An article in today's New York Times about how schools in New Jersey are using online personal learning plans to motivate students and raise test scores got us thinking. What if every student had an IEP -- an Individual Learning Program -- which is now only required for students who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?
The personal learning plans that the Times article discusses are primarily designed to help students focus on career goals. An IEP under the IDEA is far broader, focusing on academic skills and strategies that are designed to help each particular student learn more effectively. Of course, good teachers always individualize instruction, but it is generally done informally. What if our schools had the resources to individually evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each student, to determine what approach to the materials would make them most accessible to that student, and to modify the curriculum to meet each student's special need?
Harvard Graduate School of Education, Matt Yellin, as he prepared a series of lessons on the Second World War that he would be teaching to his high school history classes at a Boston area school. We were fascinated by lessons that included links to photos, maps, and videos that each student could use in different ways. Some could map the progress of the battles across the Pacific, using online maps with embedded images and text. Others could focus on different issues, also following their interest and level of understanding with a choice of materials. Gone are the days where everyone has a single text, which is too hard for some students and too easy for others. There is a way to go before every student has fully personalized lessons, but new technologies bring that day closer.
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