Getting Personal

During my lengthy break from blogging, I rediscovered the power of online conversations where many voices participate. In fact, as I think about it, the power of conversation is part of the reason for the length of my blogging break. Even when readers comment and a conversation develops, a blog is essentially a one-way communication tool. It feels a lot more like a lecture … and as much as I love a great lecture, I usually prefer the give-and take of a more conversational approach to learning. (With that said, there’s an interesting counterpoint by Dr. Mark Samuelson in the New York Times today. His point, which is well-taken, is that great lecturers “read” the audience, tailor their message to the audience, and create a conversational community both during and after the lecture. Thanks to Judith Peller Hallett for sharing it publicly on Facebook, where it has sparked an interesting conversation!)

Anyway, the power of conversation and the importance of personal connection have been on my mind this week. The work we’ve been doing on the Tres Columnae site this week has required me and Ann to go back over all the early stories, line by line … and as we’ve done this, I’ve been thinking again about how important it is for our learners to have a personal connection with at least one character. They may hate whiny little Cnaeus, admire the persistence of poor-but-proud Lollius, empathize with patient Impigra the mouse, or cheer for Fortunata the cow … but if there’s no personal connection at all, the experience will be so much less than it could be. And if, as a learner, you just passively consume the Tres Columnae materials – using them, in essence, as a talking online textbook rather than an authentic learning community – your experience will also be significantly impoverished. (Of course there’s a continuum of online participation that begins with consumption and moves up through collection and connection to curation and creation … and there’s nothing wrong with starting with consumption! Our goal, though, is to help our participants move up that continuum when they’re ready.)

With these thoughts in the back of my mind, on Tuesday evening I participated in an #edchat on Twitter where the topic was personalized learning. Someone mentioned Differentiated Instruction as a key to personalization. Now, long-time readers of this blog know that differentiation is important to me, and you probably know that I teach an online staff-development course about differentiation for my face-to-face school district. But as I read that Tweet, I kept thinking “Differentiation is not personalization.” That led to a lengthy conversation on Twitter, which in turn sparked this Google+ post and a deeply thoughtful conversation about differentiation, personalization, and choice-based learning. I think we agreed that differentiation is a teacher-driven activity, while personalization focuses more on the student and choice-based learning gives real ownership to the learner. We also agreed that differentiation can be a first step away from factory-model “information delivery.” But I’d invite everyone to read, comment, agree, or disagree!

I still haven’t made the Venn Diagram I promised to make about Differentiation and Personalization! Does anyone have a favorite online diagram creator? I’d love to make an editable one rather than just a PDF.  I’d also love to know how you’d define the (slippery but important) distinctions among differentiation, personalization, and choice-based learning.

To what extent do you try to differentiate or personalize your students’ learning experiences? To what extent do you build choice into their learning? Or, if you’re not a teacher, to what extent do you desire a personalized or choice-based learning experience? quid respondētis, amīcī?

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Published in: on July 20, 2012 at 2:00 pm  Comments (5)  

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  1. How glad I am to see your return to blogging. After ACL Institute, I was inspired in preparing for the upcoming school year. Reality, however, set in as I was thrust into teaching Intensive Latin (at the local university). As I prepare for class each day, I struggle to deliver/facilitate an experience that responds to the individual needs/desires/experiences of the individuals in the class. In our brave and determined group are PhD candidates from other departments (history, philosophy, etc.), law school students who want to read Cicero in the original, emerging teachers (primarily in Romance Languages) who want to know and grow, and undergraduates attempting to fulfill their language requirements before graduation. While the delivery mode is difficult to differentiate (because of obvious and not so obvious reasons), I have discovered that allowing students to *choose* their independent reading groups has fostered a spirit of personalization that the students seem to enjoy. Of course, my efforts are not original, but they are original to my experience in teaching this class (which I have done along side another professor since 2005). Since I often teach the second half of the course, the students have developed momentum along a certain path (determined by the the instructional philosophy of the first professor and the circumstances that the course necessitates). In many ways, my task is to continue the momentum established in the first half of the course. My goal for the course (which matches the departmental goal) is to bring students to a point where they can *read* Latin efficiently and effectively.

    I write all of this for two reasons: first, to begin the process of consolidating my thoughts in a public profession of my beliefs (which of course forces me to “own” them) and second, to solicit feedback about how YOU would teach an intensive Latin course with the goal stated above (we have five weeks to accomplish our task). My focus on *reading* above was intentional because I think that we in the profession have very different ideas about what *reading* means. I let you, gentle reader, decide that for yourself.

  2. Randy, thanks so much! It’s good to be back, and it was great to be able to spend so much time with you at ACL last month. What an interesting combination of learners in that Intensive Latin class! I’ve been thinking all day about how to bring students to the point of *reading* Latin well in five weeks (how many hours a day?), and I think that will turn into at least one blog post in the days ahead.

    FIrst question, as you said: how to define reading? Second: what level of reading proficiency is desired? Third: how to get there from here?

    Any preliminary answers?

  3. […] keep thinking about Randy’s point in his comment on Friday’s post: My focus on *reading* above was intentional because I think that we in the […]

  4. […] I mentioned last week, one positive effect (and cause?) of my lengthy silence here was that I’d discovered other […]

  5. […] dive into the other questions I asked had last Tuesday, in response to Randy’s comment the previous Friday, about structure, vocabulary, and methodology in a summer intensive course that’s designed to […]


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