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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ESSA: From Compliance to Opportunity

May 31, 2016 by

ESSA Compliance to OpportunityThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on May 25, 2016. 

As mentioned in our previous post, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) not only challenges states with the task of navigating a diminished federal role in education, but provides them with new opportunities to use federal funds to support state innovations.

States can capitalize on the provisions outlined in ESSA to develop and implement strategies that encourage personalization, rigor and excellence. Over the next 13 months, states should work to identify priorities and establish which provisions within the new federal law they can leverage to accomplish their goals.

So, what is in this law for YOUR state?

While there are numerous provisions within ESSA to meet a variety of state priorities, we chose to focus on two big levers: the Direct Student Services provision and the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants.

Direct Student Services

The Direct Student Services provision provides states with an opportunity to use choice and other student services to spur improvement in districts with the lowest performing schools. States may choose to reserve up to 3% of their Title I funds to award competitive grants to districts for the purpose of (you guessed it!) providing Direct Student Services.

To receive funds, districts must apply to the state. Ninety-nine percent of these funds must be distributed to districts, and awards must go to districts serving the highest number of schools identified for comprehensive and targeted support and improvement. But, the state can use the application process to create incentives to use Direct Student Services funds on certain priorities, and the state need not award funds to every applicant. (more…)

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5 Strategies for Fostering Independence in a PBL Classroom

May 27, 2016 by

Pic1This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on April 28, 2016.

As a middle school teacher I understand that my students are at a developmental crossroads. They want to be seen as independent, responsible adults but at the same time still need guidance in order to be successful. This makes this age both challenging and rewarding to work with as it allows me as a teacher to help them as they become the independent students they see themselves to be.

It is not uncommon for teachers new to project-based learning to express skepticism or concern about “dropping the reins” and allowing students to take more control over the pace and scope of their learning. However, it is an essential aspect of good PBL. Ultimately, in order to be successful in the 21st century world, our students need to be able to manage themselves and work effectively with groups of peers. If it is true that the purpose of school is to prepare students for future success, then the building of these skills must start in the classroom. (more…)

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Promising State Policies

May 25, 2016 by

iNACOLThere are those who say we shouldn’t be trying to define personalization because it will inhibit innovation or that state policymakers will only muck things up if they try to regulate or legislate our way toward next generation models before we have established a better understanding of effective models and quality indicators. Certainly there is some truth to both of those positions.

There is also another truth.

We are asking teachers to go to work every day and do things that do not make instructional sense for children. We are sending our children to school every day knowing that they are going to be asked to do things because it is covered on the state exams at the end of the year even though they may not have the pre-requisite skills or they already know all of the material. This has to stop.

We need to do our very best, even if we make some mistakes along the way, to create the conditions for our teachers to use and build their professional knowledge to help our children learn. iNACOL’s recently released paper Promising State Policies for Personalized Learning, outlining three phases of state policy that can be used as a tool to catalyze conversation. (more…)

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PASA Forges Ahead with Competency-Based Expanded Learning Opportunities

May 24, 2016 by
PASA

Photo from the Providence After School Alliance (PASA) Website

“It’s hard to design a competency-based afterschool program when none of us have had any experience in our own lives of learning through a competency-based approach.”

So started the conversation with Alex Molina, Brittany Sandbergen, and Ann Durham of the Providence After School Alliance (PASA).

“We have an idea of how afterschool and expanded learning programming can be better aligned with student interests and their schooling through competencies, but we aren’t there yet,” explained Deputy Director Molina. “Competency-based learning can help clarify how students move from point A to point B in an afterschool experience. It can help improve the learning experience to be very clear about what we want students to be able to learn and also become a way of providing feedback to them. The one thing that is clear is that it starts by changing the way adults think about learning.”

How Expanded Learning Opportunities are Constructed

PASA has created very dynamic afterschool programming with the AfterZone (middle school) and the Hub (high school). The Hub organizes Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) that provide high school credit (.5 of an elective credit) to students for learning they do outside of the school day. Some samples of ELOs include mechanical fabrication, Android app design and development, Model UN, and environmental science.

While the AfterZone is designed for younger students to explore and try out lots of different experiences, the Hub was created for more in-depth experiences for high school students. It is organized to provide a central system for young people to access learning opportunities not currently available within their schools or to learn about content within applied, real-world experiences. The Hub’s ELOs provide a wide range of experiences, including: Young Voices (leadership development); Chrysalis-App Design (computer science for young women); Improv (acting and storytelling); Rocketry (engineering flying machines and then teaching middle students to do it); iPhone App and Game Design; Model UN; Art+Design Lab in partnership with RI School of Design Museum; and Take CoMMAnd (martial arts). (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Refurbishing for Personalized Learning

May 20, 2016 by

BinderThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on May 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Stop! You, yes you. The one perusing Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers for the perfect already-made-resource you can print off and use with your students.

And you! The one flipping through your binders, hanging-files, or digital folders for lesson plans and resources to use again.

You too! Surfing PBS, The History Channel, and other providers of ready-made curricula and lessons.

Stop. And think…

Will using this resource or material support the goals of learner-centered proficiency based practice?

The answer may not be entirely clear at first. The reality is that most of the pre-made materials are not. There are, however, ways to use these resources and refurbish them for personalized learning.

I recently facilitated a session with some teachers around using non-Calkins resources within the context of writing workshop. To start the hour off, we played a “yes-no game” based on a concept attainment activity. The gist is that we sorted examples into positive and negative groups, then determined the categories and gave them titles. This chart shows the results of our game: (more…)

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Laying the Groundwork for Proficiency-Based Learning in Rhode Island

May 18, 2016 by

RI Strategic PlanThanks to Lori McEwen, Chief of Instruction, Leadership and Equity at Providence Public Schools and Dana Borrelli-Murray, Executive Director, Highlander Institute for talking with me about how personalized learning, blended learning, and proficiency-based learning are advancing in Rhode Island.

There is a lot happening in Rhode Island regarding education. The communities in Rhode Island seem to be bustling with discussions about how to improve their schools, with much of it focused on personalized learning and blended learning catalyzed by the Highlander Institute. Much less so on how to create proficiency-based systems.

There are some sparks of proficiency-based innovation in Rhode Island, but I wouldn’t consider it a groundswell of interest yet. For example, the Met, one of the early models of highly personalized competency-based learning, started in Providence. Blackstone Academy and Blackstone Valley Prep are both proficiency-based, from what I understand. Cumberland High School has made incredible progress by starting with the goal of creating a standards-based grading reporting system and then using it to put all the important pieces in place to ensure consistency and transparency. There are also efforts of after-school programs to use competency-based models to create credit-bearing opportunities outside of school as well as Big Picture Learning’s College Unbound. (It’s possible I just didn’t tap into the right networks. Please, if you are a school in RI converting to a proficiency-based system, let us know.) From what I can tell, this suggests that those districts and schools that want to become proficiency-based can within the state policy context.

Certainly, over the past twenty years, the state has been a leader in establishing a set of policies that support a proficiency-based system. These policies have now been re-organized into a set of regulations called the Diploma System, which emphasizes proficiency and personalization. However, few districts are taking advantage of this…yet. My guess is that we are on the verge of seeing districts in RI begin to realize that they can’t get all their students to graduation-levels of proficiency without increasing the personalization of their schools (focusing on what students need to succeed, not just digitalized content) and converting to a proficiency-based system that helps them monitor proficiency, progress, and pace of their students. (See the story of Connecticut, in which superintendents are the leaders in the effort to introduce personalized, competency-based systems of education.) (more…)

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A Conversation with the Two Mikes from Montpelier

May 17, 2016 by
Two Mikes

Mike McRaith and Mike Martin

The New England Secondary School Consortium’s March conference is becoming a must-go meeting for me – as a place to hear about how educators are talking about their competency-based/mastery-based/proficiency-based systems and to expand my network of educators leading the way. Last March I had the opportunity to talk with Mike Martin, Montpelier Public Schools’ Director of Curriculum & Technology, and Mike McRaith, Principal of Montpelier High School in Vermont. (You can learn about MHS at Edutopia.)

On the Value of Proficiency-Based Learning

Martin explained, “In Vermont, we are focused on two big changes that are deeply connected. We want our students to have more personalized experiences and we want to make sure our students can meet proficiency-based graduation requirements so we’re confident that they’re ready for college and careers. It’s relatively easy to create the personalized learning plans called for in Act 77, but flexible pathways pose challenges relating to equity, and proficiency-based learning is a heavier lift. However, it is also a door to personalization. Proficiency-based learning is the way to make sure that personalized learning plans and experiential learning lead to higher achievement. In our approach, transferable skills provide a common language to define proficiency, both in class and through real-world learning.”

“We had personalized learning plans in Montpelier in the late 1990s, but we hadn’t connected them to student learning in this way. We had created a false divide between personal learning endeavors and academics. Now we are thinking about personalized learning plans and student aspirations in the context of how they can be used to create learning opportunities that engage and motivate students.”

He outlined some of these plans for me. “In the coming year, we are focusing on seven transferable skills – reading, writing, communication, problem-solving, habits of learning, citizenship, and creativity – as the enduring understanding that we want our students to have,” he said. “It is the ultimate UBD. We are building back from graduation to develop the capacity of schools to provide assessments and effective feedback on the transferrable skills.”

“The state created a set of policies that are all around the same work,” he added. “The common theme is building student agency. We want our students to know themselves as learners, to have the skills to be successful learners, and to have opportunities to build the transferable skills all along their path from kindergarten to graduation. At each grade level, students should be able to speak to the questions, Who am I as a reader? Who am I as a communicator? Who am I as a citizen? etc.” (more…)

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