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Reclaiming Personalized Learning

Reclaiming Personalized Learning
A Pedagogy for Restoring Equity and Humanity in Our Classrooms

First Edition

October 2019 | 344 pages | Corwin

Where exactly did personalized learning go so wrong?

For teacher and consultant Paul France, at first technology-powered personalized learning seemed like a panacea. But after three years spent at a personalized learning start-up and network of microschools, he soon realized that such corporate-driven individualized learning initiatives do more harm than good, especially among our most vulnerable students. The far-superior alternative? A human-centered pedagogy that prioritizes children over technology.

First, let’s be clear: Reclaiming Personalized Learning is not yet-another ed tech book. Instead it’s a user’s guide to restoring equity and humanity to our classrooms and schools through personalization. One part polemical, eleven parts practical, the book describes how to:

  • Shape whole-class instruction, leverage small-group interactions, and nurture a student’s inner-dialogue
  • Cultivate awareness within and among students, and build autonomy and authority
  • Design curriculum with a flexible frame and where exactly the standards fit 
  • Humanize assessment and instruction, including the place of responsive teaching
  • Create a sense of belonging, humanize technology integration, and effect socially just teaching and learning—all central issues in equity

The truth is this: there’s no one framework, there’s no one tool that makes learning personalized–what personalized learning companies with a vested interest in profits might tempt you to believe. It’s people who personalize learning, and people not technology must be at the center of education. The time is now for all of us teachers to reclaim personalized learning, and this all-important book is our very best resource for getting started. 

“This is a compelling and critically important book for our time. With rich stories of teaching and learning Paul France considers ways to create the most positive learning experiences possible.”

 - JO BOALER, Nomellini & Olivier Professor of EducationStanford Graduate School of Education

“This brilliant book is a major contribution to the re-imagination of learning and teaching for the twenty-first century and should be essential reading for new and experienced teachers alike."

- TONY WAGNER, Senior Research Fellow, Learning Policy Institute

“In these troubled times, this book is more than a breath of fresh air, it is a call to action. Paul gives us an accessible and sophisticated book that explains how and why we should celebrate the humanity of every single student.”

- JIM KNIGHT, Senior Partner of the Instructional Coaching Group (ICG) and Author of The Impact Cycle

Foreword by Carol Ann Tomlinson
About the Author
Introduction: The Paradox of Personalized Learning
CHAPTER 1. Personalization Myths
Myth 1: Personalizing Learning Means That Curriculum Must Be Individualized

Myth 2: Personalized Learning Must Be Interest-Based

Myth 3: Personalized Learning Is Only the Teacher’s Responsibility

Myth 4: Digital Technology Is Necessary to Personalize Learning

Myth 5: Digitally Driven Personalization Paves a Path to Equity

Responding to Industrialization

CHAPTER 2. The First Dimension: Shaping the Collective Conscious
Shaping the Collective Conscious

Connecting With Children

Maintaining the Spirit of the Workshop Model

Building on the First Dimension

CHAPTER 3. The Second Dimension: Leveraging Small-Group Interactions
The Dangers of Homogeneity

The Limits of Heterogeneity

The Hallmarks of a Strong Second Dimension

The Foundation of Individualization

CHAPTER 4. The Third Dimension: Nurturing a Child’s Internal Dialogue
Authentic Engagement and Intrinsic Motivation

The Power of Asking Why

Intrinsic Motivation in the Third Dimension

A Framework for Mediated Action

Nurturing the Inner Dialogue

The Intersectionality of Personalization

CHAPTER 5. Cultivating Awareness
Defining Awareness


Six Guideposts for Cultivating Awareness in Children

Expanding Awareness

CHAPTER 6. Developing Agency and Autonomy
Balancing Autonomy and Authority

Ten Tips for Teaching Agency and Autonomy

Understanding the Inner World of a Child

CHAPTER 7. Designing Curriculum With a Flexible Frame
The Danger of Teaching Without Standards

The Flexible Frame

Supporting Humanized Personalization With Standards

Using the Flexible Frame to Personalize in Three Dimensions

CHAPTER 8. Humanizing Assessment
Cultures of Shame and Fear

The Origin of Fear and Shame

Campbell’s Law

Triangulating Humanized Assessment

Building the Frame to Weather the Storm

CHAPTER 9. Humanizing Instruction to Personalize Learning
Emergent Systems

The Foundation of Responsive Instruction

Hallmarks of Responsive Instruction

Engendering a Growth Mindset in Educators

CHAPTER 10. A Sense of Belonging
A Forum for Changing the World

The Threat to Belonging

A Culture of Scarcity and Fear

Equity Versus Equality

Technology Is Not the Solution

Inclusive Classroom Practices That Humanize Learning

A Work in Progress

CHAPTER 11. Humanizing Technology Integration
The Purpose of Technology

Where EdTech Falls Short

Reforming Education in the Image of Technology Elites

Four Principles for Humanizing Technology Integration

The Intersection of Education Technology and Social Justice

CHAPTER 12. Justice
What Is Justice?

Intersectionality and Identity

What Is Fair Is Not Always Equal

Personalization Is a Problem of Privilege

Tips for Socially Just Teaching and Learning

Restoring Equity and Reconnecting With Humanity

An Age of Empathy


"A compelling and critically important book for our time. Many schools are rushing to offer “personalized learning”, usually assuming that means individualized learning,with limited evidence for its impact. In this wise book Paul Emerich France considers the nature of powerful personalization. With rich stories of teaching and learning he considers ways to create the most positive learning experiences possible."

Jo Boaler, Professor, Stanford University

“In this brilliant book by a dedicated practitioner, Paul France makes a powerful case for humanizing the process of personalized learning and shows us how to do it. He describes how real personalization requires a carefully constructed classroom culture, regular dialogue and social interaction, and individual reflection. This book is a major contribution to the reimagination of learning and teaching for the 21st century and should be essential reading for new and experienced teachers alike."

Tony Wagner, Senior Research Fellow and Best-Selling Author
Learning Policy Institute

"In these troubled times, this book is more than a breath of fresh air, it is a call to action.  Paul gives us an accessible and sophisticated book that explains how and why we should celebrate the humanity of every single student."

Jim Knight
Senior Partner of the Instructional Coaching Group (ICG) and Author of The Impact Cycle

"Personalized learning does not mean simply assigning students piles of independent work. Reclaiming Personalized Learning provides the path for authentic and relevant personalized learning that delivers on the promise of equity. Simply said, students in classrooms where these are implemented will thrive."

Douglas Fisher, Professor
San Diego State University

"Reclaiming Personalized Learning: A Pedagogy for Restoring Equity and Humanity in our Classrooms is both wise and smart, both visionary and sane.  It is both poetic and approachable, both challenging and affirming. Its author is deeply knowledgeable about technology and deeply skeptical of the likelihood that technology-centered pedagogy will better teaching and learning in today’s schools.  He is wary of adopting “personalization” as the next new thing, and yet offers a vision of personalization that is restorative.

"It has been a long, long time since I have read a book that has challenged me as often or energized me as deeply as this book has.  I wish that same experience for legions of other educators who care to create schools and classrooms that make us all more fully human."

Carol Ann Tomlinson, Professor
Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Beginning 20 years ago, many of us began advocating for personalized learning only to be disappointed by the digital dullness of online worksheets that replaced the printed version. Video playlists were only slightly better. The backlash of interest-based learning created the opposite problem of unstructured unchallenging play.

In his new book, Reclaiming Personalized Learning, Paul France shows us how to create agency and autonomy in the middle ground between authoritarianism and anarchy, both of which act in opposition to personalizing learning. His advice is conceptually sound and practical for all of us still searching for the promise of personalized learning.

Tom Vander Ark, CEO
Getting Smart

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ISBN: 9781544360669

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