Individualized learning a “big change”? What planet, etc.

It’s time for Geoff Johnson to give up the “Retired School Superintendent” reference to bolster the credibility of his self-styled “education pundit” gig. Mr. J is currently an education consultant, along with Bruce Beairsto and some others.I found this out by stumbling on a web page that lists BC education consultants. You’d think a consultant would have a web page, with cv, published articles, and recent contracts.Let me know if you find it.

In his latest article in the Victoria Times Colonist on December 22 ( The TC has one of the most frank names of any print media, don’t you think?) and other print news media, Mr. J is all excited about the great new thing, individualized learning. I have a few things to say about that. I generally have a few things to say about Mr. J’s pronouncements on public education. Some of them get published. And a few questions arise, among them, just how long has Mr. J been out of the classroom? And I don’t mean a classroom visit.

Individualized learning not a “big change” (Diane McNally, December 28, 2011)

I’m getting exasperated with all the breathless wonder around “personalized learning”. In his December 22 editorial article, Retired Superintendent of Schools Geoff Johnson claimed that “traditional school designs… assumed that kids learn the same thing at the same rate and in the same way”. Johnson actually means that the humans who designed the schools he refers to assumed that. I don’t think that’s a safe assumption.

I began teaching in the late 1960s and during my entire teacher education and practice no one ever said or even implied that students all learn the same way and at the same rate. In the interests of promoting the recent Ministry of Education’s Plan that highlights “personalized learning” (which may be code for sitting in front of a computer, iPad or apparently, a smart phone)  a lot of unfounded statements are being made about a supposed current lack of attention to individualized learning.

It is not a building that teaches our children. Some consultants would have you believe that, and have slick cut and paste PowerPoint presentations to convince Boards of Education that personalized learning is mostly about buildings – especially the buildings their clients build.

It’s telling that government will provide $350 million for capital initiatives while refusing to raise salaries of teachers, the actual critical element in education, to even the point of keeping up with inflation. But it’s clear what personalized learning will mean, since, as Johnson says, even with a possible 80,000 pieces of discrete data to be tracked in a 1,000 student high school, “the administrative technology exists”.

Too bad all the teachers who could be hired with the $275 million the government saved every year as a result of the 2002 collective agreement stripping won’t be there to personalize learning in the way we all know means the most to students: individualized attention from a caring teacher.

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