One cost of personalization


I think it is far too easy to jump on some form of bandwagon and not bother to look around and assess how this bandwagon is actually running, and whether this particular wagon is fitting your needs or not. In other words, I want to share some of my current day woes about this foray into personalization.

While students were charting their own course through the Mind Blowing Matrix of Connections  I noticed something rather quickly: when students had the chance to work at their own pace, this actually translated to students working slower than I had hoped for. In my mind, I was thinking that students could likely browse for one session, and have maybe one (or max two other sessions) to actually write up their brief paragraphs about connection. But no…I was rudely awakened to the fact that “at your own pace” might mean that students’ timelines and my own timeline are not necessarily in sync. I had designed the experience around students perhaps working more quickly (and thus the advanced and optional stages), but why would a student challenge themselves towards the “advanced and optional” stages if they had the chance to work slower and do less? I heard a lecture once about brain development and reading (although it really applies to any kind of learning) that our brains are set up to conserve energy, so yes, I can certainly appreciate where my students would be coming from. 


Which actually brings me back to a conversation the personalized posse (Aaron Vigar, Danielle Ganley, Brent Hurley, Carloyn Bilton, Alan MacInnis, Brad Bohte) had at the 3rd Face-2-Face session at MaRS: should more challenging tasks be “worth more” in terms of marking and grades?

If you take a peek at the Mind Blowing Matrix of Connections, you will see that the content on the grid is more challenging as the numbers increase (in other words, it is easier to connect a level 1 than it is to connect a level 7). There is no incentive for a student to try and connect a level 7 artifact to The Book Thief. Should I have created a gradient with this grid, so that if you looked at artifacts from the 1-3 range, the most you could score is a 2/4, if you went to artifacts from the 4-6 range you could at most score a 3/4, and if you challenged yourself to connect artifacts from the 7-9 range, you could achieve a 4/4?

Because this Matrix thing is but one component of a larger unit on The Book Thief, I’m not overly worried about my students not challenging themselves to their appropriate “zone of proximal development”, but rather I’m hoping to consider some of these mini-pitfalls and use my realizations to help me build better, more mind-blowing personalized experiences for my students in the future.

How have you, oh expert personalizers, accounted for differing speeds, conservation of energy, challenge levels, and zones of proximal developments with assessment of personalized learning?

About the Author
Passionate and curious about technology, smiles, special education, differentiated instruction, forests, graphic novels, accessibility, anti-oppression, and warm beverages. Can often be found laughing with young people and improvising songs on the spot. @teach_tomorrow

3 comments on One cost of personalization

  1. Celeste,

    I wonder if choice is the key? Not so much choosing whether or not to make more advanced connections, but, upon being required to make a certain number at a certain level, choosing which ones to make.

    Hey: Now that we have a posse, we definitely need posse-like handles…

  2. Ramesh says:

    What about gamifying the experience and providing more options? For instance providing digital trophies for different levels of achievement. For options, would it be possible to provide questions at the same level on a different book? Or maybe different types of questions – analytic vs creative? Just wondering – please excuse if the questions are naiive…

  3. Hi Celeste,
    I really like what Alan and Ramesh have to say. I would add to this conversation two things:
    1) At certain ages and stages, the term “at their own pace” is quite relative. Setting up deadlines, and guiding students to work towards and ultimately meet these deadlines is key. I am using this same approach now in my English class, but each row that I have used has a ‘due date’ attached to it. That way, I know who is meeting and exceeding expectations and can adjust my teaching and strategies accordingly
    2) Contract learning: personalized learning can integrate the use of contracts in a really positive and motivating way. I’ve employed these with great success in the high school panel with students that are exceeding the pace, where we set up a contract so that they can take safe academic risks with their learning. What I mean by this is, instead of having a student write an essay that they are going to get a Level 4+ on (because they have the skill, talent and motivation to do so), I create a contract with a minimum mark that makes it safe to take a risk and try something different.

    A specific example was a student (aiming to get into a US Ivy School) that wanted to write an essay. With the contract he completed an incredibly creative alternative that required interdisciplinary thinking: a French Revolution CookBook “Revolutionary Recipe”. I still have it to show students what is possible!

    Thanks for this thoughtful post and questions!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.