Category: Case Studies

The Teacher Association Perspective on Performance-Based Learning

March 27, 2017 by

Heather O’Brien

This article is the fourteenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Heather O’Brien started at D51 as a student and has now entered her second year as President of Mesa Valley Education Association. She is aware of the demands of supporting MVEA in making the shift from a traditional union to professional association within a district going through a tremendous transformation. She is also humbled by these demands.

O’Brien explained that the educators at D51 value their professionalism and want to further expand upon it. “We use the language of association, not union,” she said. “We want to shift into a professional association. We don’t serve customers the same way other labor unions do. We have relationships with students and their families. Our focus and the focus of district leadership is on student success, not a bottom line of profit.” She explained that when educators think of themselves as teacher leaders, an association will provide more opportunity. She noted that the Colorado Education Association is also making this shift to a professional association.

On top of that, all 1,325 teachers in the district are beginning to learn about a new educational paradigm. “The most exciting part is that both P-BL and the changes at MVEA are about empowering teachers,” O’Brien said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for our educators.”

She herself is very enthusiastic about this shift to performance-based learning. “This is a pedagogy and a philosophy I’ve been trying to create in my own classroom for the last ten years,” she said. “Performance-based learning is right for kids and it’s right for teachers. But you can’t do it alone. You have to have the full system, the gradebooks, and a collaborative effort among teachers. P-BL is what I’ve been searching for as a teacher.” At the same time, she’s also cautious about how others are approaching the change. “I’m a phoenix. I need change. I like to go in totally new directions. But other people don’t. So I need to pay attention to how other people are experiencing the process of introducing P-BL. I need to always be open to authentic concerns.” (more…)

R5 High School: Abuzz with Learning

March 23, 2017 by

This article is the thirteenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

One of the reasons I believe D51 is going to be successful in implementing performance-based learning is that they already have a 100 percent strategy in place, with four alternative schools designed to make sure that every student, even those who left school and want to re-enroll, have options. It means they are putting resources toward serving 100 percent of the students. Even more so, they have demonstrated that all learners are valuable by co-locating two of the alternative schools, Summit and R5, in a brand new building (many district-run alternative schools I’ve visited have been in portable classrooms, old buildings, and very dingy basements).

D51 has thought strategically about the mix of high school programming that is needed. In addition to the four comprehensive high schools, there is Summit (a transitional program for students who do best with more support and structure); Valley High School (a small school model); the Career Center; and R5, an early stage performance-based high school designed for students who need flexibility and opportunity to advance more quickly than traditional course-based schedules will allow. R5 High School, which is based on Respect, Responsibility, Relevancy, Readiness, and Relationships, is the only high school of the seven demonstration schools in District 51.

Observation and Inquiry: Is having strong, comprehensive multiple pathways to graduation that ensure students can take a “leave of absence” and return to school at a later date to complete their diploma an indicator that districts are committed to helping all students reach proficiency? Will those districts that have expanded alternative schools to be better able to reach out and, when needed, re-engage 100 percent of their students (as opposed to maintaining a one-way door out of school) be better positioned to implement strong, continuous improvement efforts? Should we create formal leave of absence policies so that there are triggers about what this will mean regarding when students might graduate?

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Performance-Based Learning in a Dual Immersion School

March 20, 2017 by

DIA1This article is the twelfth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

The Dual Immersion Academy (DIA) is not one of D51’s performance-based learning demonstration schools – it’s one of the schools that is going forward and building the effective practices because it simply can’t wait. Bil Pfaffendorf, a professional learning facilitator, and I made a quick stop to learn about how the efforts in building the effective practices were going. I am so glad I did, as I realized that the deep conversations about teaching and learning are rippling throughout the district – not just in the demonstration schools.

Principal Monica Heptner outlined the structure of the school: Of the 285 students K-5 that DIA serves, approximately 50 percent are English Language Learners and the other half are there to learn Spanish. Language is an intentional set of skills developed at DIA, with students building their skills in both languages. There are two language progressions, and students are tracked on both. Students come to school with different levels of familiarity with each of the languages. Students receive literacy in both languages, with math and reading in English and science and social sciences in Spanish.

Heptner provided examples of their progress in incorporating the effective practices, some of which had been previously used in the school to some degree: (more…)

Lincoln Orchard Mesa: What Did You Notice?

March 16, 2017 by

LOM1This article is the eleventh in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

What I noticed at Lincoln Orchard Mesa (Lincoln) is that every teacher in every classroom I visited would at some point or another engage a student with the question, What did you notice?

What did you notice about the drawing of the sheep in the book? What did you notice about differences in the charts on how we are doing learning words? What do you notice about the words in the sentence? The constant reflection is aimed at building meta-cognition, one of the Habits of Mind needed to become a self-directed learner. The question wobbles right next to its shadow question, What weren’t you noticing? When prompted, frequently reflecting on what you are noticing (or not) soon helps you become very intentional about where you are directing your attention.

Background

Leia Kraeuter

Lincoln, serving 380 students in the mixed income neighborhood of Orchard Mesa, is one of the seven demonstration schools in D51. It’s a “title school” with over 50 percent of the students on Free and Reduced Lunch. As Principal Leia Kraeuter escorted us from one classroom to another, she would point out the strategies being explored by different teachers: This teacher is experimenting with flexible seating. This teacher has co-created an expectation rubric with students to guide their behavior, such as what it means to be on task.

As in all the demonstration schools, teachers are learning the effective practices needed for personalized, performance-based learning to take root: a classroom that includes culture, transparency, and a learner-centered environment. Personalized learning has a variety of meanings, ranging from online learning and differentiated instruction and support to engaging students by increasing relevance and student agency. At D51, their vision for a personalized, performance-based system starts with organizing the learning environment to help students build the skills they need to take ownership of their learning. Transparency is one of the keys to unlocking student agency. (more…)

Transparency and Trust

March 14, 2017 by

Transparency1

This article is the tenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Opportunity to Learn

Like most districts, transparency hasn’t been a strong point at D51 in the past. Thus, with transparency being a core value of performance-based education, there are trust issues that will have to be worked through. D51 knows it is important to provide teachers with the chance to understand and learn how to use the T&L Framework and effective practices. Any tools being developed are being designed to support growth – not evaluation. Rebecca Midles, Director of Performance-Based Learning (P-BL), noted that, “We are moving step by step and need to constantly communicate about our timelines and sequencing. Understandably, educators are wondering how the performance-based system will impact them. We are trying to be very clear about whether something is going to be evaluative or not. Eventually the T&L Framework will help us create the foundation for strengthening our human resource processes. But only when we are ready and only after teachers have had the opportunity to learn.” Opportunity to learn standards: an important piece of competency-based education for students and adults.

Preparing for Angst

Bil Pfaffendorf, a professional learning facilitator, mentioned the double edges of transparency. “The sense of trust is changing in D51,” he said. “There is more dialogue, people are sharing their opinions, and they are starting to feel confident that those at the district level are listening. We are all trying to be transparent, which is difficult in the midst of so much change. Transparency is important in building trust. It can also lead to anxiety. If teachers understand the expectations but don’t have the skills yet to do it, anxiety and angst are totally understandable feelings. So we are thinking about the the social and emotional learning of our teachers as we design the labs.”

Angst and anxiety came up several times during my visit. In a discussion, one teacher emphasized, “The level of professional engagement of our teachers is very high. Some are anxious because they recognize they have a lot to learn. Some may even be in cognitive overload as they wrap their heads around what it means to personalize their classrooms. Their can-do attitude is a beacon. It’s inspirational.”

Midles explained to me later that when educators start to feel anxious, it is often for one of two reasons. First, they may feel the expectations of their job are changing or they may not have the skills to excel. Thus, the trust-building response needs to be an assurance that there will be supports provided and that adults will not be evaluated until expectations are clear and they have had an opportunity to learn. Please note, this is the same principle used for students.

Second, anxiety and angst may build up when teachers feel out of control or that new expectations of compliance and control are being layered on top of their jobs. Midles referred to the Csikszentmihalyi model of flow in thinking about the mix of challenge and ability to strengthen educators’ and students’ relationships to learning. A middle school teacher, Darren Cook, explained to me that teachers have endured at least a decade of sweeping new reforms only to be replaced by the newest sweeping reform. With the introduction of the state-teacher evaluation policies that are not rooted in the culture or strategies of the district or their schools, teachers have become even more suspicious of changes. The trust-building response here is to make sure that teachers understand that as the district creates a more intentional common Teaching and Learning Framework, teachers will actually have more autonomy and opportunity for creativity in the strategies and learning experiences they use to help students learn. The other response is to offer opportunity to learn about performance-based learning not through memo or lecture, but through engaged reflective learning as well as opportunity to participate in creating the new system. (more…)

New Emerson: Learning the Effective Practices of the Learner-Centered Classroom

March 9, 2017 by

New Emerson 1This article is the ninth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Can performance-based learning help an award-winning school get even better?

New Emerson Elementary, a lottery-based magnet school in District 51 in Colorado, was developed in the early 1990s. The original design of a very strong focus on literacy has now expanded to include science as well with a partnership with John McConnell Math and Science Center.

In 2015, the teachers voted to become one of the seven demonstration schools to begin the process of transformation to a personalized, performance-based system. The reason: To have learners take responsibility for their learning and to move away from the time-bound aspect of all learners learning at the same rate and the same time. The school has engaged parents and students in shaping a shared vision to guide their school: Together, through the building of positive relationships, our community strives to create self-directed, interdependent, empathic, and creative thinkers with growth mindset. (more…)

Pioneering the New Way of Learning: Learner Agency and Opportunity

March 3, 2017 by
(Pictured Here: GripTape Youth Leadership Board. Photographed by Kimani Calliste.)

(Pictured Here: GripTape Youth Leadership Board. Photographed by Kimani Calliste.)

This article was originally posted at iNACOL on January 31, 2017.  We share this article as it provides an in-depth model for thinking about how to build learner agency.

Testing the Ingredients to Learner Agency Success… Through Learners

We are members of GripTape’s Youth Leadership Board which is composed of youth in high school and college who have set out on a journey to change the view of education for youth everywhere. Through weekly video conferences, new ideas are created, content is contributed, and there is an endless amount of support. The Board was created a little over a year ago, and has already created so much for youth learners throughout the nation. It will be exciting to see what can be accomplished within the next year and years to come.

Being able to serve as members on this Board hasn’t only given us the chance to exercise and develop our leadership skills, but also the chance to discover why it is so powerful. Every single member on our Board has a unique talent to share and a unique question they aim to find the answer to. Each of us are on our own individual journeys as to assure that we never cease the learning process ourselves. And the ways each of us go about doing so is tied into the unique skillset we each bring to every meeting.

Understanding Motives and Inspirations

Griptape is focused around the goal of placing young learners in the path of other potential learners to build an extensive network of learners. That is the premise of our work: providing awareness to youth of their untapped potential to learn anything that they want. This process has taken much time and collaboration between organizations, professionals, youth, and a pretty awesome youth-led Board. With all this creativity, knowledge, and experience, a guideline was put together to encompass all the aspects which essentially help “facilitate the emergence of learner agency.” The following ideas were put together on what is believed to be factors in enabling and maintaining productive and positive learner agency. Then this framework was looked over once and look over some more and probably will continue to be reviewed and revised in the future. The idea behind the framework is that learner agency first begins internally with the learners own set of beliefs and ambitions, then can be demonstrated depending on the learner’s external influences and relative practices that eventually shape their experience and environment. Knowing what can motivate and inspire youth to pursue learning outside of the classroom, once broken down, is actually not all that difficult. The greatest challenge presented with learner agency is getting the message to every young person around the world that they are actually capable of learning anything they want to!

Framework Components/Subcomponents

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Creating a Transparent Performance-Based System at D51

March 1, 2017 by
D51 SEL

This is what co-design looks like.

This article is the eighth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Grand Junction feels like a rugged western city, bordered as it is by towering mesas and the Colorado River. That’s why the sculptures that spring up at almost every downtown corner let you know that something else is happening here. Creativity runs through the city just as it runs through the school district. You can see it and feel it in the tremendous process of design that is taking place as D51 as it outlines the architecture of the performance-based system.

They are also in an intensive process of aligning these elements to offer a transparent and coherent system of learning:

  • Graduate profile: Will inform graduate competencies, school design, and learning experiences.
  • Shared vision, mission, and guiding principles: Used to make decisions and allocate resources from school board to classroom.
  • Competency Framework: Graduate competencies, standards, and rubrics create transparency for what students should know and be able to do at each performance level. This serves as the structure by which teachers can calibrate proficiency and ensure alignment of instruction as assessment to levels of rigor.
  • Teaching & Learning Framework: Guides policies, professional learning, and feedback loops to teachers, and adds new capacities and functionality in the system. Defines the instructional practices needed for personalized learning in all classrooms regardless of content or grade level
  • Effective Practices: The core set of practices that enable students to take ownership and teachers to create the capacity for personalization in their classrooms.
  • Foundation of Growth Mindset, Social & Emotional Learning and Habits of Mind: Standards and continuua that are used to help students build the skills of being a lifelong learner.

As described in the article on D51’s Implementation Strategies, the district is using a simultaneous roll out of strands of work, thus requiring them to intentionally loop back for further aligning before they complete this phase of work.

Much of their work is similar to the efforts that have been described in articles about Henry County, Lake County, Charleston, and the report Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. However, the features of D51’s transformational process (a culture rooted in a growth mindset; a shared vision; transparency and alignment; data-driven processes; personalized learning; and collective ownership) are shaping the processes and emphases in ways that give them depth. Their Teaching & Learning (T&L) Framework stands out as an important step that I haven’t seen before in other districts. (more…)

Supporting Teachers at D51: A Conversation with the Professional Learning Facilitators

February 23, 2017 by

#7 supporting teachersThis article is the seventh in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Leigh Grasso, Director of Academic Achievement & Growth at D51, emphasizes, “We are shifting from a focus on professional development to professional learning.” And there are a lot of people focusing on helping the adults in the system learn. In the district decision-making/communication structure, there is the Learning System Support Team (LSST) that includes Content Facilitators (CFs). There is also the team of Professional Learning Facilitators (PLFs) who are organizing Design Labs for teachers.

I had the opportunity to speak with some of the PLFs, Amy Shephard-Fowler, Heather Flick, and Bil Pfaffendorf. As part of the Learning System Support Team, they are charged with creating and managing the overall the overall design for the structure of professional learning opportunities such as design hubs but work collaboratively with other LSST members, teachers, and administration in the design of the content to support the implementation of the performance-based system.

Background

As explained to me, D51 didn’t have a lot of systematic professional development in previous years. Four days a year were dedicated to event professional development with little choice available to teachers. In 2009 -2010, D51 completed the Comprehensive Appraisal for District Improvement (CADI) process and, in so doing, the emphasis on pedagogy went to an extreme emphasis on regimented delivery of curriculum and direct instruction. This left some teachers feeling like they had little autonomy and as if they had limited flexibility to meet the needs of their students. Flick explained, “We have the perfect storm to bring performance-based learning to the Grand Valley. They are ready for a system that is focused on our students.”

Feedback: The Key to Continuous Improvement for Designing Professional Learning

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Laying the Foundation with Culture and Climate

February 21, 2017 by

This article is the sixth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Steve Schultz and Rebecca Midles from Getting Smart

The first of District 51’s five phases of implementation is Laying the Foundation. The foundation they are speaking of is the culture and climate in which personalized, performance-based learning can take root. They describe this as “a culture where each student has ownership of his/her academic, social and emotional learning resulting in readiness for success in life.” This description helps you understand their vision for a personalized, performance-based system – the policies, procedures, school design, schedules, learning experiences, supports, and instructional cycle – that is going to help students build the skills they need to become lifelong learners.

D51 has focused most of their attention on creating a robust, empowered culture of learning with the growth mindset, social and emotional learning, and Habits of Mind at its very core. It’s important to remember that the features of their system and their process are also shaping the creation of the culture and climate. (See The Vision of Performance-Based Education at D51.)

There are three things that stood out for me about their efforts that are different than I’ve seen in other districts:

  • Integration of the sixteen Habits of Mind into a Social & Emotional Learning Framework that is organized into developmental bands that will stretch from K-12.
  • Focus on growth mindset that emphasizes helping students learn how to be aware of self-talk and how to create productive self-talk.
  • Growth mindset is also influencing the efforts of designing the elements of the performance-based learning system and personalized support for teachers.

A Culture Rooted in the Growth Mindset

D51 talks about the growth mindset constantly – in professional learning sessions with teachers just becoming familiar with performance-based learning, in meetings with principals to build a culture of reflection as they stretch themselves to strengthen their understanding of their tasks as leaders, and in presentations in the community. It starts at the top – superintendent Steve Schultz models the growth mindset through reflecting on his own learning and a constant fail forward orientation.

Building the Culture and Climate to Support Growth Mindset

D51 has identified five strategies to help people, both students and adults alike, to learn to have a growth mindset. Posters are found all over the district highlighting the five steps: Brain, Mindsets, Self-Talk, Feedback, Goal. I’ve expanded on the third strategy, productive self-talk, as it is the first time I’ve heard a district focus this specifically on it. Click here for the Growth Mindset Learning Continuum.

Growth Mindset

1.Teach About the Brain: Students need to learn about the brain and how it works. Two important points that directly relate to the growth mindset: 1) their intelligence is not fixed and it can change, and 2) their intelligence can get stronger or weaker depending on effort that actually rewires the brain. I heard a facilitator in a professional development session call out with what sounded like true joy, “LET’S REWIRE!” (more…)

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