Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Brief review of learner-centered and person-centered design in education

So here is a brief overview of "centered-ness" type plans in education. While this is not an exhaustive list of the "person-centered tools" - see below - it is apparent that the approach is based in methods used for case studies and ethnography. Beware...this area is full of acronyms.

Learner-centered design
Articles about learner-centered design began to appear in the early nineties. It promotes active learning, (vs. passive learning in lectures and books) through problem-based projects. The students, often working in groups, focus on problem situated in a context aligned to the curriculum. This approach changes the curriculum focus from content to the needs, skills and interests of the student (Norman & Spohrer, 1996).

Practitioners using learning-centered design argue that people learn best when engrossed in a topic in an authentic context. Students learn through a collaborative experience which is more like many real work environments. Proponents feel this approach produces individuals who are more prepared to address problems outside of the school environment. Where learner-centered design addresses curriculum for the general classroom, person-centered plans focus largely on individuals with disabilities.

Person-centered plans
The goal of person-centered plans is to create an individualized vision of a person’s future developed primarily for people with disabilities. These plans are often used to aid creation of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). IEP’s are considered best practice to inform both the adaptation of the standard curriculum and the tools used for assessment for children and young adults mainstreamed in the general classroom. This has become a very important issue with the additional requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) where in 2003 individuals with disabilities were expected to meet state standards, or alternate standards as set by their IEP. Several tools have been developed to aid in writing the person-centered plans.

Making action plans (MAPs, originally called McGill Action Planning) is one tool practitioners use to develop a person-centered plan that can inform the IEP. Proponents of the MAPs approach strongly believe that all children should be included in the general classroom. Furthermore, they argue that access to the general curriculum can only occur in the general classroom (Vandercook and Forest 1989).

The MAP’s process involves a facilitated meeting involving the important contributors to the child’s life, for example, parents, teachers, siblings, and peers. Through the meeting the group attempts to create a profile and a vision of the individual’s future through seven key questions. The profile includes the meeting participant’s dreams and nightmares for the individual, the individual’s history, strengths and weaknesses, and their perceived needs. The meeting participants also describe what an ideal day would be like in the life of the individual.

Choosing outcomes and accommodations for children (COACH) is another often used person-centered planning tool meant to inform the creation of an IEP (Giangreco, Cioninger & Iverson, 1998). COACH is a slightly different approach where a student planning team is formed which includes teachers and practitioners. The family is then interviewed, sometimes with the planning team observing, where life and educational outcomes and goals are discussed. Often older children will also be involved in their own COACH session. The family-centered approach assures that the priorities of the family are considered in the child’s educational plan.

After the interview, required supports are identified in order to achieve the IEP goals and objectives. Strategies for planning and adapting lesson plans to facilitate learning and adherence to the IEP are identified. Adapted assessment tools, where needed, are also identified.

Other person-centered planning tools have also been developed outside of the goal to develop an IEP. “Personal futures planning” is more often used for adults to help identify required network supports for individuals to live in the least restricted environment possible (Mount & Zwerick, 1988). Planning alternative tomorrow’s with hope (PATH) is a facilitated process where the disabled individual discusses their own dreams, often in a supported group environment (Pearpoint, Forest & O’Brian, 1989). A PATH facilitator guides the individual through a process laying out steps to realize their dream, beginning with the first step they need to take.

While there are more person-centered plans out there....they all follow the same kind of pattern of focusing on the individual and identifying environmental adaptations that need to occur in order to achieve the individual's goals and address their needs.

Works Cited
Ford, A., Davern, L., & Schnorr, R. (2001). Learners with significant disabilities. Curricular relevance in an era of standards based reform. Remedial and Special Education, 22(4), 214-222.

Giangreco, M.F., Whiteford, T., Whiteford, L. & Doyle, M.B. (1997). Planning for Andrew:A case study of COACH and VISTA use in an inclusive early childhood program. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, University Affiliated Program of Vermont.

Mount, B. & Zwerick, K. (1988). It’s never too early, it’s never too late: An overview ofpersonal futures planning. St. Paul, MN: Governors Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Norman, D.A., & Spohrer,J.C. (1996). Learner-centered education, Communications
of the ACM, v.39 n.4, 24-27.

Vandercook, T., York, J., & Forest, M. (1989). The McGill action planning system (MAPS): A strategy for building the vision. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 14(3), 205-215.

Pearpoint, J., Forest, M., & O’Brien, J. (1996). MAPS, Circles of Friends, and PATH. In S. Stainback, & W. Stainback (Eds.), Inclusion A guide for educators (pp. 67-86). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.


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