Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Class size = Personalized learning

I find it so difficult to understand how the Ministry, Superintendents and Trustees can be so worked up about personalized learning and so reticent about improving class size.

Personalized learning is completely dependent on class size. The simple math is that the larger the class, the less personalized the learning. There are fewer minutes per child.

The best personalized learning happens with an individual education plan (and I mean not in the ministry sense, but the plain meaning), includes one-on-one, small group and large group instruction and activities, plenty of assessment to direct the learning and a program that is constantly evolving to reflect the learning taking place and where to go next.

Vygotsky, a Russian educational psychologist, in his widely accepted theory of learning, described the optimal learning occurring in the "zone of proximal development". This means that the best learning occurs when the student is attempting something just outside their current ability level. If they can already do it, they aren't learning. If it is too hard, they fail and don't learn.

Providing learning activities within a student's "zone" is possible only if either every student has the identical background to begin with and as they progress (an impossibility) or if activities are tailored to meet the student as much as possible.

Teachers try to meet students' needs. They practice "differentiated learning" - a teaching technique to attempt to meet different learning needs in the same time and at the same place. But this is an inadequate replacement for personalized learning. In a typical BC classroom, that might have multiple students on the autism spectrum, a student with mild intellectual disability, several students with learning disabilities, students who are gifted and above grade level, students who are behind grade level and students with English as a Second Language, successful personalized learning simply isn't possible. Differentiation is a very poor substitute for teacher time and attention.

So if these education partners mean what they say...if personalized learning is truly important, then class size will be too.

Only with small classes do teachers have the time to meet the individual needs of students. It's that simple.

1 comment:

  1. Tara, I won't argue the fact that smaller class sizes will help teachers as they make the move toward personalized learning, but I don't think it is the only factor. To say that if we have smaller class sizes then all teacher can and will effectively differentiate and personalize is unfounded. Personalization for all students is too complex to attribute to one factor. Teachers must also have time to engage in professional development and ongoing professional learning.