Personalizing 21st Century Education: A Framework for Student Success

By Dan Domenech, Morton Sherman, and John L. Brown. Josey-Bass, 2016,122 pp.

With chapters titled “Personalizing the System, Not Just the Classroom” and “Making Assessment Meaningful in 21st Century School Systems,” this book is genuinely positive and helpful. The closing chapter, “Transforming the System, Not Just the School,” brings the collection of ideas proposed by the authors into focus using final suggestions from essential questions posed throughout the book. With their careers as superintendents and curriculum director of large districts, their firsthand knowledge about what’s involved in this process is offered at a granular level and from the satellite view.

“There has never been a Golden Age of Education,” the authors write. “Let’s dispense with any misleading nostalgia for a time that never was.” They continue, “We need a moral awakening and we need it now, in order to offer personalized education to each student.” I appreciate the permission to abandon nostalgia! That’s the first step to embracing true curriculum compacting, tiered lessons, learning centers, and learning contracts for personalization.

Performance-based assessment is easy to talk about and easy to implement … poorly! The approaches to assessment are presented clearly and give the reader can-do courage. Realworld examples, presented in parallel to strictly school-based examples, provide a sense of the immediacy educators need to begin personalizing 21st century education. The examples about retail responding to the need for excellent customer service made the idea easy to translate to an educator’s vernacular.

Spoiler alert: The authors distinguish between individualizing and personalizing education a third of the way into the book, providing plenty of time to think about the differences while there’s still two-thirds of the book left to settle into and try the ideas on for size in relation to your own school and beliefs. If you are not yet convinced this is a book for you, then perhaps knowing the authors value “creativity and self-expression as biological necessities” will help. If you believe that, and appreciate Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Daniel Pink, then this book will become a go-to manual to help you transform your school organization and classrooms to places of true personalization.

Reviewed by Cris Blackstone, principal of Alton Central School in Alton, New Hampshire.

 


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