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Customized Learning Plans for ALL?


Students in special education programs benefit from having individualized education plans, or IEPs, which are customized to meet their learning needs.

But why should such customization be limited to special education students? What about those students who were right on the border of being put in special education, but were not put in that category? What about kids who are struggling in school? Couldn't they benefit from a customized education plan too?

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne seems to think so, according to a Jan. 22 Associated Press story. He would like to see every student in 7th through 12th grades have a customized education plan by 2011.

In Horne's proposal, personalized education plans are not exactly IEPs. They would be set up to ensure all students get one-on-one advice from educators in identifying a career path. The plans would have teachers assume the role of academic guidance counselors, frequently checking on a student's academic progress and helping establish realistic career goals.

Whether his proposal will succeed is another matter. The logistical implications for educators and schools of establishing such plans for every student are huge. And there are likely legitimate concerns in the spec. ed. community about going in this policy direction.

Even so, the potential benefits of having personalized education plans for ALL students are worth weighing against the logistical difficulties of executing such a policy.


I am an Arizona teacher having arrived from Virginia in July 2006. Perhaps Mr. Horne should consider first and foremost that the children of Arizona need complete standards of learning across the board before he attempts to implement a personalized learning plan. These children have minimal Math and English standards at best. How can they possibly have a learning plan when they don't have a comprehensive standard to adhere to? We must fix what is broken first!!!! In addition, you must be able to retain teachers in order to help these students follow a learning plan.

Arizona's Tom Horne is headed in the right direction, but he hasn't quite grasped the notion of a personalized education plan for every student. Making every teacher a guidance counselor isn't going to make a difference in a student's school experience.

In order for this concept to realize its true potential he would need to: (1) abandon the paradigm about how schools have worked in this country for the past century; (2) guarantee a commitment from the state of Arizona for professional development on an unprecedented scale; and (3) instill in all teachers, preK-16, that all students are different, that they show up every September with different strengths, weaknesses, and levels of readiness, and from there THEY ALL PROGRESS AT DIFFERENT RATES.

That's right, we're talking individualized instruction (not differentiated) for every student in every subject.

Other than the reorganization of the school day for teachers and kids, the most prominent paradigm shift for teachers would be their ability to handle the curriculum a year and a half to two years above and below their designated subject level.

EXAMPLE: Ms. Wilson has a sixth grade math class of 20 students starting in September. On that first day of school there might be kids in the class who still are lacking in number sense while kids at the other end of the spectrum might actually be ready to start pre-algebra or even Algebra I. So why should she start everyone on the same page on the same lesson and keep it that way throughout the course of the year? She shouldn't unless she wants to lose many of them in the first month or two of school, which happens all too often under traditional whole group instruction.

If a medical doctors or attorneys attempted to run their practice(s) this way, they'd be out of business in no time.

Why haven't teachers gone to the more obvious child-centered approach of individualizing instruction for each child? Perhaps because they were not taught that way when they were in school, or they were never trained that way in college when they were being prepared to become a teacher, or perhaps, because they know individualizing instruction is more work than teaching the same lesson to the whole class every day.

Individualizing instruction empowers kids. It gives them a feeling of ownership, before mandated only by the teacher. They experience a level of control, previously impossible to realize in a class where every subject is taught through whole group instruction. Kids who need more time to grasp a concept or a skill have it. Kids who pick things up from an initial lesson can move at a much faster pace.

The only concept the teacher needs to stress every day is that everyone is at their own level and not to concern themselves where anyone else is except themselves, that as long as everyone does the best they can at their own level everyone will be satisfied, parents and teacher included.

As a public school teacher who used this method for 33 years I can tell you this system works and parents love it as much as the kids.

Unfortunately, like many proposals, Mr. Horne's comes with its own set of pros and cons. As a regular ed. high school English teacher, I work in a co-teaching environment for three of my five classes of freshman English. I have roughly 15 IEP's to consider per class, and I do not have a lot of support from my spec. ed. co-teacher. (She mostly spends our class time on the Internet, she doesn't work with me on planning, and she doesn't even know the material.) I have roughly five extra students per class for whom I have created my own sort of "Personalized Education Plan" in the hopes of bringing those students up to par. These students would be the borderline ones to whom Mr. Horne refers. Handling this work load alone is difficult, to say the least, and the thought of having to do this with each student I teach, all 147 of them, is terrifying because I don't have the necessary support to accomplish such a feat. This is certainly an idea that is great in theory, but without the right methodology for implementation, the theory is poor in execution. In order to accomplish this proposal, which IS highly successful, teachers would certainly be called upon to pull even longer hours than they already work. Personally, I'm already pulling a 12-16 hour day, and I'm not sure how much more I could take. I know that I'm not alone in keeping those hours, either! It's definitely something to consider, though, as I have seen the benefits firsthand and would love the opportunity to implement these types of plans for each of my students if given the proper support.

I totally agree with Mr. Hoss's philosophy, in this way each student is getting what she needs without trying to "catch up" or be bored by excessive repetition or "waiting around." For a regular teacher with 150 students you should utilize technology. Video yourself teaching each lesson, telling where to follow along in the book, then have the kids do assignments (but only enough to prove mastery to you), then each can move on the the next videoed lesson at their own speed. I love the idea of each child, low, average, or high achieving having a sort of IEP. As for the superintendent's plan, I think it would only work if the students could choose who they want to be their mentor or counselor, because if it's someone they don't relate to it will be a waste of their time.

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Recent Comments

  • Amy Warner: I totally agree with Mr. Hoss's philosophy, in this way read more
  • Jennifer Levi: Unfortunately, like many proposals, Mr. Horne's comes with its own read more
  • Paul Hoss: Arizona's Tom Horne is headed in the right direction, but read more
  • Theresa Lee: I am an Arizona teacher having arrived from Virginia in read more




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