First Steps Towards Agency: The Learner Profile

October 25, 2016 by

Imagine. You’re ten years old. You like basketball, music, art, and reading. Actually, you really LOVE
reading – 22 books in the last two months alone! You dream of seeing the Eiffel Tower and if you could get a string fixed, you would play your violin more. How many of those interests are going to count when you land in a classroom with other students who have other interests and other needs? If you go to Anastasis Academy, then it’s going to count a lot.

One of our core design challenges for launching ReSchool’s Learner Advocate Network is how we will surface the uniqueness of each learner and support them in finding and engaging in environments and experiences where they can thrive. An initial dive into the research uncovered very few tools outside of school and classroom-based platforms. Centennial, CO-based Anastasis Academy, however, is different. They are prepared to guide learners to a deep understanding of who they are, cultivating the agency to drive their learning in school and beyond.

Kelly Tenkely, the founder of Anastasis Academy and creator of the Learning Genome Project, is on a quest to ensure we “organize learning around those it serves – students with names.” Her goal is to equip teachers, parents, and students with the tools they need to engineer learning experiences that matter to each individual learner.

Their anchor tool is a set of cards that learners, and their parents, sort into piles that reflect the degree to which the statements describe who they are as learners and as people. Based on learning preferences, multiple intelligence strengths, brain dominance, interests and passion, social/emotional maturation, and learning environments, the final outcome is an in-depth profile that expands the vision of a learner beyond academic measures.

On a recent visit, I had the opportunity to shadow students as they met with teachers to update their profile, honoring how dynamic a learning profile is over time.  My experience with the students led to two key insights that have implication for how ReSchool can build the agency learners need to own their learning trajectory.

  1. The profile needs to serve the learner, not the system. Good conversations happen when people gather around a table and collectively organize physical cards. Watching students place cards on a continuum of how it related to them gave me the opportunity to ask questions, try out ideas with them, and encourage them to reflect on what those cards meant for learning.  It also enabled their teacher to make connections to what was coming up in the year, suggest strategies of how they may want to think about different things, and link them with peers that would complement their skills and share their interests. The profile held immediate value. Although I watched teachers take notes so they could continue to cultivate a personalized experience, this wasn’t a survey that empowered a teacher to organize a class or differentiate a lesson. Instead, this gave relevant information to the learner on how they could navigate the learning before them and make decisions based on key qualities of who they are at this moment.
  2. The variety and quality of experiences matter. One of the students I shadowed was brand new to the school. Although she didn’t necessarily struggle with sorting the cards, she didn’t have the same confidence I noticed in more experienced students who slapped cards into place with a running narrative. In pulling up a card, she often noted, “I don’t know, I haven’t tried that yet,” and asked me what I thought. Her teacher, as a result, was able to preview the variety of experiences she would have the chance to explore during the year – from plays to projects to book clubs and service programs.  Based on a quick comparison between learners that have access to a variety of learning and those who do not, it is clear that learners need to encounter a variety of experiences, perspectives, and challenges to know who they are, how they learn, and what greater purpose they may be able to serve.

At ReSchool, we recognize we need to support learners in finding the right school, and provide access to a diversity of choices beyond school based on the resources of their community. Only through making those choices with the information to support good decisions, will learners and their families build confidence in both engaging in and contributing to new possibilities.

The students at Anastasis Academy are fortunate. Teachers and their families work diligently to map a learning plan specific to them. They have access to a variety of experiences, and their perceptions of who they are and what they need as learners are trusted.  The goal of ReSchool’s Learner Advocate Network is to ensure more students are equally as fortunate. The learner profile is the first step to ensuring learners know who they are so they can act with purpose, achieve the conditions they desire in their lives, and proactively respond to their unique circumstances. It is the first step towards building agency.

Interested in learning more about Anastasis Academy? Check out their 5 Sigma conference in January.