March 22, 2022 8:00 am

Humanizing Personalized Learning with Paul Emerich France

“The key to personalized learning is seeing and honoring the humanity in every student.”

Personalized learning is in high demand as schools navigate the uncertainties of a pandemic. While web-based, adaptive tools allow us to individualize learning for students, we can’t forget the need to humanize models for personalization and center students in our instruction. 

In a webinar on March 3rd, Paul Emerich France elaborated on four pillars of the Humanized Personalization Equity Framework, and teachers left with tangible steps they could implement the next day to humanize personalization in their classrooms.

High School student sits at desk playing with a pencil

Center Humanity

“Make space in your teaching for identity work, storytelling, and discussions of belonging.” 

Paul emphasized the importance of exploring identity, not just as a beginning of the year “get-to-know-you” activity. Revisit the topic of identity throughout the year because “when students know and see one another, we create cultures of belonging which are critical to equity work.” 

Redefine Success 

“Humanize assessment through qualitative assessment, interactive portfolios, and journaling.” 

While learner agency is key to the success of personalized learning, he cautioned that it’s not a “free-for-all.” Teachers should focus on actions and activities that cultivate agency, like validating students’ journeys and promoting student self-evaluation. 

Using a simple structure focusing on celebrations, challenges, and next steps, teachers can use qualitative assessments to get an understanding of the whole picture of a students’ learning journey. Though these assessments are qualitative, Paul emphasized that they should still be standards-aligned.  

Teach in Three Dimensions 

“Make learning personal in whole-group, small-group, and individualized settings.” 

Paul touted the workshop model’s opportunities for both convergence and divergence as a prime learning model to incorporate all three dimensions. Convergence allows for interpersonal connection, he said, while “divergence allows for both learner- and teacher-driven personalization.” 

The Three Dimensions: 

1. Shaping the collective conscious
“Personalized learning can happen in the whole group with the right techniques.” 

  • Short mini lessons 
  • Universal content 
  • Competencies and habits 
  • Encouraging student voice 

2. Small groups and partnerships 
“Small groups and partnerships allow for building a collective consciousness in smaller, more intimate settings.” 

  • Leverage formative data to make flexible groupings 
  • Mix heterogeneous and homogeneous groupings 
  • Make all learning a conversation 

3. Nurturing the inner dialogue 
“Individualization can occur in the classroom, just not necessarily in the way you might think.” 

  • Conference efficiently by providing one compliment and one suggestion
  • Document conferences in student journals using sticky notes 

Prioritize Connection 

“Keep students connected to one another through complex instruction and EdTech Minimalism.” 

Complex instruction is composed of three elements: multiple-ability curriculum, human-centered instructional strategies, and culturally aware pedagogy. Paul showed an example of an open-ended math activity and provided a downloadable resource to plan for a similarly complex activity. 

In order to practice EdTech Minimalism, Paul suggested asking yourself these four questions when planning to incorporate technology into instruction: 

  • Will the technology minimize the complexity of personalization?
  • Will the technology maximize individual power and potential?
  • Will the technology reimagine learning?
  • Will the technology preserve or enhance human connection? 

Reflecting on these answers helps us to see the difference between humanized and dehumanized personalization. Humanized personalization is powered by humans, while dehumanized personalization is powered by technology. Humanized personalization connects learners, while dehumanized personalization isolates them. By working toward always centering students in instruction, we are on the path toward humanizing personalized learning. 

Free Resources

Download Paul’s Identity Unit and Planning for Complex Instruction guide.  

Watch the webinar recording: