Experienced teacher, professional developer and Chief Learning Officer of Empower the Learner, Kathleen McClaskey, shares the importance of teachers asking and listening to guide students exploration with these three key questions. She stress the role of identity for empowered learning.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the teacher edition of the Steve Barkley ponders out loud podcast. The complexity of teaching is both challenging and rewarding and my curiosity is piqued whenever I explore with teachers the multiple pathways for facilitating student engagement in the exciting world of learning. This podcast looks to serve teachers as they motivate and support their learners. Thanks for listening. I’M delighted you’re here.
Steve: 00:32 Having learners discover: who I am, how I learn and what do I aspire to be? I’m excited today to have Kathleen McClaskey joining us. She’s the co-author of the books, “Making Learning Personal” and “How to Personalize Learning.” Kathleen has focused on creating learner-centered environments as a teacher, a K12 administrator, and a consultant. Welcome Kathleen.
Kathleen: 01:05 Well, thank you Steve, for having me today. I’m excited to be here and talk about this topic that I’m really passionate about.
Steve: 01:14 Terrific. I’m wondering if you could start by giving us some definition of what we mean by personalized learning and maybe within that, how did your experiences cause you to become focused upon that?
Kathleen: 01:30 So I’m gonna give you the definition I came up with a couple of years ago after about a decade of research on personalized learning and learner-centered environments, I finally realized that there was so much confusion around personalized learning, but here’s what it is. Personalized learning is not what is done to the learner or about tailoring the learning. It’s about helping each learner to identify and develop the skills they need to support and enhance their own learning so that agency and self advocacy can be realized,
Steve: 02:10 Hence, empowering.
Kathleen: 02:12 Yes, it’s really about empowering children to be able to support their own learning because first of all, learning is personal and we actually have to develop a practice around our learning. And it’s not really what the focus is in education, but if we were to do that, it’s highly empowering to kids and kids would be able to develop agency in their learning if in fact they could support their learning. And one of the things that I’ve developed over a period of time is that we just need to have a common language so we can communicate better about our learning and the empower the learner process that I’ve introduced and have established for actually quite some time, is really a way for kids to do that. Because we need to talk about our learning and we need to share our strengths and our challenges in our learning so that we can actually take action. It seems to be simple, but it’s a relatively simple process with a profound effect for children.
Steve: 03:26 I like to put the word simple and complex together.
Kathleen: 03:29 Mm-Hmm.
Steve: 03:31 Simple doesn’t doesn’t doesn’t mean easy. It can mean deep.
Steve: 03:38 But it’s straightforward. Am I okay with my words there?
Kathleen: 03:44 Yes, absolutely.
Steve: 03:45 So you raised three questions here, so let’s take them one at a time and maybe talk about how that question supports the learner and supports the teacher who’s supporting the learner. So the first one being who I am.
Kathleen: 04:02 Yeah. Well, who I am – is that really the personal understanding of yourself? What are those things that I love to do when I’m not at school? And for adults, it’s what do I love to do? What am I passionate about? It’s about your interests. It’s about who you are, culturally, your home environment. And it’s also about what your very specific talents that you may have that you recognize. It’s sharing the foods you love. The how you wanna make a difference in the world. Those are very personal characteristics and often, in schools mainly, they actually do quite a bit of this where they talk about who I am but they don’t necessarily dive deep. Another thing very personal is how you describe yourself in words. We’ve developed this whole process and a really nice graphic about the different words of how kids would describe themselves and this is the one thing that kids really love to do is to share those sort of things out. But we want kids to develop a positive self image and it really begins talking about who I am.
Steve: 05:29 So if my teacher doesn’t know who I am, if my classmates don’t know who I am, that makes the positive self image difficult?
Kathleen: 05:39 Very difficult. Yeah. So I’ve spoken to just hundreds of educators over a period of years and one of the things that came to
my light in a recent conversation with a teacher, a middle school teacher, and he said to me, you know, it’s the stories that kids tell themselves is what they believe about themselves. And one of the most important things is for kids to be able to share their story. And this whole process is all about identity and having an identity. And I’ve made some notes to myself and I just wanna share that with the audience – always remember this, here’s what the research tells us. Identity is at the core of social and emotional learning in adolescents. If you do not have this identity, if you’re not okay with your identity, there’s problems. It’s so foundational for kids in their learning and so this first part of who I am is very important. And we want kids again, to have positive self talk because every day in school, unbeknownst a lot to parents is that kids are talking to themselves, they’re comparing each other znd that self talk goes on and on. And we do this as adults, of course too but when it’s kids, we want kids to know that I’m okay with who I am.
Steve: 07:21 Fair to say social media has provided a lot of negative for kids in that comparison piece?
Kathleen: 07:29 Yeah. Social media has had, unfortunately, quite a bit of a negative impact on children. I think that there is kids that are always trying to identify with so many things that are being said online and the influence is just significant. So when kids are feeling good about who they are, they can actually combat a lot of those things. But when kids are vulnerable, social media is that one thing that can impact kids in a very negative way. And even as adults, as I said, we do this ourselves. We do a lot of self talk. But for children, we want them to have this foundation of really being okay with who they are. You have to have some personal pride. I think that may be an old terminology and you have to have self-confidence. I know that we don’t use a lot of that terminology anymore like pride and self confidence, but that that’s so important and foundational.
Steve: 08:56 Let me try a connection. So for learning to occur, I need to be vulnerable and I probably can’t be vulnerable if I don’t have the pride and the confidence. The pride and the conference allows me to now be vulnerable, which is what I need to do to learn.
Kathleen: 09:14 Right We want kids to believe in themselves and and I I’ve created a graphic because that should be a focus is getting kids to say, I believe in myself. We want kids to believe in themselves. They have just the potential to impact the world in such a positive way and we want children to do that. I’ve had lots of conversations with educators and I often will say to them, why are we in education if it’s not for all the kids’ hopes and dreams? And that gets that whole piece on what I aspire to be, because it is about hopes and dreams. I’ve done a lot of conferences and one of the things I’ll often do is, I’ll have the audience respond to, “what were your hopes and dreams when you were kids?”
Kathleen: 10:08 And I will tell you that within seconds, everyone is able to answer that. Everyone. They wanna share that out like nothing else. And these are adults. Because as children, we all had hopes and dreams and some of us have realized those and some have not. And really it’s like keeping your eye on the prize and don’t forget about what you aspire to be because it’s usually something you’re really passionate about, something you really want to do.
Steve: 10:44 One of the strategies I worked on when I was dealing with transition from middle school to high school was that the the kids ought to have that in writing by the time they leave middle school – those hopes and dreams. And on the first day of high school, they hand a copy to all of their teachers because the expectation is the teacher’s working for you. And so in order for them to be able to work for you, they need to have a clear understanding of what you’re thinking, where you’re going, what you wanna make happen. And that would just allow teachers to make all the connections in the world back for the learner to see that the teacher is working for you.
Kathleen: 11:31 Yeah. In my practice and also as the teacher, one of the things I always thought about is, the kids having the skills and
the practices in their learning so that they can support it for a lifetime. And we really don’t have that right in education. We tend to want to do things for kids or provide more supports and really other discussions about kids having a learning practice and and we love to talk about that because this all lends itself to how I learn.
Steve: 12:17 I was gonna say – let’s spend a little time on that question – the how I learned question.
Kathleen: 12:22 So about a decade ago, first of all, I’m a long term user and practitioner of universal design for learning and I’ve developed in multiple projects over a course of a decade with schools and states about using universal design for learning around instruction. So when I got involved in personalized learning, I thought, we should be using this for the learner and for the learner to understand themselves. So the principles of universal design for learning is that we need to provide multiple means of representation, multiple means of engagement and multiple means of expression and action. But all those words sort of got in the way. So I created this UVL lens of access, engage and express. And the reason I did that is to build a common language around learning so that we could have clear communication.
Kathleen: 13:16 And so how do we, first of all, access and process information that we get on a daily basis. And we all do that in very different ways. And we both have strengths and challenges in that area. And I’m gonna get to the point that we’re really need to help kids identify their strengths and challenges. The second one is about how kids engage with content and concepts. And how that could certainly be through a number of means. It could be through problem solving or making, or could be through collaboration, but how do kids like to engage with content? And the third is, how do we express what we know and understand? And that can be provided in many different ways. So kids should be able to share their understanding, either by talking about it, writing about it, they could show it through a video or through some other multimedia.
Kathleen: 14:19 But in the end, it’s all about making sense of your learning, which is really important. So when kids can identify the strengths and challenges around access, engage, and express, then they can actually talk about it. And when you can talk about something, you can actually take action. And this is what pretty much happens in life. You can’t take action unless you can talk about it. So we need to get kids to talk about strengths and challenges in their learning, and then saying, “I have a difficult time reading.” Well, that’s probably about 20% of the population in schools. And I would really like to learn how to use Texas speech tools so I can read everything that I need to to learn. Now you would think that that would be fairly common, you know you know, example and it is, but rarely does a child ever get to say those things. And in fact, they sort of sit in their seat and because they can’t read fluently, you know, they miss out in a good portion of their education and they just have no way to communicate around that. And not all kids, by the way, get IEPs that can’t read. In fact, our literacy rate in the United States
has maintained for well over 50 or 60 years around 20% illiteracy.
Steve: 15:56 I’m hearing the key teacher piece here is ask and listen. So it’s getting the questions in front of the kids for the kids to do the reflection and then the kids’ answer being listened to solidly enough by the teacher that the teacher follows through.
Kathleen: 16:11 Right. So this whole piece, this identity piece – who I am, how I learn, what I inspired to be, is critical for the next step, because the next step is what I call a personal learning backpack in which kids have a set of tools, a set of skills to support their challenges and advance their strengths. And let the child say, I want to learn how to use this, or I need to learn, or I would like to learn. So that whole “I” is so important. Instead of you telling a child, you need to do this, you need to do this, or you need to learn those, or you need… as soon as you say the word, “need” to a child, you’ve removed two things. First of all, it’s ownership to learning. And the other one is motivation.
Kathleen: 17:12 You’ve just stripped that away as soon as you said, the word “you” and we tend to – I would take that out of the conversation in classrooms and get children really to get to talk about the “I”.I have a hard time reading or I have a hard time writing and organizing my writing. I’d really like to learn how to use a tool that could help me do that. Now that’s a request. They’re saying, I wanna learn how to do something for myself. Now you’re on your way. So that’s very different.
Steve: 17:51 Kathleen, would you tell listeners how they can follow up with you and find out about the resources that you have available?
Kathleen: 17:58 Yeah. So the thing is, we’re gonna introduce the Empower the Learner Program of later this summer, right before school
starts. You can go to empowerthelearner.com. And on that particular website, if you go to the to the section called “FAQs,” lots of answers are given to a lot of questions that you may have. And you can also contact firstname.lastname@example.org. I read my email all day long and I’d be happy to answer or respond to anyone that would have any question about this.
Steve: 18:42 We’ll put those in the lead-in to the podcast so folks can check back and find it there as well. Thank you.
Kathleen: 18:48 You’re welcome.
Steve [Outro]: 18:52 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to
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