Personalization – Thinking More Deeply About Genius Hour

If I had to choose an ultimate goal for any and all students, I would have to say that I would hope they would all become lifelong learners seeking out their passions and consciously choosing to learn throughout their life. It is something that I continue to do to this day and it brings me joy and continues to challenge me intellectually.

I bring this up today, because I just finished reading the Educational Leadership magazine for March 2017 titled “Getting Personalization Right” and it has triggered a memory I have when working with another passionate educator.

I’m not sure if you have heard of it? Genius Hour?! (I write this with a smile on my face). When this idea first came to social media and mainstream, I couldn’t help but wonder what that would look like in education and I also couldn’t help but wonder how I might thrive in an environment such as this? I have so many unanswered questions and wonderings about the world and this profession we work in that this idea seemed to be one of great potential. I may have even Googled “How to get a job at Google.” ūüôā

Then the reality of implementing such a wonderful idea was presented to me by an educator who wanted to give it a go in her classroom.¬†I thought, “right on” – we get to see this in action and make the students fall in love with learning on their own!

We began laying the groundwork for the intermediate students by planning what this would look like over the course of approximately a month and provided time throughout the week where the students could research, linger and find out more about their passions. There were scaffolded lessons that we thought would spark the light to have the students engage during this time. We thought we were giving them what they needed.

The conclusion we came to pretty quickly was that her¬†students didn’t know what they were passionate about and the idea of wonder or questioning¬†their environment or ideas seemed to be foreign to them. Research was hard. Some projects lacked lustre. I cannot tell you how frustrating it was when you think that Genius Hour will be the “cat’s meow” and then there is a sound of “flop” lingering as we watch the Genius Hour fly by.

Come back to present day, and I am fascinated by the articles in Educational Leadership March 2017 issue. It resonated on so many levels with great suggestions and also whether or not we all have the same definition of personalization. ¬†I highly recommend reading it as the end of this school year draws to a close and Genius Hour is on your brain as a way to end on a “learning” high note.

There are things we need to consider when thinking about planning for personalization:

“We’ll fulfill its promise not by jumping on a personalization bandwagon, but rather by deep thinking, informed planning, and wise leadership exercised reflectively and persistently site by site, classroom by classroom.” ~ Carol Ann Tomlinson

“As teachers transfer greater control of learning to students, they need to intentionally develop in students the “habits of mind” that will enable them to take on this responsibility.” ~Kallick and Zmuda

These quotes makes me wonder if we need to plan purposefully throughout an entire year to give our students the mindset, skills and time to linger in their own learning. Create a Genius Hour or creative project that develops over ten months.

“We’re in swampy territory if we see personalization as a silver bullet, or if we mistake it as a goal rather than as a means to a much larger end.” ~Carol Ann Tomlinson

Now here is the kicker and something we need to think about before embarking on a Genius Hour adventure:

“Before going on, it seems wise to ask what evidence we presently have that personalized learning works. Answer: Virtually none.” ~Benjamin Riley

With where I am in my learning about education and how to improve student achievement, I must say that the article by Benjamin Riley sparked whether or not this is a good use of our learning time? And if it is something we do decide to do, we must be purposeful and provide students with guidance and feedback throughout this journey; giving them a set of skills that can be spiralled throughout their life. What, how and especially why we do things, matters!

I want to honour and applaud all of the educators who are taking this idea and having it flourish among your students. The tweets and shared experiences throughout #ldsb continues my thinking about what this can and should look like.  I believe in personalization, but through different avenues and I will continue to be open to ideas that work towards creating lifelong learners.

Make sure you check out the Institute for Personalized Learning Network website for possible ways to begin implementing personalization!

Yours in learning,

Laural

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