Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Personalized Learning: Portfolio writ large?

There was a grass roots revolt against "Portfolio". First, by teachers, who understood that it had been designed without any meaningful input from those on the ground who would be implementing it. Students, understanding that they were receiving little support began an online petition which eventually had over 7,500 signatures. Then, by parents, who understood when it became a barrier to graduation for their own children. Eventually, the government pulled back and canceled it.

It's a shame, because at the core, Portfolio was a good idea. But it was also a classic example of what happens when a single good pedagogical idea is cherry picked by an eager politician and implemented by people who do not actually work in the system without any money.

So with Personalized Learning. A lovely new book has been produced by the Ministry to score some points with the electorate and to appear to be involving teachers, parents and the community in the discussion. (http://www.personalizedlearningbc.ca) A handful of people will fill in the blanks, probably with a wide assortment of ideas based on anything from solid research to personal experience, and the government will say it "consulted". Meanwhile, they will forge ahead with their own plans.

Ironically, within the lovely book are some glaring contradictions. Personalized learning with standardized report cards. Less rigid curriculum with more frequent standardized testing.

But the most glaring omission? Money.

Let's remember Portfolio again. A new course. Every student required to take it. No funding whatsoever (well, to be fair, a few pennies for a few workshops - but no per student funding at all). Counselor time had to be used to meet with students and help them prepare because there was no portfolio "course". This was typically taken from other teaching time, meaning increased class sizes in the rest of the school. Most Districts also purchased expensive online portfolio systems, with funds coming from other areas of the District budget and corresponding cuts in those areas. For what? For the whole thing to be discontinued and replaced a few short years later with the graduation transition plan.

I am not opposed to significant change. There are lots of things wrong with how our schools are organized. But this government plan will not lead to improvements - it will lead to fewer services for students. It is a cost cutting measure dressed up in nice pedagogical clothing with "pseudo" consultation.

If the government were truly interested in moving to "great" schools from "good" schools, they would properly fund the system, they would have a thorough discussion with all the participants (royal commission?), and they would eliminate the profiteers from the discussion (we really don't need the technology council telling us how to sell more IT products to school districts).


  1. If this government believes so strongly in collaboration why aren't they collaborating with one of the key stakeholders - teachers?

    It is unfortunate because many teachers I talk to are ready for a shift in education and if the government was willing to participate in honest to goodness cooperative collaboration we could create something amazing.

    I worry that this will be imposed from the top down, and when teachers bring up issues with it their comments will be seen as resistent rather than constructive.

  2. I have to thank a colleague who pointed out my misuse of the word "fulsome" which I have now corrected.

    offensive to good taste, especially as being excessive; overdone or gross: fulsome praise that embarrassed her deeply; fulsome décor.
    disgusting; sickening; repulsive: a table heaped with fulsome mounds of greasy foods.
    excessively or insincerely lavish: fulsome admiration.

  3. Still laughing about that definition and the many times I have heard that term used incorrectly in the past 4 months.

  4. Thanks for so clearly summarizing what has been bugging me since we first started hearing about 21st century learning, Tara. I'm all for seeing change in the way we teach and am excited about integrating technology into my program. But when I see the literature coming from the ministry (scant on details as it tends to be) I can't help but read between the lines. I had a class of 21 students in late French immersion this year and had one of the best years of my teaching career. Working only 0.909 I had three extra periods for prep. each week and had the time to create many fun projects and do lots of different kinds of assessment. I was able to personalize my students' math programs in a way that met their individual needs and significantly cut down on their math anxiety. I can see such a difference in my students' oral French skills this year compared with last year when I had 30 students and worked a 1.0. This is the change we need to see in our system- more prep periods for teachers and fewer students per class and then we will be able to teach more creatively and tend to our students' individual needs. Sadly, it doesn't look like this is what the ministry is planning...

  5. Here here! As usual Tara you have put into words what is so blatantly and unfortunately, typically ironic, regarding most of the 'schemes' that government comes up with to make themselves look good and of course, to keep themselves employed. As usual they have devised something quickly, without very much depth or foresight and which lacks holistic and supported ideas and in the end is mosty ‘jargon’ and will probably be a waste of whatever time and money is thrown at it, especially to promote itself.
    I agree with Tara's description of what “personalized learning” means and looks like. Ideally that is how I believe education should take place, as well as having a strong element of integrated and relevant curriculum with a connection to community and the world.