Is personalised learning the holy grail?

I was watching the Da Vinci Code movie the other night and got to pondering was the holy grail that so many knights had fought to find and in some cases protect, in fact Mary Magdalene’s sepulchre as the Dan Brown’s book suggested.

In the movie it’s the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci that provide clues as to what the grail may be and why. While many Catholics denouce the bookand its reported to be full of inaccuracies its an amazing story and it got me to ponder is personalised teaching a similar story of failed quests.

In the quest for personalised learning we must examine our practices and tools we use for the task just like Robert Langdon, the main character, who was a Professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard University did when he examined paintings for clues to find the grail. One such practice is the tool of planning.

When I first started teaching in the late 70’s, yes that long ago, we were expected to prepare the yearly course by the end of February which was taken up by the principal and commented upon. Then the weekly planner was prepared, complete with colourful clouds to depict headings, based on the yearly planner and this was inspected by the principal or year level coordinator and signed off on a regular basis. The course was based, at first on the 1954 guidelines which were replaced by other central documents. The philosophy might have been we have a set body of knowledge and testable skills to get through in a year for each grade level with set texts and it was the teachers job to mark the roll, plan the units in a year long syballis and then teach and test with marks being recorded in a test booklet. The test booklets were also collected and examined by the principal on a regular basis.

Where was the student’s prior knowledge and skills taken into account? Where were there tasks that had multiple exits points to cater for the range of leaners in our classrooms. 

I recently heard another model of 6 week units of work as this allowed units to roll over the mid term holidays rather than start and stop again. This planning model is being used in a family of schools in Toronto with some success. The teachers collect initial data on students understandings and skills, plan units of work in English and Maths, agree on an assessment task and rubrics to be used in 6 weeks and cross mark each others student work samples. During the six weeks the teachers meet on a weekly basis to look at some student work that will provide some clues as what and how they are learning and then modify the planner. 

This is a different model to our current 10 week planner which has a stop start feel to it. When I posed a planning cycle question to teachers at a recent team meeting I attended there was some enthusiasm to look at the newer model as 10 weeks was considered too long a period to plan ahead. 

This is a different model of curriculum planning for it considers the students learning [through looking at student work] and adjusts instruction on a regular basis. This might be moving closer to this holy grail of personalised learning. I await further feedback from the team leaders meeting later this week. 

Update 3/9/08

Team leaders approved the change of planning format to shorter more frequent sessions so that instruction can be adjusted based on the frequent analysis of student learning [looking at certain pieces of student work]. For 2008 teachers will have a 1/2 day planning session next week and another 1/2 day in the 5th week of term. We will see how the planning develops.

For those wanting to see the end of the movie again – here it is – and those who have another curriculum planning model that moves closer personalisation of learning closer to the grail please contact me.