Author: Chris Sturgis

Seizing the Moment

May 3, 2016 by

seizeToday, a new report, Seizing the Moment: Realizing the Promise of Student-Centered Learning, is being released at a Washington D.C. forum. It is a beautifully written report by Don Spangler; Steve Brown, College for America; Tony Simmons, High School for Recording Arts; Bea McGarvey, MCL Alliance; Dena Cushenberry, Ed.D., Metropolitan School District of Warren Township, Indiana; Jim Griffin, Momentum Strategy & Research; Nicholas B. Donohue, Nellie Mae Education Foundation; Bob Rath, Our Piece of the Pie®; Rodney Powell, Our Piece of the Pie®; and Linda C. Dawson, Ed.D., SIA Tech.

These authors represent a wide range of educational institutions, including those that specialize in helping students to re-engage and complete their diplomas. They are deeply committed to equity, stating, “our primary objective is to elevate the learning and readiness of students regardless of color or zip code, and to combat the growing economic inequalities that are so pervasive across our country.” They argue that “student-centered learning represents an opportunity to address both of these needs simultaneously. It is truly a “both/and” proposition, which can help to close achievement gaps while also raising the bar for all students.”

This report spurred my thinking in two different directions. First, I was taken by the concept of Design to the Edges. Second is how we navigate the environment of different but highly related terminology.

Design to the Edges

There are many helpful ideas in the report. I want to bring your attention to the design principle of “Design to the Edges,” as I think it can be a helpful concept for all of us to think about as we try to move away from the idea of delivering grade level curriculum or standards to all students regardless of their performance levels. This is proving to be one of the hardest practices for us to let go of.

The report recounts a TEDTalk by Todd Rose: (more…)

Creating Meaningful Instruction through Mastery-Based Learning in New Haven, CT

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New HavenThis is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public Schools, Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public Schools, Our Piece of the Pie, and Superintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

Despite snow days and flus and deadlines, I had the chance to visit with the leadership teams at New Haven Public Schools and New Haven Academy in March.

At New Haven Public Schools, I met (briefly) with Superintendent Garth Harries; Imma Canelli, Deputy Superintendent; and Suzanne Lyons, Project Manager. Click here to read about New Haven Academy.

New Haven Public Schools is interested in mastery-based learning as it is a natural progression from the standards movement. Once standards are established, the question becomes, “How do we help students reach them, and how do we know if they reach them?” New Haven sees mastery-based learning as the framework to help create purposeful, meaningful instruction.

Lyons expanded this by adding, “Mastery-based learning is all about helping students become successful. Competencies are a starting point, but if your approach to mastery-based learning is just about competencies and grading, you are missing out on the purpose. It’s about instruction and additional instructional support when students need.”

About five years ago, New Haven joined the League of Innovation Schools and began to get exposed to the concept of competency-based learning. The next step was that five of the ten high schools began to participate as a PLC with Great Schools Partnership, including monthly meetings of the principals. The participating schools are High School in the Community, New Haven Academy, Metropolitan Business Academy, Cooperative Arts and Humanities, and Sound School. (more…)

South Carolina Overview

May 2, 2016 by

SC State FlagIt’s hard to stay on top of all fifty states now that district-wide and whole school competency-based education is expanding so rapidly. (Please note: Even though vendors like to describe their products as competency-based, we do not believe that an adaptive software program can be competency-based. Online programs are simply able to produce flexible pacing based on the algorithms that are used to determine proficiency within the program. This is very different from designing a system based upon a growth mindset and organized to help every student be successful.) Here is a quick summary of what we know about what is going on in South Carolina. If you have any updates, please send them our way.

Two Leading Districts (Are There Others?)

Charleston

Red Bank Elementary, Lexington

If you know of other districts and schools becoming competency-based in South Carolina please let us know. (more…)

Ready by Design

April 30, 2016 by

ready by design coverAs middle and high schools across the country make the transition to competency-based structures to replace the sorting structures of the traditional system, they have to answer three big questions along the way:

  1. What do you want students to know and be able to do in order to be successful in the transition after they leave your school?
  2. What is your theory of how students develop? What is your philosophy of how to engage, motivate, and empower students to become lifelong learners who can be successful in college and careers?
  3. What is your pedagogical philosophy? What is your strategy of teaching and learning, and how is that put into practice in your school?

Some schools are very clear on these questions while others haven’t yet taken into account what research tells us about development, engagement, motivation, and learning. To help you think about the second question regarding adolescent development, take a peek at the new paper Ready by Design: The Science (and Art) of Youth Readiness by Stephanie Krauss, Karen Pittman and Caitlin Johnson published by the Forum for Youth Investment. (more…)

Charleston: Pinehurst Elementary School

April 27, 2016 by

PinehurstThis is the sixth post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework, the second on implementation strategies, and schools Pepperhill Elementary, Stall HighGoodwin Elementary, and Pinehurst Elementary. 

My final stop of the whirlwind tour of Charleston County School District was Pinehurst Elementary, where I met Principal Dianne Benton and teachers James Tomasello (fourth grade), Lauren Gudger (third grade), and Jason Kraeger (fourth grade). Pinehurst serves 650 students in grades 2-5, 65 percent of whom are English Language Learners, 32 percent are African American, and 100 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch.

I’m always asked what competency education looks like in elementary schools and I do my very best to describe it. However, as I visited these three classrooms, I realized the difficulty in describing it is that it feels like a whirlwind of learning. Students are often doing a lot of different things; sitting quietly on the floor or at their desk working alone, sitting in pairs or triads talking about the topic, solving problems, working on a project, or working with devices in hand. In the corner or along the wall is a table, where the teacher is working with a small group of three to five students. The shoulders and heads form a circle as they stretch toward each other. When needed, the teacher might stand to do mini-lesson on the board. At some point in the class, the teacher will call everyone together for a meeting to make sure they understand the options for that day or the following day.

The walls are loaded with poster paper – shared visions, codes of cooperation, choice boards, resources related to the standards, and data walls for students to indicate their progress. In some rooms, there is a basket of Mardi Gras beads and little instruments for the class to use to celebrate learning when students have mastered a standard. (more…)

Nineteen Districts in Idaho Start the Journey to Mastery-Based Learning

April 25, 2016 by
Sherri Ybarra

Sherri Ybarra, Superintendent of Public Instruction

Last week, Superintendent Sherri Ybarra announced the twenty districts/schools that will launch Idaho’s Mastery Education Network (IMEN). According to the press release, “IMEN was authorized in 2015 when Governor Butch Otter signed HB 110 to move Idaho towards a mastery education model. This model will move students away from the current time-based system to a mastery system and allow for a more personalized and differentiated learning experience.”

As Idaho explains in a mastery-based learning system, “students advance to higher levels of learning when they demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills regardless of time, place or pace.” Ybarra said, “The beauty of a mastery-based education system is that it is rooted in local control and is truly from the ground up. Local communities, schools, and districts will determine through this effort what is best to meet the needs of their students.” (more…)

Charleston: A Conversation with Teachers at Goodwin Elementary School

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GoodwinThis is the fifth post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework, the second on implementation strategies, and schools Pepperhill Elementary, Stall High, Goodwin Elementary, and Pinehurst Elementary.

Goodwin Elementary School is located in North Charleston, SC. 93 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, 70 percent are African-American and 25 percent are Hispanic. Goodwin serves students in child development (CD) through 5th grade. A big thank you to teachers Michelle Mazell, Kelly Vossler, and Shannon Feit for letting me visit their classrooms, and Jessica Lucas, Personalized Learning Coach, for sharing insights into Personalized Learning.

First Steps toward Personalized, Competency Education

Goodwin Elementary was the birthplace of Personalized Learning in Charleston County School District (CCSD). They began their journey during the 2012-2013 school year when a cohort of 12 teachers began exploring best practices for integrating 1:1 iPads as a tool for teaching and learning. “We read everything we could find about personalization and competency-based education,” said Lucas who was then a teacher at Goodwin. “We thought we were researching blended learning but quickly realized Personalized Learning was so much more.” Three months later, the District was awarded one of 16 Race to the Top District grants. The vision for Personalizing Learning across CCSD began to take shape shortly after.

A Conversation with Elementary School Teachers

I began my conversation with Ms. Mazell, Ms. Vossler, and Ms. Feit by asking them what lessons they had learned in their journeys to implement Personalized Learning. Ms. Mazell immediately jumped in, “I was a control freak. I had to learn to let go, and it was really hard for me. I couldn’t imagine that an elementary classroom could run so smoothly without the teacher controlling every minute of the day. However, once I observed a Personalized Learning classroom, I was totally convinced this was what was best for kids. The students are much more interested when they have ownership. I don’t have to worry anymore about the student who is totally disengaged. All students own their learning and they hold themselves and each other accountable for their behavior and mastery of standards.” (more…)

Proficiency-Based High School Diploma Systems in Maine

April 21, 2016 by

DiplomaI toured the state of Maine last fall to try to understand what was happening in districts, as the policy for a proficiency-based diploma challenged all districts to create more meaning than time-based credits for graduation and figure out how to get all students to be able to cross the finish line. (Maine’s policy essentially made high school a four year clock that started ticking when students enter ninth grade.) You can find the overview of the Maine Road Trip here.

Last month, the Maine Education Policy Research Institute (MEPRI) at the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research & Evaluation (CEPARE) at the University of Southern Maine released their fourth policy report Proficiency-based High School Diploma Systems in Maine based on six case studies. This stage of the research asked three questions:

  1. How do Maine public school and school district educators and administrators perceive the challenges and facilitators of implementing the state’s mandated proficiency-based diploma system as described in An Act To Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy?
  2. How do Maine public school and school district educators and administrators perceive the impacts of implementing the state’s mandated proficiency-based diploma system as described in An Act To Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy on management systems and structures, fiscal allocations, school climate, instruction, as well as curriculum and assessment?
  3. How are Maine public school districts defining proficiency and developing local PK-12 proficiency-based diploma policies?

For any state thinking about going in this direction as a high leverage policy strategy, it is well worth reading all the reports.

Here are a few highlights from the report by Erika Stump, Bernadette Doykos and Catherine Fallona. (more…)

Charleston: A Conversation with Teachers at Stall High School

April 20, 2016 by

Shared VisionThis is the fourth post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework, the second on implementation strategies, and schools Pepperhill Elementary, Stall High, Goodwin Elementary, and Pinehurst Elementary. 

Our first stop at Stall High School was to visit with Hannah Studemeyer, a Personalized Learning Coach. On the wall was the Progression of Implementation, the district roadmap for implementing competency-based, personalized learning. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning, explained the Progression is important because it provides alignment and transparency with the transition to a competency based personalized learning system. For each step in the Progression, Charleston has developed a training module and a proficiency scale that provides the practical direction needed for implementation. Each school then creates a plan specific to the needs of their student population, existing programs and digital resources, readiness of teachers, etc. No two schools implementing personalized learning look exactly the same.

ProgressofImplementationDr. Brittingham and Ms. Studemeyer noted an important first step in the journey is to develop a learner-centered climate and culture where students learn the skills they need to become self-directed learners, a necessary component for ensuring success with personalized learning. Stall’s schoolwide shared vision, “R. B. Stall will be an innovative learning community that inspires all to build a better future,” embraces this philosophy. Principal Kim Wilson and his leadership team are committed to seeing their vision become a reality by using it to guide all of their decision making. “Our school shared vision is the lens through which we make all our decisions, if something doesn’t fit into our vision to Inspire, Innovate & Learn, we don’t do it,” explained Wilson.

Each classroom has developed a social contract or shared vision, which is their class goal; a code of cooperation, which delineates actions needed to reach their goal; and standard operating procedures, which identify processes that allow students to become independent learners. These actions have fundamentally changed the learning environment at Stall High School, and have been an important first step in implementing personalized learning. (more…)

Blast Off with the Assessment for Learning Grantees

April 19, 2016 by

AfLWith ESSA upon us, we are all hurrying to get our heads wrapped around what is possible in terms of how we think about ensuring that our districts and schools are meeting needs of children and what state policy might look like to create the conditions, systems of supports, and appropriate expectations to drive dynamic, active learning experiences for students while improving services to historically underserved populations of students. It’s a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.

One resource that hopefully will help us along the way is the Assessment for Learning project developed by Center for Innovation in Education (CIE) at the University of Kentucky in partnership with Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) at EDUCAUSE. The AfL project has been designed to explore:

  • How can assessment support a broader definition of student success?
  • What assessment practices most effectively empower students to own and advance their learning?
  • How can we most effectively build educator capacity to gather, interpret, and use evidence of student learning to enhance instruction?
  • How does assessment for learning inform broader contexts of accountability, policy, and system design?
  • How can we pursue equity through assessment for learning?

AfL has announced their twelve grantees, and I thought I’d bring to your attention a couple of the projects that are positioned well to help us understand what a personalized, competency-based system of assessments might look like. They are tackling issues such as grades (letter and age), habits of success, performance-based assessment, micro-credentialing, competency-based approaches to helping teachers learn about performance-based assessments, and student agency. We are about to lift off on a huge new wave of learning! (more…)

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