Monday, February 8, 2010

Personal Learning Stories

flickr CC image via Enokson

As a former special education teacher, I have had numerous opportunities to develop individual education plans (IEP) for students. Like many things special education teachers do for their students, I was left wondering why writing IEP's wouldn't be a good idea for every student. The process of developing a learner profile that addresses learning strengths and challenges, and then the setting of goals to address both seems quite logical, doesn't it? I believe that every student has a story, and I think of that story as containing three main components: the student's past; the student's present and the student's future. In a more specific context for me as the teacher, these components translate into the story I need to learn about (past), the story I need to help write (present) and the story with the happy ending (future).

As I continued to write, and re-write IEP's every year, I realized that an effective plan wasn't just one to guide learning. For me, IEP's took on a life of their own, and I began to think of them as organic and fluid; it was necessary for the IEP's to change and evolve as the students they were written for changed and evolved. I realized that the IEP was really just a story about where the student came from, where the student is 'right now' and lastly, where the student wants to be someday as a result of the learning effort he/she makes.

To effectively support students, I believe that in the context of this personalized learning approach, we have to begin at kindergarten and, pedagogically speaking, consider education as a 13 year learning story. Every student's story would begin with the IEP renamed as the 'Personal Learning Story' in Kindergarten, and this document would be passed on with the student all the way to graduation detailing challenges, goals and most importantly, successes achieved along the way. Consider the assessment possibilities that could be aligned with this form of tangible documentation... a world of possibilities providing much more insight into the individual student than a 13 year compilation of letter grades or percentile rankings.

Above all in education, the student must feel a sense of empowerment and control over his/her learning. We all write the best stories about ourselves; our experiences, thoughts, feeling, actions and words. Let's consider allowing kids to be the authors of their own learning- let's give them the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the process. The result will be a tangibly increased sense of authenticity in our classrooms, and a renewed sense of responsibility for learning on behalf of students.
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