Friday, April 3, 2009

Topic: Individualized Instruction

Secondary School

10-second review: What is the goal of individualized instruction?

Title: “Individualized English: New Roles for Teachers and Students.” Joan Kelleher. English Journal (November 1975), 29-31. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The purpose of individualized instruction is to teach students to learn how to learn.

Comment: I was involved in the individualizing instruction “revolution” in the middle and late 1960s. I was involved in a particular school and in a particular school district in New York State that trumpeted that it was “individualized.”

Well it wasn’t. 95% of the teachers with whom I worked did not understand what individualized instruction was all about. The basic method was varying instructional organization from large group (class or auditorium) to small groups to single individuals. The method had some things going for it.

In the middle schools there was a coordinator for independent study. Students, with the guidance of the coordinator, set objectives, planned methods, and gathered resources for completing the objectives and developed techniques for evaluation and sharing.

The middle schools also had interdisciplinary team planning in which an English teacher, math teacher, social studies and science teachers planned together for half a day, every day. It didn’t work. The teachers were not prepared for communicating with teachers of other disciplines, nor did they understand the concept of interrelating two or three disciplines at the same time. It was an attempt at showing students how to relate the disciplines.

Of six teams, only one worked together most of the time, one worked together part of the time, and four planned their teaching individually without any discussions of how to work together to relate the disciplines.

I think what was missing from this individualized program was a clear-cut goal. I think if we had focused on the goal of teaching students to learn how to learn, instead of “individualizing,” we could have understood more clearly what we were trying to do. What’s the best way to learn from lectures? How use small groups to plan and carry out projects successfully? What’s the best way to plan independent projects? Learning how to learn.

If learning how to learn was the goal of individualized instruction, 95% of the teachers in this school district did not know that. As a result, after this experiment in individualizing instruction was deemed a failure, it was replaced by the starkest back-to-basics curriculum ever devised. I still think about how it could have been made to work. A clear-cut goal that everyone understood. RayS.

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