Friday, June 22, 2012

Blame It On Your Birthday

Personalized Learning in the Common Core Standards

Personalized learning is often impeded by one simple roadblock: your birthdate.
By Amy Esselman

Do you ever think back to your grade school days? I do.

I liked where I sat. I liked the kids I went to recess with. I liked the kids in my class—did I mention we were all the same age, or at least close?

Sure, we all learned at different speeds, but it didn’t matter. We had birthdays that fell in a certain spot, and as a result we were put into a certain class.

In fact, it may not surprise you, but most of us made friends based on who was in our class—friends that stretch far beyond the walls of K-12 education. Was it chance, luck, or a coincidence that we made those bonds?

No. No. Nope. You have your birthday to thank.

Friendships aside, did it make sense to group us by age and not skill level? I say, No. Don’t get me wrong. I already said I liked my classmates, that’s not the issue. Year in school is often dictated by year in age. You’re 5, so you start kindergarten. Who made that rule?

Imagine if we tweaked this tradition. Imagine if we took a closer look at each student—making a conscious effort to assign and track skill level, not age. Just because I was 10 didn’t mean I knew everything a 5th grader should know. Just because I turned 12 didn’t mean that everything in 7th suddenly made sense.

Skills, not age, define readiness.

I’m not saying abandon grade levels in schools all together, but I am asking you to look beyond them.

When we personalize learning, and standardize skill expectations in the classroom we give all students a chance to excel based on what they know, not how old they are. That’s a pretty cool concept.

Quite frankly, I think it relieves a lot of student stress and worry. Too often students feel pressured to know everything because that’s what their “age” says they should know. We all learn differently—at different speeds, in different ways. We need to embrace that idea. It doesn’t mean letting kids take years to complete a level, it means letting students figure out a comfortable pace to master and understand skills, moving faster and slower as they see fit.

I’m in my twenties and I still feel like there are areas I could have understood better. Just because I’m older doesn’t mean everything suddenly becomes clear. If we feel this way, imagine how struggling students feel. Age is just a number; it doesn’t have to determine our grade.

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