If you have spent time on Proctor’s Admission site you have seen our tagline, Which Path Will You Choose. We take great pride in the breadth of programming offered given our relatively small size. With more than 135 academic courses, 30 art electives, 30 athletic and afternoon activities, Learning Skills, and five term-long off-campus programs, Proctor students have a plethora of opportunities to shape their unique Proctor experience!
English teacher, Tom Morgan, shared this blog post by Alfie Kohn warning of the pitfalls of using the term ‘personalized learning’ in describing an educational model. Personalization is not a new phenomenon, and we recognize many educational institutions and for-profit companies use the term to describe their approach to teaching. We believe this is a mistake and Kohn’s blog helps articulate why.
Kohn quotes Tocqueville as observing American society in the 1830s as personalized, but only to a degree, “We cherish our commitment to individualism yet experience a ‘relentless pressure to conform.’ Each of us can do what he likes as long as he ends up fundamentally similar to everyone else: You’re ‘free to expand as a standardized individual.’”
This philosophy too often defines how schools describe personalized education as well. Personalized learning that exists in many schools may adjust the difficulty of cookie-cutter activities to 'fit each student', but that model does not actively work alongside the student to understand and develop a custom curriculum around a student’s unique passions and needs. Through small classes, personal relationships between faculty and students, and an integrated Learning Skills program, Proctor understands each student as an individual learner.
Kohn identifies four ways schools should provide personal (not personalized!) learning to students. We were not surprised that Kohn's suggestions align perfectly with Proctor's educational model. Read the rest of this Academic Lens post to see why!
Students are encouraged to customize their experience and do not have their experience customized for them. At Proctor, each advisor and student work together to create a 4-Year Academic Plan. This plan is fluid, but encourages students to think about what classes, off-campus programs, art courses, or sports they want to experience during their Proctor career. Advisors serve as guides, but students drive their own academic plan.
Education should be about the construction of meaning, not the delivery of ‘customized content’ to students. The Profile of a Proctor Graduate describes students who understand learning is about the journey, not about the destination. We desire each of our graduates to not only be knowledgeable about the world around them, but to be curious about why the world is the way it is.
Education should be focused on growth and not on test scores. Kohn notes, “Tracking kids’ ‘progress’ with digital profiles and predictive algorithms paints a 21st-century gloss on a very-early-20th-century theory of learning.” We couldn’t agree more here at Proctor! Check out this blog post posted in December that highlights Proctor's feelings about this!
It’s not all about technology! Customized learning does not come from a given technology, but from a unique journey on which each student embarks each time they enter the learning process. Sure, we use technology in each of our classes, but learning does not happen because of technology, technology simply enhances the learning that takes place in many situations. Learn more about our thoughts on technology in the classrooms HERE!
Kohn ends his piece by saying, “While making sense of ideas is surely personal, it is not exclusively individual because it involves collaboration and takes place in a community.” These thoughtful words align with, and will continue to guide, our educational philosophy. Whether studying on Mountain Classroom, in Segovia, Spain, or in Shirley Hall, each student’s educational journey at Proctor will be entirely personal, but will be far from an individual experience. It is Proctor's understanding of this coexistance of the individual within a tight-knit community that lays an unparalleled foundation for student growth.