Author: Antonia Rudenstine, Sydney Schaef, and Dixie Bacallao

What Needs to Happen so that Schools Can Meet Students Where They Are?

June 19, 2017 by

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This is the sixteenth blog in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Meeting Students Where They Are. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

At the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, one of the key emerging issues we will explore is meeting students where they are. CompetencyWorks released a paper titled Meeting Students Where They Are, written by a team from reDesign, which provides school and district leaders with an in-depth exploration of the relational, pedagogical, and structural dimensions of meeting students where they are along their learning trajectories. We invite your insights and feedback on two sets of questions:

  1. Anything Else to Add? In the paper an approach to organizing schools and reaching students based on their personal academic and developmental trajectory is explored.
    • Are there any important points to raise regarding the approach provided in the paper that are missing or need to be revised or strengthened?
    • Are there other approaches to meeting students where they are that should be included in the final paper?
  2. What Should Be Done? What needs to change in the broader education system (accountability policies, systems of assessments, teacher pre-service, etc.) to enable schools and educators to better meet students where they are, and what actionable steps can be taken to expedite these changes?

In the following discussion, we offer some initial ideas for the second question with the expectation that they will be substantially enhanced at the Summit. Below, we identify five strategies that schools must put in place in order to minimize the impact of the traditional environment’s focus on organizing learning by age and time, which most districts operate within.

A. Educator Capacity

Teachers need access to personalized, competency-based professional learning that allows them to build the skills they need to better support students within their classrooms. This should include strategies for scaffolding, differentiation, knowledge of instruction in their academic domain, coaching in lifelong strategies, and knowledge of equity strategies.  

Many districts are beginning to create modules and units on a range of different issues. An initiative that would enable knowledge-building and knowledge-transfer regarding these efforts and the design of their modules would expedite the ability of districts to shift to personalized, competency-based professional learning. (more…)

Meeting Students Where They Are: Navigating System Constraints?

June 18, 2017 by

This is the fifteenth blog in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Meeting Students Where They Are. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

Meeting students where they are is a structural challenge and will involve the work of reimagining and redesigning our school models around the needs of the individual, rather than the efficiency of the system. There is something of an accountability paradox1 at play in our educational system; namely, that the very accountability system that led to much greater transparency about the performance of the education system and its inequity is also holding the traditional system that produces inequity in place. Despite this, there are five critical, interlocking structures that will enable school models to become more effectively oriented around learner needs and outcomes rather than around operational efficiencies (without entirely ignoring the need for efficiencies in the system in order to respond to systemic constraints):

  • Modularizing learning experiences and making them available to all students creates the opportunity for students to both “reach back” to address gaps in skills and knowledge, and to reach “over” or “forward” to pursue passions or deepen learning.
  • An assessment strategy that is backwards-mapped from college-/career-readiness makes it possible for schools and systems to ensure that students have ample opportunities to practice and master core competencies.
  • Personalizing students’ learning paths allows both students and teachers to explore learning experiences in ways that meet students within their zone of proximal development, providing timely and differentiated supports as a matter of daily practice.
  • Organizational supports for learning should foster student agency, motivation, and engagement in order to ensure that supports avoid becoming enablers, limiting student growth and progress.
  • Flexible schedules support student choices about how to use their learning time, while also creating critical opportunities for teachers to provide interventions, feedback, and personalized learning experiences.

The connective tissue between these supports is a robust learning management and tracking system that provides young people, teachers, and families with real-time access to both learning experiences and rich data regarding progress.2

Strategy 1. Designing Modular Learning Experiences, Available to All

This is one of the weightiest challenges for competency-based programs, but the benefits of tackling it cannot be overstated. There are two specific challenges to be navigated: First, while the number of available tech-based resources is growing almost exponentially, there are few if any resources that are inquiry-driven, culturally responsive, organized around research-based learning progressions,3 and organized around meaningful performance assessments. Even fewer are designed to meet the needs of students who are struggling or “off-track,” or students with specific learning needs. This is a critical issue for the field to address as we move into the design of second generation competency-based models.

Second, if we truly want to meet students where they are, we must all be able to access a full range of skill- and content-based modules, as they are needed: a sixteen year old recent immigrant who did not learn to read in her native language must be able to access learning experiences that focus on learning to read and write. An eleven year old who has pursued a passion in geometric theorems shouldn’t be asked to wait several years to access school-approved courses in order to “receive credit.” And students of any age who have yet to learn how to read a map or distinguish between countries and continents should have a way to develop this competency at whatever moment makes sense: either because of a developing interest or passion, or because it is part of an established benchmarking process or learning progression.

At the classroom, school, or district level, the most significant challenge is either commissioning modules from experts or supporting practitioners as they develop the capacity to design modules that truly allow students to explore passions, develop agency, address gaps in skills and conceptual understanding, and develop college and career-oriented competencies. Beyond this, modules can be designed and hosted on an array of free and inexpensive platforms. (more…)

What Do We Do Once We Know Where Students Are?

June 17, 2017 by

This is the fourteenth blog in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Meeting Students Where They Are. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

The only way to truly meet students where they are is for competency-based models to adopt a personalized approach to learning: an approach that accounts for students’ differing zones of proximal development with regards to specific cognitive skills, as well as within the physical, emotional, metacognitive, and other domains. In this section, we offer a prototypical framework designed to help practitioners operationalize a personalized approach in the academic realm.

At first glance, the notion of “meeting students where they are” might seem daunting, as it demands we attend to the unique, ever-evolving needs of each learner, every day. What about the eight year old student who struggles to decode? The new immigrant who didn’t learn to read in her native language? The teenager without an understanding of proportional thinking? What about the student in the same cohort who is ready for more “advanced” tasks or materials? Beyond the complex challenges related to academic skills and knowledge, we cannot ignore the significant range of learner difference in executive function and self-regulation skills,1 such as the ability to sustain focus on a task, rein in impulsive behavior, prioritize activities, or recognize when it’s time to ask for help or course-correct.

For many reasons the field is in the nascent stages of defining, in a concrete and comprehensive way, the distinguishing pedagogical practices of a personalized, approach.

In mature competency-based learning spaces, learners are active co-constructors of knowledge, rather than passive consumers of content. Learning is visibly and authentically connected to meaningful and important outcomes. Inquiry drives the learning process, as it does in the world beyond school. And finally, learning environments and experiences are purposefully designed to nurture the meta-cognitive, behavioral, and motivational attributes of engaged, autonomous, and adaptive learners.2 In short, the architecture of competency-based structures places student agency as the capstone, and every element of the design exists to support it. In this way, a personalized approach is a differentiated or individualized approach, BUT, its deep commitment to student agency is the significant distinguisher: while differentiation and individualization are also approaches to meet student needs, these needs and the strategies to address them are identified by the teacher. A personalized approach places the students in the driver seat.3

Feature 1. Learner-Centered Classrooms Support Multiple Modalities

Learner-centered classrooms start by re-designing learning configurations (spaces, learner modes) and implementing high-impact instructional practices that nurture student learning, engagement, and metacognition. (more…)

How Do We Know Where Students Are?

June 16, 2017 by

This is the thirteenth blog in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Meeting Students Where They Are. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

In the traditional system, grade-level curriculum is delivered to students based on their age, whereas competency-based systems assume that schools should be organized to meet students where they are in terms of academic, cognitive, and lifelong learning skills (growth mindset, habits of work and learning, metacognition, and social and emotional skills). In this blog, we address how to know where students are, what do we do once we know, and what strategies can help us navigate system constraints.

How Do We Know Where Students Are?

We cannot begin to answer the question, “How do we know where students are?” without first addressing the inherent assumptions that we bring to this very important question. Where students are. In relation to what, exactly? With younger students, we tend to look at gross and fine motor skill development, social-emotional development, and literacy and numeracy development. As students move into late childhood – eight or nine years of age – most systems begin the transition to content exploration, while continuing to support skill development. By the time students are ‘tweens and teens, the system’s priority is content coverage.

Key Assumptions:

    1. Student achievement has historically been defined in terms of student acquisition of broad content knowledge along a time-bound sequence that begins when children are eight or nine. The assumption that content knowledge is an appropriate measure of learning – after core literacy and numeracy is taught in the early grades – or that it is sufficient to prepare learners for the 21st century workforce is problematic for a number of reasons.
    2. A second key assumption is that our age-based approaches are fair and valid. It is promising to see standards emerge – such as Common Core Learning Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and the C3 Framework for Social Studies – that prioritize the development of essential disciplinary and transdisciplinary skills and practices. The research basis of the standards provide critical clarity and transparency around the skills required for college readiness. The trick to meeting students where they are is to create learning science-informed pathways that support students in achieving the outcomes associated with the standards. Rather than coupling the standards with specific ages or grades, they would be coupled with learning progressions that provide guidance to students within their zone of proximal development, regardless of their age.
    3. The third key assumption is that teachers (and systems) are the “owners” of learning progressions, and solely responsible for using student performance data to make decisions about a student’s needs or next steps. In other words, it is teachers and administrators who must know where students are and make unilateral decisions about how to move students along. This notion is being challenged by practitioners in exciting ways, such that students are able to see and understand where they are in their own learning pathway, be involved in the planning of their pathway, and take ownership of daily and weekly decisions about their goals and priorities.

In critically examining these key assumptions of the old-paradigm accountability system, new opportunities emerge for designing truly learner-centered systems that identify where students are on their developmental path. In the section that follows, we describe a range of structural, pedagogical, and relational shifts that are essential to identifying where students are in a learner-centered, equity-oriented model. (more…)

What Does It Mean to Meet Students Where They Are?

June 15, 2017 by

Sydney Schaef, Dixie Bacallao, and Antonia Rudenstine (left to right)

This is the twelfth blog in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Meeting Students Where They Are. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

At the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, attendees will do an in-depth exploration of the relational, pedagogical, and structural dimensions of meeting students where they are. It is organized around three driving questions:

  • How do we know where students are?
  • What do we do, once we know?
  • Which strategies help us navigate systemic constraints?

As we move toward the design of second generation competency-based models, there is an opportunity to anchor student learning and achievement in expansive, adaptable, and developmentally ”appropriate” learning and development trajectories informed by the learning sciences. If we are to meet all students where they are, then our commitment must be not only to an uncompromising vision for high achievement – and in practical terms, this means college and career readiness – but also to the daily work of responding to students’ individual needs in a way that fosters optimal growth:

This work is not about meeting the demands of an efficiency-oriented accountability system for its own sake; it’s about ensuring all learners have equitable access to learning opportunities that foster agency and prepare them for life in the world. This is the orientation of learner-centered models, and it is indeed a radical departure from the industrial-age school model that dominates most schools today. (more…)

WordPress SEO fine-tune by Meta SEO Pack from Poradnik Webmastera