CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K-12 education system. Drawing on lessons learned by innovators and early adopters, CompetencyWorks shares original research, knowledge and a variety of perspectives through an informative blog with practitioner knowledge, policy advancements, papers on emerging issues and a wiki with resources curated from across the field. CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K-12, higher education and the workplace.

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10 Tips for Developing Student Agency

February 12, 2016 by

Influence of Teaching

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on December 22, 2015.

Agency is the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative—the opposite of helplessness. Young people with high levels of agency do not respond passively to their circumstances; they tend to seek meaning and act with purpose to achieve the conditions they desire in their own and others’ lives.

A new Harvard study, sponsored by the Raikes Foundation, suggests that student agency may be as important an outcome of schooling as basic skills.

The report, The Influence of Teaching Beyond Standardized Test Scores: Engagement, Mindsets, and Agency, relies on the Tripod survey of teaching. Over 300,000 students in grades six to nine in 14 states were surveyed during the 2013-14 school year.

Developed by Ron Ferguson 15 years ago, the Tripod construction appears more relevant to traditional teacher-centered classrooms than student-centered approaches. As a result, there are some limitations of an instrument designed for measuring agency in low agency environments. However, next generation Bay Area models including Summit Public Schools and Education for Change (EFC) find the survey useful.

“Where this report is effective is in pushing us to think about agency in the context of what grown-ups have to do to facilitate it,” said Hae-Sin Thomas, CEO of EFC. “Tripod unfortunately is not a tool designed specifically to evaluate teacher practice specific to agency, but it’s as good as it gets with respect to student surveys and student-centered teacher practice.”

Why agency?

An important subset of Habits of Success (discussed last week), agency, the capacity and propensity to take purposeful action, is key to success in life.

Albert Bandura said:

Through agentic action, people devise ways of adapting flexibly to remarkably diverse geographic, climatic and social environments; they figure out ways to circumvent physical and environmental constraints, redesign and construct environments to their liking… By these inventive means, people improve their odds in the fitness survival game.

(more…)

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Reflections on Learning

February 11, 2016 by

Marie Watson, principal of Red Bank Elementary School in Lexington, South Carolina just sent me a photo of a student’s reflection on her learning in preparation for sending our report cards. (To learn more about Red Bank, click here.)

reflections 1                   reflections 2

Victoria writes on her second nine week reflection:

In Reading I learned, how to apply strategies for passages. I can site evidence to support my answers. I quote text accurately to make inferences. I can also use key details to make strong sumaries. I feel good about making summaries and applying my strategies. I need work on finding evidence in the text. (more…)

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3 Smart State Approaches to Competency-Based Education

February 10, 2016 by

SuppliesThis post originally appeared on the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Ed Fly Blog on December 30, 2015.

There is a growing chorus of excitement and interest in competency-based education (CBE). One of the biggest draws is the potential for competency-based education to better meet individual student needs and eliminate learning gaps that traditional time-based systems have not been able to close.
In a competency-based system, each individual student progresses as learning expectations are met, rather than moving through a predetermined curriculum schedule dictated by fixed, age-based grade levels or seat-time requirements (sometimes expressed as Carnegie Units or credit hours).

Although the idea of time becoming the variable and learning the constant is attractive, making that a reality sometimes leaves the strongest of advocates scratching their heads. Many policymakers are committed to next generation reforms and have a sense of urgency, yet at the same time they have seen enough failed reform efforts to know that fidelity in implementation is paramount.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways states can create the conditions in which CBE can thrive and the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) is committed to supporting states in these efforts.

Our principal recommendation is for states to authorize the creation of innovation districts or schools to pilot a competency-based system and identify the pathway for statewide policy adoption. (For more, see our model policy.) This strategy paves the road for innovative leaders to request flexibility from the rules or regulations that hinder innovation while committing to transition to competency-based education. (more…)

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Red Bank Elementary: The Parent Perspective

February 9, 2016 by

2015-11-16 08.57.29This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the fifth in the series on Red Bank Elementary in Lexington School District. See the first on five big takeaways, the second on teaching students instead of standards, the third on teacher perspectives, and the fourth on student perspectives

The employees at Red Bank Elementary outside of Columbia, South Carolina have a choice about where to send their children to school. I had the chance to meet with five employees with seven children – all of whom were at Red Bank or had been until they had to move on to middle school. Here are their insights about personalized, competency-based schools.

What has been the impact of having your child in a school that is personalized and competency-based?

Behavior and Discipline

“My fifth grader was visiting the principal’s office once a week in the previous school. He hasn’t received even one referral since we enrolled him at Red Bank. He’s a typical “ADHD” boy who only sees his way and can only sit down for five minutes at a time. Here, he gets to feel in control by being able to make choices.”

Social Emotional Learning and Academics

“My daughter is above average in reading and struggles in math. But she has never been low enough in math to get an official intervention. She gets frustrated easily in math and needs a lot of support. Her teachers here know she can shut down – they see the shutters coming down. They meet her where she is at and have her work on other things if she has turned off. They also create repeated opportunities for her to keep working on math, giving her more time. Her pace is different than the teacher’s and she knows that she will have enough time to learn. The pressure is off and she is building her self-confidence. I worry about next year – when she finds out she only has one shot at it, she is going to probably start shutting down again.”

“My daughter struggled with reading before she got here. It was a big problem. Here the teachers work with her and she isn’t having problems anymore.”

“My son is an active learner. If he is interested in something, he goes and looks it up. He struggles if he is expected to sit and get it. He struggles if there is homework assigned that isn’t engaging him. In his class, he has a choice about how he learns things so he can choose the ways that are the most engaging to him.”

“My second grader is very serious about her education. She thinks about what she is learning. She was telling me about symbiotic relationships the other day.” (more…)

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Red Bank Elementary: What Students Have to Say about Personalized Learning

February 8, 2016 by

2015-11-16 08.40.10This series is part of my Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina tour. This is the fourth in the series on Red Bank Elementary. See the first on five big takeaways, the second on teaching students instead of standards, and the third on teacher perspectives

During my visit to Red Bank Elementary School, Reilly, Audrey, Gustavo, Chandler, Zaria, Alysia, Kayla, and Riley all piled into Principal Marie Watson’s office ready to talk about their experience in a personalized, competency-based school. Here are a few of the highlights:

How does Red Bank compare to other schools you’ve gone to?

One student described going to a different school for three months. “I did not like it because they were sticking together and learning the same thing. It was upsetting me because a lot of kids were falling behind. They don’t know it and no one helps them. The teacher just keeps moving. Or everyone had to stop for the teacher to help them. If they had extra tutoring like we have at Red Bank, they could keep working on the topic until they got it.”

What is personalized learning?

  • It makes school fun. It’s fun to get smarter.
  • Learning is something we want to do.
  • You can learn things when you want to learn it. It’s at your own pace.
  • If you learn something and get a 3, then you can work on something else that is interesting to you.
  • We are working differently – we learn different things at different times.
  • The iPad and Compass Odyssey help with personalized learning.

(more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Questions to Help Build Transparency

February 5, 2016 by

TransparencyThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 30, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Transparency is a key component of a learner-centered classroom. Being completely clear and open about what students are learning, what they have to do to show they have learned it, and where they are in their learning gives them the map and builds the capacity to direct their own learning.

These are questions I use to reflect on and build transparency of learning in a classroom:

  1. What learning targets are we working on?
  2. How does this task relate to the learning targets?
  3. How will I know when I have met this target?
  4. What comes next in my learning? Within the target or after the target?
  5. How does this learning connect to other learning?

(more…)

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Red Bank Elementary School: Starting with the Pedagogy

February 4, 2016 by

2015-11-16 09.47.31This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the third in the series on Red Bank Elementary in Lexington School District. See the first on five big takeaways and the second on teaching students instead of standards

Throughout my visit to Red Bank, I had the opportunity to speak with educators. They were so very insightful that I did my best to capture the conversation in detail. Thanks to Marie Watson, principal; Jennifer Carnagey, literacy coach; Jamee Childs, technology specialist and instructional coach; Dawn Harden, assistant principal; and all the teachers, including Lauren Vann, Jennifer Denny, Susan Jennings, Sally Kathryn Deason, Tammy Ricard, and Jamie Sox.

How did you get started?

Principal Marie Watson explained that they used their summer retreats (they are voluntary) to begin to understand what is wrong with the traditional system. “You have to look at what is broken and own up to it. Teachers have to understand how the traditional system is impacting their teaching and their students. It becomes a felt need.”

The Red Bank team had book studies that used On Common Ground about professional learning communities, Larry Ainsworth’s work on formative common assessment, and Delivering the Promise. In a later conversation with teachers, they all agreed that Delivering on the Promise opened their eyes to what was possible.

“Once the majority of the teachers felt we needed to do something different, we organized training with Reinventing Schools Coalition,” continued Watson. “Teachers received training on the protocols and practices of designing a personalized classroom. Some teachers can take that and fly.” Others need more support and step-by-step instructions.

Jennifer Carnagey, literacy coach, explained that she was more hesitant, recounting her experience with, “It scared me at first. I’m not a risk taker. It felt like it was a huge ambiguous task, and I wanted to be told what to do. I kept thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, and I don’t know if I’m doing it right,’ so I would keep on doing things the old way so I wouldn’t mess up. I finally learned that I needed to identify a few places where I did feel ready to jump in.”

Since that time, Carnagey has grown a lot. “I’m proud of the things I’ve done and learned to do,” she said. “What I’ve learned is that when you begin to see the vision of what personalized, competency-based education is, it doesn’t mean that it has to be that way immediately.” Her recommendation to teachers is to “just try something.”

Assistant Principal Dawn Harden emphasized this point with, “Teachers need to understand it is a progression. It’s just like learning for kids is a progression.” (more…)

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Red Bank Elementary School: Teaching Students, Not Standards

February 3, 2016 by

This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the second in the series on Red Bank Elementary in Lexington School District. See the first on five big takeaways.

Red Bank Elementary offers a great example of how districts can take a big step toward high quality competency education by allowing schools to move ahead when ready. It’s also an example that schools can go far down the path when districts don’t hold them back from innovating.

It says a lot about the leadership at Lexington School District that they have been supportive of Principal Marie Watson and the team at Red Bank as they took the enormous step five years ago to work with the Reinventing Schools Coalition to transform their school into a personalized, competency-based school. Susan Patrick and I had just completed the scan of competency education five years ago and hadn’t even started imagining CompetencyWorks at that time. It’s this kind of district leadership, to support innovation wherever it develops, that is needed to transform medium and large districts.

Red Bank Elementary is in the Lexington, South Carolina district a bit outside of Columbia. The school serves a socioeconomic mix of 580 students with about 56 percent FRL. The school has a bilingual Spanish Immersion program serving 30 percent of the students. Many of the families were hard hit by the flooding in the fall of 2015. Another thing you should know – South Carolina has its own set of standards, called the College and Career Ready standards, that have been described to me by one educator in my travels in the state as a “tweaked version of the Common Core.”

What’s Happening in Red Bank Classrooms

Red Bank is entirely organized around learning and leadership (leadership is a district initiative). It starts before you even walk in the door of the school with a sign for students coming in late: “Parents please check in at the office, learning has begun.”

The dominant feeling is of a quiet joy mixed with a good dose of respect, hope, and aspirations. There are lots of hugs, constant reminders of the qualities of leadership that everyone is aspiring to, and clear, clear, clear focus on learning. Staff are unified by a commitment to do better for kids and to intentionally improve their school based on a clear set of values and understanding of learning and teaching. After spending a few hours at Red Bank, I just wanted to do my personal best (it may have been the sign that says Everything you need is already inside you that gave me that lift).

Red Bank has taken many of the rituals of personalized learning that I’ve seen in other schools, mixed it with the The Leader in Me program, and then lifted it up into almost every aspect of the school. For example, two students, Hunter and Reilly, gave me a tour of the school, guiding me through hallways named Kindness Avenue, Creativity Lane, Perseverance Path, and Compassionate Way. Hunter and Reilly talked to me about what they like to study, when they like to do their work on a computer and when they like to work in a group, and how they get to make things, “really make things, like windmills” in STEM class. (more…)

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Red Bank Elementary: Five Big Takeaways

February 2, 2016 by

2015-11-16 08.46.17This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the first in the series on Red Bank Elementary in Lexington School District.  

Amazing that a five-hour site visit at Red Bank Elementary School with Principal Marie Watson, her staff, and the students could produce so many big takeaways.

Teaching Students, Not Standards: At one point, Watson referred to the difference between standards-based and competency-based education. I asked her how she differentiated these two phrases, which are often used interchangeably. Her insight was so powerful that I’m now embracing it myself. She said that in standards-based systems, the schools teach based on the grade level. The focus is on the standards. Competency-based is about teaching students, starting where they are in their own development and academic level and then ensuring they reach proficiency on the standards. You start with the students. (This is the concept that most of the vendors of grading and tracking systems can’t seem to get their heads wrapped around. They keep creating systems based around the standards in a grade level or course.)

Intentional Blending: There is a lot of talk about models in the world of blended learning, but much less about pedagogy and how the instructional delivery choices reinforce it (or not). The team at Red Bank starts with pedagogy and building a shared understanding of how students learn as well as the implications for teaching before they make choices about products and apps. They think about whether products will support the development of higher order skills (they use the 4 Cs – creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking – as the criteria for making purchasing choices).

Competency Education for the Littlest Ones: Red Bank has one kindergarten class serving four-year-olds and one serving five-year-olds. Watson and the kindergarten teachers helped me to think about how important it is to understand the developmental stages of children and their brain development, especially when it is impacted by poverty. Watson explained, “Some students haven’t had exposure to colors or how to write their name. Some have rarely had books read to them. The idea of letters is totally new to them. It is their developmental stage that shapes whether they take off once they become exposed to new ideas and new skills, or whether they are going to take more time to build these early foundational skills. We have to pay attention to how their memory is developing as well as their motor skills. Some students may take three or four years to reach the level of development they need to become strong readers and learn their numbers with enough fluency that they can thrive in mathematics. We often see them take off and catch up at this point.”

This makes me wonder: Would it be useful to make the interplay between development and standards more explicit for teachers and parents so personalized learning trajectories could be created? If a student’s brain hasn’t developed enough to memorize 1-100, why would we expect them to do so? Wouldn’t it be more valuable to help them strengthen their skills at memorization first? Or perhaps what we need are bands or benchmarks rather than grade-level standards? (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

by

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMBelow is the latest news from across the field in K-12 competency education.

Student Agency

  • A new Harvard study exploring the influence of teaching on emotions, motivations, mindsets and behaviors suggests the development of agency may be as important an outcome of schooling as the skills we measure with standardized testing.
  • Teacher Angela Watson highlights six ways to support kids who don’t take ownership of their learning.
  • Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey created a continuum of voice and what it means for the learner, including three stages of personalized learning environments.

School Models

  • The Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS), an online charter school in New Hampshire, introduced a set of five pathways to guide students through multiple routes for demonstrating mastery of competencies: courses, projects, experience, college and teams.
  • RSU2 moves beyond grade-driven learning to teach students where they are in their zone of proximal development by designing for deep holes in learning.
  • Tom Rooney, Superintendent of California’s Lindsay Unified School District, presented on competency education and shared Lindsay’s story at FEE’s 2015 National Summit on Education Reform.

State Education Policy

  • The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents unveiled its policy goals for 2016 and called for a shift to personalized, competency-based education.
  • A Florida bill, if enacted, would establish a competency-based pilot program which would allow students in certain counties to advance to higher levels of learning after demonstrating mastery of a concept, instead of advancing based on seat time.

Thought Leadership

  • Founding editor of Education Week Ron Wolk wrote a piece arguing for the transformation toward personalized, competency-based education.
  • Bob Crumley, the 2016 Alaska Superintendent of the Year, wrote this leadership piece on advice for superintendents and leading a district.

Resources

  • A new study sought to understand how individual learning plans (ILPs) are operationalized in high schools, how ILPs are implemented and assessed, and the extent to which ILPs contribute to students’ college and career readiness.
  • The Center for Collaborative Education is launching the Massachusetts Personalized Learning Network, where CCE will partner with schools and districts throughout the state to place students at the center of their own education, creating personalized and engaging learning experiences for all students.
  • This resource highlights 10 expectations all students should have of their schools.
  • The Nellie Mae Education Foundation released a new report on understanding the landscape of technology for student-centered learning.
  • The Foundation for Excellence in Education created a new web resource on competency education.

Follow us on twitter (@CompetencyWorks) and sign up for our monthly newsletter for more information and updates in K-12 competency education.

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