Learning Differences

What are learning differences?

Learning “differences” (and not disabilities) is simply acknowledging the fact that we all are different! Instead of labeling, stigmatising and excluding, learning differences celebrate the diversity of learners we all are and what are our strengths.

The Myth of the Average

Todd Rose has worked on the Myth of the Average, you can watch his Tedx Talk here:

After watching this, I reflected and this is what I found out:

It resonates with me that no one size fits all, therefore “designing for the average” means designing for no one! No one is average, everyone is different and therefore flexibility should be at the centre of learning.

It speaks to me because I am trying to make a change in my school (and so are other colleagues) within my own practice and by inspiring others. I started by moving from “differentiation” to personalizing learning. I am still working on making this better and better. My learning environment is increasingly flexible and I ensure the foremost parameter is to create a socio-emotionally safe environment.

I am exploring Competency-Based Learning as a way to structure this: students choose their goals, their pathways, their pace and when they need to be assessed, to move to another challenge. I am finding it somewhat hard to track this because there is no such technology that easily allows me to monitor qualitative and quantitative data but I am trying to use a Sheet for now.

All our students have strengths and weaknesses, so do we adults! If we design on “average”, we design for nobody. If we design with agility (customize) or co-design (with the students), we can nurture individual potential. We should focus on the strengths.

The video doesn’t talk much about the gaps in learning though. I think that we don’t want to ignore those but we want to avoid stigmatising students and labeling them. Each profile is a mix of strengths and weaknesses. So, we need to intervene but if we know a student’s learner profile, we can find the right pathway for them to access the competency that is challenging for them.

I was totally convinced by the importance of blended learning. We need to allow access to technology because even the very basic stuff such as text to speech, defining words or translating can have a massive impact. Beyond that, as an EdTech Coach, I have plenty of resources that I can align with the new taxonomy of Marzano for instance, and allow students to choose the right tool according to what they want to demonstrate, learn about and share.

As a student, I have mostly been considered “average” but of course, I wasn’t! I remember that ranking was a huge thing in France during my schooling and I think it’s prevalent. It made me so uncomfortable. I know that I would have loved to be challenged in certain areas to achieve to my full potential and I would have absolutely loved to integrate my passions. With the standardized tests that we have in schools, we should also be very careful to avoid labeling, there is more to learning than a single story.

Here is an example of why averaging is useless: Two students score differently on different tests over time but their average is the same. One might be starting with a high score but having a low score in the last test, the other student might be the opposite. If we simply provide the average score in the report, we have no way to find out that a student might be dropping in a subject or actually needs to be challenged!

So, flexibility is key and I think that Personalized learning (probably using Competency-Based Education) is the answer we have today to give agency to our students (voice, choice and ownership). We need to know our students (learner profiles), let them create goals, let them choose the pace and design pathways for themselves. We also need to track their progress, in partnership with them, respond as we observe the learning curve and allow them to showcase their proficiency when they are ready, so they can move on to the next challenge!