  Or robots.