As we continue to focus almost exclusively on core curriculum and tests, we fail to understand that personalized education is our key to success. Over the last few decades, much has been written about learning styles, multiple intelligences and how each brain learns differently. As a principal, I followed this research closely and applied it in my schools over a 30-year period.
In the spirit of professional learning communities, I focused all of our staff meetings on personalizing learning. I created presentations and activities that addressed a variety of learning styles and intelligences. I also considered how the adult brain learns while preparing my learning activities. Personalization and uniqueness became embedded in the culture of our school. Students and staff believed that everyone was unique and could shine when given the chance. Together, we learned the power of personalizing learning.
I believe that personalizing learning remains an “if only” type of change. If only we had smaller student/teacher ratios; had tools to analyze learning styles, brain strength and intelligences; had access to brain functioning information — even brain scans when necessary; had leaders who understood the importance of the words, ”students learn in different ways and at different rates;” had the tools necessary to personalize education and, most importantly, had a shared belief that this was our key to success.
It may be years before public education embraces the concept and takes the big steps necessary to redefine the purpose and processes of public education. In the meantime, here are some suggestions on how you can champion these changes right now.
- Understand and apply Rita Dunn’s Learning Styles Model. We used it with disadvantaged students with remarkable results. Teachers were amazed at the power of addressing the environmental, sociological, emotional, physiological and psychological elements of individual learning styles. Although it sounds complex, it is manageable and has dramatic impact on results.
- Understand and apply Howard Garner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Each student possesses a unique blend of the following intelligences: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic and the recently considered existential and moral intelligences.It is through this unique mix of strengths and talents that we will be able to maximize student learning, growth and development.
- Understand and apply current brain research, particularly the work of Eric Jensen and Pat Wolfe who have translated brain research into classroom practice. Also research brain plasticity as you must believe in this if you are to move forward with this powerful concept.
Finally, if you have doubts about whether you should focus your efforts on personalizing education rather than implementing core curriculum in a relatively uniform manner, please read The Animal School: A Fable or view this video. You will not be able to ignore the uniqueness in each and every one of us.
Carol Hunter is an award-winning, retired elementary-school principal and author of “Real Leadership Real Change”. She is president of Impact Leadership, a consulting company focused on bringing real change to public education. Learn more at www.impactleadership.ca.