Students Share Thoughts on Personalized Learning: Part Four

In the final episode of our interviews with college students, we asked them what they might say to schools, educators, parents or students considering personalized learning.

It's "Our Time"- Notes from the Statehouse


UP for Learning is an organization that helps educational institutions across the country fully engage students in their own learning through a research-based model that focuses on deepening youth-adult partnerships in schools. I had an amazing opportunity today at the Vermont Statehouse to witness how Up For Learning engaged with students to create a song about Act 77 which mandated personalized learning in Vermont schools.

Their work extended beyond the song writing collaboration and involved the creation of a music video called "Our Time". This morning, they presented their work to the House Education Committee. As part of her testimony, high school junior Dorothy said "I was looking for meaning in my education, and I wanted to show what my education meant to me." The creation of this song was a perfect example of students finding meaning in their education and Dorothy and the others were able to convey through song what education meant to them. Hearing them speak about the importance of having agency at their schools was a special kind of inspiration. 

In general, seeing youth in the Statehouse testifying (and not just touring the building) to a legislative committee, is a heartening experience. It makes sense that students would be testifying in front of the education committee. It strikes me now that all committees should hear from youth on every issue. 

After all, what’s the point of creating laws and regulations if they aren't in service of the next generation and those to come? 

Today was beautiful because a state embraced a group of students who collaboratively created a piece of art declaring their need to be coauthors of their education. This may sound like a no brainer or like its not a big deal but when you think about the old paradigm - that is still present across most of the country - where students are passive participants in a prescribed plan designed to mold them to a set of societal expectations that don't honor their individuality or create a supportive community in which they can grow.  So...it is a big deal.  

This is an absolutely critical moment. We can't afford to continue to have stagnated systems in a hyper connected, rapidly changing world. Today, I witnessed a brilliant example of what learner centered, open-walled and socially embedded education looks like. It is possible. This is not just an isolated incident in a small progressive state. 

This was a glimpse at a larger paradigm shift that is taking place across the country that has the potential to radically improve the engagement of our citizens and our ability to tackle global, complex problems because graduates of our schools will have had the experience of practicing locally through personally relevant projects. 


Liam entered a personalized learning program his senior year of high school and as a student of SchoolHack co-founder Josie Jordan, found a passion for learning and a desire to teach.  Liam studied social entrepreneurship at Champlain College and developed a platform for personal and communal empowerment.  A volunteer and member of the Community Advisory Committee at the Community Justice Center in Burlington, Liam brings his social and personal work to SchoolHack helping the student voice be heard and connecting schools, learners and the outside community with one another.  Liam is a lifelong Vermonter committed to empowering the local economy and environment, and a passionate explorer of the outdoors and an artist.

Education Policy & Technology Solutions

Thomas Alderman, M.Ed., Former Director of Adult and Secondary Education for Vermont Agency of Education.  Current Director of Policy and Governance for SchoolHack Solutions.

by Thomas Alderman, M.Ed., former Director of Adult and Secondary Education for Vermont's Agency of Education

While the teacher-centered classroom may still be the norm in many schools in America, the national trend is toward a learning environment that is student-centered and student-driven.  We want our students to be able to take advantage of all learning opportunities without the restriction of time or place.  We want to know that our students are able to demonstrate knowledge and skill in relation to rigorous expectations.  We want our students to be at the center of the construction of their own learning experience.  

In many States, policies are shifting to reflect this trend.  The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) establishes national education policy that acknowledges and supports this trend.  For-profit businesses and non-profit organizations are developing and marketing products and professional learning opportunities to support this shift.  Postsecondary teacher preparation programs are evolving in order to reflect this shift.  Researchers are designing studies to measure the success of the policy and practice changes.  

Vermont offers an example, where Act 77 of 2013 (Flexible Pathways Initiative), in combination with the Education Quality Standards of 2014, have established a policy environment for public education based on a transition to personalization, flexibility and proficiency.  Vermont educators are being asked to make significant practice changes over what must feel like a short time period.  They are to have Personalized Learning Plans (PLP) for all students in grades 7 through 12 by the 2018/19 school year, Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements (PBGR) for the class of 2020 (which means having the PBGRs in place for the 2016/17 school year), and Flexible Pathways that take advantage of the broader world of learning opportunities now.  

These may seem like distinct initiatives stacked one on the other, and therefore, feel overwhelming.  They are intended to be complimentary, to be parts of a whole that is moving Vermont to a public education system that better serves all of its students.  Unfortunately, in implementation, these parts may be treated as distinct.  Some educators may be given responsibility for PLP implementation, others for developing PBGRs, and still others for helping students extend their learning beyond the school building.  Vermont’s educators must come together in ways that enable them, in collaboration, to work toward implementation of the whole.  The same can be said for educators around the country grappling with this challenge.

Technology can support the needed collaboration and create a hub for this transition.  Fortunately, there are visionary educators and software developers engaged in this work.  We are beginning to see software platforms that can support students, parents and teachers in building, managing and implementing meaningful PLPs; that can facilitate the identification and use of learning opportunities in the larger community; that can be the repository for the evidence that students will use to demonstrate their proficiency; that can inform users about the learning expectations upon which progression and graduation decisions will be made; and can serve as a catalyst for the practice changes that America’s educators must engage in if we are to take full advantage of the new policy and practice environment on behalf of our students.