Thanks so much for this reflection, Chris. I get crazy looks when I ask the question "What does 'individualized or personalized learning' mean?" Everyone assumes that everyone agrees and that there is one, clear definition. (duh) But if you talk to people, you get a variety of answers. Too often, the understanding people have is that it means we assess kids and figure out what they need and then deliver it to them, much as you describe in relation to the Khan Academy and various vendors.
Thanks for pulling together a solid picture of what personalization should really look like.
There are similar assumptions about many of the words we use: achievement, engagement, student-centered.... I will sometimes push back on those terms and get similar looks. I think it is absolutely essential for each organization to have the hard conversations about what we mean by our shared vocabulary. A lot of the real work will get done during those conversations before any planning even takes place.
Thank you Chris! I really appreciate this post. The term "Personalized Learning" was all over ISTE, sessions, keynotes, and the exhibit hall. Even the phrase "Flipping the Classroom" is being touted as personalized learning. Actually it is still teacher-centered. Cool idea but not personalized learning! You and I know that it all needs to start with the learner. Just like you mentioned in your post, students need to own their learning.
I am working with Kathleen McClaskey on trying to make it clear that you have to bring in the "human element" -- learners and teachers. The learner is the focus -- not the technology. I wrote a post Feb 2012 "Wrapping Personalized Learning" [http://barbarabray.net/2012/02/10/wrapping-personalized-learning/] about how companies are calling adaptive courseware personalization. Plug kids in just like the old days and track the data. This is not personalized learning!
Personalized learning is not differentiating instruction either [Jan 2012 post: http://barbarabray.net/2012/01/15/personalized-learning-is-not-differentiating-instruction/] Kathleen and I needed to make it clear what personalized learning is and is not so we created a chart comparing Personalization, Differentiation, and Individualization which is on our new site: www.personalizelearning.com along with a report detailing the chart.
Please keep writing about what your students are doing at SLA. It's all about learners taking responsibility for their own learning -- driving their learning around their passions and interests. The teacher is more of an activator or coach. You see it at your school. The time is now but we need to make sure schools understand the difference between learner-centered, learner-driven and teacher-centered environments. Adaptive courseware is data-driven not learner-driven.
Are you familiar with the work of Dr Yvette Jackson at the National Urban Alliance? Her recent award winning book, "The Pedagogy of Confidence," speaks to some of the points you mention, specifically working with student strengths.
The best description of personalization that I've come across did not have much to do with technology, even as it relied on technology as an integral tool. This description was rendered in a global online conference perhaps 8 years ago and had been in practice in England for several years prior.
The Specialist Schools Trust asked the question, what will it take to make every student successful? They had access to students in all age ranges and grades. They choose to focus on Key Stages 3 (ages 12-14) and 4 (ages 14-16).
When a student entered Key Stage 3, they would take a series of placement tests. These included standardized tests which attempted to ascertain their skill level in specific subjects and surveys of their personality, likes dislikes, learning styles, etc. Then they, their parents, their teachers, administrators and counselors, anyone who could be considered a stakeholder in that student's education would have a series of conferences. The goal of these conferences was to explore a possible direction for the student's education.
Following this, during the remainder of Key Stage 3, these students were exposed to a broad and deep variety of materials covering their interests. Continued assessment sessions were held with all the stakeholders during this period.
Toward the end of Key Stage 3 and in Key Stage 4, the student was focused into narrower but deeper instruction in areas that they both enjoyed and were good at. The intention was to produce a person at the end of this, that understood their area of concentration, had basic knowledge and skill sets to be able to focus on it at a university level.
To me this epitomizes personalized education. Although, I have not had the opportunity to visit SLA and other progressive schools, I imagine that this description (if not the ability to implement it in the same way) would resonate with you.