Personalization vs. Differentiation

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Personalization vs. Differentiation

Scotti Hagensick
As a school counselor, this is a challenging topic for me to discuss. In the education realm, I often feel left out of the discussions centering on differentiation, personal learning, standards-based grading, and other initiatives and areas of focus. Today's school counselors are required to have advanced graduate-level degrees but we do not necessarily have a teaching license. I am in my second year as a counselor and simply put, the first year was a major challenge just attempting to learn what school looks like in addition to all the acronyms and approaches. I often feel thrown into the education ring and told to differentiate my instruction and personalize the learning. I have come a long way but initially I felt like, "How can I even begin to do that when I have no classroom teaching experience whatsoever?" I teach more than 500 students in once-a-week classroom lessons. I have different standards and goals designed for my students' learning. With that in mind, I truly do believe that the counseling topics I teach are absolutely able to be geared toward personal learning. I am so excited to emerge from this course with a more focused idea of what this looks like.

As far as differentiation, I think I engage in this far more than personal learning. When considering differentiation, I often think of the viral Google image titled "Equality vs. Equity." This image depicts three students standing on a box of the same height under the word "equality." As teachers, equality means everyone gets exactly the same thing. The next image shows the same three students standing on different boxes varying in height with the title "Equity." This is how I view differentiation. Everyone gets what they NEED in order to learn. As a counselor, I am highly aware that certain concepts (TV shows, clothing brands, skills, etc.) will be foreign to certain students I work with. For example, many of my students did not know the difference between a "yard sale" and a "grocery store." This goes to show that you cannot assume students should all get the same thing when learning. I differentiate to meet the needs of special education students. I will modify or adjust the lesson, incorporate flexible seating, and projects to meet the different needs in the classroom. In this way, I adjust my counseling curriculum to met their needs.

Personal learning is brand new for me. I am still struggling at times to differentiate my curriculum. I have not yet begun moving toward personal learning. To me, differentiation seems to be the first step before attempting personal learning. You need to understand your students needs first from your own perspective. Personal learning allows them to focus on what their needs on, develop their own goals, how they will learn, evaluate, and move forward in their learning. It is exciting to see that students are completely capable of identifying their interests, skills, and needs and completing designing their own learning. Differentiation is learning with adjustments made by me, the educator. Personal learning is self-directed and collaborative learning in which students learn with and from each other.

I do not think I could personally enter a classroom and immediately tell the difference between differentiation and personalized learning. I do think I would notice something is going on but to me, most of my exposure has come in the way of differentiation. I simply need to learn more about this topic.