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  • Personalized Learning: What Do We Know About How Kids Learn To Do This Well?

    by LearnEd

    Boy looking at a globe of the world

    Personalized Learning: From an Idea to Infrastructure

    Earlier this spring, Chicago Public Schools announced an opening for a position it called "the nation's first": an Executive Director of Personalized Learning.

    "The Executive Director will work with a highly skilled team of internal stakeholders to improve the way schools deliver instruction to 21st century learners" and be responsible for executing a "Personalized Learning vision to increase the number of personalized learning schools within the district."

    Nearly 400,000 students are enrolled in Chicago Public Schools, according to statistics compiled by the district. 86-percent of them are economically disadvantaged. Nearly 17-percent of them are English Language Learners. The largest racial groups are African-American and Hispanic students.

    Driving the Conversation

    Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 9.10.07 AM
    Pearson produced a conceptual video titled "A Vision for Personalized and Connected Learning." We've also embedded the video at the end of this story.

    You're likely familiar with how personalization of learning is a hot topic in education at the moment.

    Maryland's Baltimore County Public Schools is in the middle of a multi-year plan, called Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT), to provide personalized learning "to our increasingly diverse student population at a time when the economy requires more from our students for future success."

    And it's not just a K-12 phenomenon.

    The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, an advocacy organization that represents institutions with a total of 5 million-plus undergraduates and graduates, has launched the Personalized Learning Consortium to "improve student learning, retention, and graduation."

    Breaking It Down Into Fundamentals

    "Everyone is talking about personalization of learning," says Kristen DiCerbo, Pearson's Vice President of Education Research. "Often, there are a lot of disparate conversations and studies that are not in synch."

    "From my perspective as a researcher," says Kristen says, "I'm thinking: what do we need to know from the research about how kids learn to do personalization well?"

    "How can we pull together a cohesive framework to link all this research in a way that helps educators tailor the best learning to students' needs and goals?" she says.

    The Research Building Blocks of Personalization

    Kristen has started crafting an approach to this cohesive framework with four "building blocks of personalization":Box Progression

    Building Block 1: The Map

    How do students progress from novice to expert in a particular learning topic?

    "Students could be learning calculus, how to compute area, or the best way to apply critical thinking skills to a passage in literature," Kristen says.

    "What does a novice look like? What does an expert look like? And what does the path look like as students move from being a novice to an expert?" she asks.

    "This is one of the key things to know before starting students through a personalized learning process."

    Building Block 2: The "You Are Here Sticker"

    How do we assess where a student is in the progression process defined by Building Block 1?

    "Where are students on the progression spectrum?" Kristen says.

    "We're also looking for ways to understand their position without having to test them all the time," she says.

    LearnED previously posted a story about how an iPad game helps teachers in this way called: "How An iPad Game With Robots Teaches Kids the Art of Persuasion."

    Building Block 3: The Map Offers Directions

    What should a student do next to move forward in the progression process?

    "What should a student do next?" Kristen says. "What are the next activities and then the next activities and then the next activities to help a student learn?"

    "Learning science already has a lot to say about learning and memory during this process," she says.

    Building Block 4: Trip Review

    What are the best ways to provide feedback to students, teachers, and parents?

    "Sometimes immediate feedback to students while learning is not the best approach," Kristen says. "When students have already developed some expertise in a topic, they can learn more productively when feedback is delayed."

    Challenges to Personalization

    "One challenge, of course, is a large classroom," Kristen says. "How can a teacher provide personalized learning across a large number of students every day?"

    huge"Technology can help," she says, "but not everyone in the world is totally hooked up to the Internet yet."

    "The other key challenge is how a student's pathway is governed during the learning process," Kristen says.

    "Sometimes it's best if a student decides to take the next step in a progression," she says. "Sometimes it's best if it's a teacher. And sometimes technology or software can make a good decision."

    "Figuring out the best way to do this is a currently a huge research question."

    A Global Approach

    Kristen wants to apply an eventual framework to learners at all levels—in any school across the globe.

    "There are additional factors like cultural differences and disparities in technology," she says.

    "We're still looking for the best pathways to tailor learning experiences for every student."

    LearnED will return to this story in the coming months to explore more of Kristen's research.

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  • The Long Road for a Question to Make It Onto a Test

    by LearnEd

    Young boy dressed as a professor with a clip board

    Parents prepare their kids for a big testing day with the right breakfast and a hug of encouragement. How does Pearson help states and other education agencies develop test questions for a big test day?

    An Extensive Review Process

    Before any question makes it onto a student’s test, many experts inside and outside of Pearson have reviewed the item, tested it out, and determined it is fit to be used.

    Every state (or local education agency) has a different process for developing tests—but we tend to follow a 9-step process.

    STEP 1: Item Writing

    An item, also known as a test question, is created by an item writer.

    To build a pool of diverse, authentic test items, Pearson contracts with professional item writers. In general, item writers need the following qualifications:

    1. Teaching or assessment experience in the subject
    2. Know how to align test questions to standards
    3. Experience writing items/passages

    Because every test is different, we give the writers expert training specific to the assessment and requirements and needs.


    industry standards

    STEP 2: Internal Item Review

    Once Pearson gets the item from the writer, Pearson assessment specialists review it to make sure it is a good item.

    To maintain consistent quality, Pearson assessment specialists evaluate each item to verify they are clear, accurate, and meet expectations. Sometimes items get rejected or sent back to the item writer to be improved. But, if the item is acceptable, the specialist verifies that the item meets the required criteria and sends it to a few more experts:

    • A research librarian fact checks the item to make sure it is accurate
    • An editor reviews for clarity, style, and grammar
    • A graphic designer adds art or graphics such as charts or tables



    STEP 3: Content Committee Review

    Experts and educators representing the state review the item to make sure it fits the criteria of a good test item for the test and for their students.

    STEP 4: Bias Committee Review

    Each item has to pass a bias review by the state working with Pearson, so that every student has to have an equal chance to answer the item correctly.

    Items that do no measure up to standards for fairness and sensitivity can affect the credibility of an assessment and its results. Pearson avoids content that might offend, unfairly penalize, or offer an advantage to students based on personal characteristics or culture.

    STEP 5: Final Internal Review

    After the state reviews each item, Pearson incorporates that feedback and makes edits.

    An item that doesn’t pass this review cannot make it to the next stage.



    STEP 6: Field Test

    Now, the item gets put on its first test, which is called a “field test.”

    Students answer the item, but their responses don’t count toward their test scores or teacher evaluations. If it is a new program, field tests might be held separately. Once a program is established, field-test items are usually embedded in the operational test.

    STEP 7: Data Review

    Pearson experts and the state look at data from the field test to make sure the item is performing as expected and it is giving customers the information they need. For example, if a group of students is struggling with an item significantly more than expected, we can remove that item from the pool.

    STEP 8: Operational Test

    If a test item passes all these reviews, it can be put on a test where it counts toward student scores.

    STEP 9: Retirement

    Once an item has been used too many times, it is ready for retirement and is no longer used on tests. By refreshing the items, students see test questions that haven't been used before and the old items can be released to the public.

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  • Getting More Latino Students to Graduate from Selective Colleges

    by LearnEd

    Smiling Latinos that have just graduated

    Strengthening Latinos, a Large Part of Tomorrow's America

    This is a staggering statistic:

    By 2060, Latinos are projected to represent more than one third of all U.S. children.

    It's a figure compiled by Excelencia in Education, a non-profit organization that analyzes Latino trends in U.S. education.

    Low Attainment

    Today, Latinos account for more than a fourth of all K-12 children. In some cities, it's over forty percent.

    "It's a massive portion of our future American population in the education pipeline right now," says Deborah Santiago, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President for Policy at Excelencia. "But, when compared with other groups, educational attainment among Latinos is low."

    (Pearson partners with Excelencia in putting on the Accelerating Latino Student Workshop (ALASS).)

    Seeking Answers, An Unexpected Approach

    Taking an unexpected approach, Deborah and her colleagues have just finished a study to understand some of the reasons behind low Latino educational attainment.

    "From Selectivity to Success: Latinos at Selective Institutions" unpacks why such a small percentage of Latinos are enrolled in the most selective colleges and universities—despite the fact that Latinos fill such a large portion of the K-12 cohort.

    With that research, the study asks three questions:

    1 - What does Latino postsecondary enrollment and graduation look like at selective institutions?

    2 - What do we know about these selective institutions where they enroll?

    3 - Are the most selective institutions doing anything specific to serve Latino students that other institutions can learn from?

    Answers to these questions, according to the report, could have a positive impact on America's future:

    "As Latinos continue to be a significant and growing proportion of the American population, awareness and insight about the flow of Latino talent in to and through colleges and universities becomes increasingly more important."

    Key Findings

    cohort model

    Deborah and her colleagues discovered three important things about Latinos matriculating through Stanford University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of La Verne:

    1 - "Intentionality matters," she says. That is, when a school provides programs and services, are any of them focused on Latinos? "Many of these students are first in their family to attend college," Deborah says, "they might not see support as often as they could. So outreach makes a difference."

    2 - "The cohort model works," she says. "Latinos are more likely to defer to a friend to think things through." Cohort models provide services to groups of students, versus one-on-one interaction. "These students learn together, share together, and evolve their awareness of the college experience together," Deborah says.

    3 - "Use financial aid for retention as much as admission to school," she says. "It's not just about getting these Latino students in the door. Many of these students need financial help in their second and third year to help sustain their progress."

    'It's Not Just About Money'

    "It's no surprise that the schools with the most resources are able to tailor more programs to Latinos," Deborah says. "But it's not just about money."

    "The more successful schools really engage their Latino constituencies and empower them to help each other," she says.

    "They provide a lot of the recruitment and outreach and mentoring and support for Latinos," Deborah says.

    "That doesn't cost a lot of money."


    Excelencia in Education produced an infographic for its report. It can be found online here.

    Excelencia Graphic
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  • What Minecraft Teaches Us About Learning: 'Curiosity at the Core'

    by LearnEd

    A digital landscape

    Luis Oros
    Luis Oros, a Product Owner for Future Technologies at Pearson.

    Following the Lead of 100 Million People

    More than 100 million people are registered users of Minecraft, a massively popular game where players—many of which are children—build complex fantasy worlds with ... blocks.

    "It's the highest grossing game in history," says Luis Oros, a Product Owner for Future Technologies at Pearson. "Something is happening with this game and, from a learning perspective, we wanted to figure out what was going on."

    An Obsession Like Never Before

    "Time and time again," Luis says, "teachers and parents and technical directors at schools told us that kids were completely obsessed with Minecraft like no other application like it."

    A Pearson team tried to unpack why.

    future of learning

    "First, kids have ownership of the learning experience," Luis says.

    Players have full control over all design choices, from materials to colors to structures and everything else in between.

    "Second," Luis says, "the platform is modifiable."

    Players can change designs in so many ways, even starting over or building on top of existing structures.

    "This is in sharp contrast to a lot of learning products," Luis says. "where education games don't allow players the freedom to play outside the lines."

    A Roadblock to the Classroom

    Despite Minecraft's popularity with so many children, there is one major challenge to its full integration in to the classroom.

    "How does it align with traditional school curriculums?" Luis says. "What players are doing in the game—the ownership of play and the full freedom to design and explore—is a tough fit in classrooms where memorization and fact-learning is emphasized."

    Progressive Models of Learning

    "Much of this Minecraft learning points to what we imagine as the future of education," Luis says.

    "So many curriculums today are so focused on knowing facts or memorizing formulas," Luis says. "So much of that content is now so widely available in many ways—so we see a broader shift in the classroom away from the conveying of content to a curriculum grounded in thinking skills and problem solving."

    "This gets us back to the roots of teaching," Luis says.

    Luis sees a second shift in tomorrow's learning experience.


    "We see teachers becoming more mentors and coaches," he says. "The answers are everywhere so, in many ways, a teacher's job is to point young minds to the right kinds of questions."

    Luis has a more technical way of describing this evolving role of teachers:

    The role of an educator is to spark and nurture curiosity and then build stronger relationships with students to scaffold student ownership of learning.

    This kind of approach, Luis says, could lessen the need for massive end-of-the-year assessments and integrate more useful, personalized, real-time assessments in the classroom.

    "A gifted instructor, engaging with students, can use real-time feedback to direct the lesson," Luis says.

    "Current approaches to assessments don't really do that."

    How New Approaches to Learning Work

    "I hated school," Luis says.

    When attending Johns Hopkins University, studying neuroscience, and thinking he was headed for medical school, he was turned off by the "rigid memorization" of facts.

    rest of lives

    "I pivoted out of that and became so much more happier in the classroom," he says. "I realized there was so much more to learning."

    "The value of something like Minecraft is that curiosity is at its core," Luis says.

    "Through this kind of curiosity, we can teach kids the kinds of critical skills they'll need for the rest of their lives."

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  • Changes in Learning as Seen from a 'Quarterback' on the Front Lines

    by LearnEd

    Game strategy on a chalk board

    Where We've Come and Where We're Going

    "Traditionally, learning tools for schools were a hodgepodge trail mix of online solutions," says Tyler Higgins, a Portfolio Manager at Pearson.


    "Few of those solutions were integrated," he says, "and they weren't very user friendly."

    Tyler has a unique view of these solutions.

    At Pearson, he manages teams and projects tasked with building tomorrow's learning tools for higher education.

    "We're headed in a direction where these tools are far more integrated and far more useable, such as with Digital Direct Access to eTexts and courses," Tyler says.

    Large-Scale, Integrated Online Learning

    Consider what Tyler and his many colleagues accomplished at Texas Southmost College.

    "The school's president, Dr. Lily Tercero, wanted to transform their curriculum to help their community in new ways," Tyler says.

    More than a third of the area's residents live below the poverty line.

    BROWNSVILLE, TX - May 16, 2015 - John Fallon, Chief Executive Officer of Pearson addresses Texas Southmost College Spring Commencement Exercises. (Brad Doherty/AP Images for Pearson)
    LearnED covered the unique curriculum at Texas Southmost in a previous story: "Two Affordable Journeys to College and Career."

    "We worked with Texas Southmost to provide an integrated, digital, online learning experience that had not been available to most students prior to college," Tyler says.

    On the Pearson side, it was the first time the company worked to integrate such a large volume of courses. The project was driven by a quick timeframe. And, dozens collaborated on the project for the first time.

    "The Pearson team found a new, collaborative way of working and integrating our products," Tyler says, "and helped Texas Southmost step into the new world of online learning."

    One Student's Story

    Texas Southmost's website tells the story of one student who has benefitted from this online learning experience.

    Alain Barrera graduated high school in 1991 but lacked a lot of family structure to give him advice about college and beyond.

    After getting laid off from a retail job—supporting a wife and two teenage children—he enrolled in Texas Southmost to pursue and associate degree in business administration.

    "(Alain) takes at least four courses per semester and has embraced TSC’s fully digital learning environment. He enjoys having the additional flexibility of using the tools that the college’s learning management system offers students, as well as its cost savings."

    'Clearing a Path to Success'

    "This kind of learning experience can happen when we bring our best," Tyler says.

    For Tyler and many of the other Pearson Project Managers, this means they have their Project Management Professional Certification.

    It means a high standard of quality is being passed on from the development of Pearson learning products all the way to their eventual use by students.

    "The project manager is often the face of a project," Tyler says, "but there are dozens and dozens of people behind the scenes—from subject matter experts to user experience designers—who deserve as much of the credit."

    As Tyler explains, "As a Project Manager, I'm like the quarterback on the front line of efforts to deliver innovations in learning."

    "And Project Managers love being a part of creative solutions to new problems in education that, in the end, bring better learning to the world."

    A recent photo of Pearson's North America Professional Services Project Management Office team.
    A recent photo of Pearson's North America Professional Services Project Management Office team.

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