Category: School Models

Adult Learning: Creating Buy-in

June 27, 2017 by

This post and graphics originally appeared at 2Revolutions on May 17, 2017.

Designing and facilitating high-quality professional learning experiences is such important and challenging work. I must admit that in my first year of formally leading professional development, I cried a few times in school bathrooms during session breaks — not so dissimilar to swallowing back tears in the teacher’s lounge during my first few months of teaching in the Bronx. I remembered (and often forgot) lots of mediocre professional development experiences as a teacher. How could I avoid repeating this pattern and actually make a difference with the little precious time I had with busy educators? On a larger scale, this question weighs upon the United States educational system, with much research pointing to huge wastes of time and money poured into largely ineffective efforts to develop teachers. (See TNTP’s The Mirage and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development.)

As the director of learning transformation at 2Rev, I am lucky to be able to pursue my obsession with designing and facilitating effective adult learning as a core part of my role, which has, not surprisingly, helped me learn a lot about what works and what’s most important when it comes to educator professional learning. In my next few blog posts, I’ll share several key principles that we’re arriving upon as we continue to experiment with different approaches to adult learning. Some of these are likely unsurprising and clearly backed by research, yet worth being reminded of. Others are intuitive but much easier said than done. I’ll share these principles with some broad rationale and then drill down into some specific practices and tools that we’ve found to be effective in living out these principles.

Today I’ll focus on a first, and maybe one of the most important, principles: creating buy-in.

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Goodbye ABCs: How One State is Moving Beyond Grade Levels and Graded Assessments

June 6, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at EdSurge on May 16, 2017.

The term “grades” has become almost taboo among some educators in New Hampshire, where seven elementary schools are slowly ditching the word altogether through a program known as NG2. The program—short for “no grades, no grades”—is hallmarked by the schools shifting to a more competency-based assessment structure and removal of grade levels.

Mary Earick, project director for NG2, says the purpose of the program is to create more flexible learning pathways for students through “competency-based multiage schooling,” which allows students to move on to new objectives only after mastering others.

“[NG2] tackles long-standing educational barriers to personalized learning . . . that of ‘Grades,’” Earick writes in an upcoming report on the project. Those barriers include “(1) student assessments that don’t accurately reflect students’ true understandings and skills and (2) methods for grouping students (by age) that often poorly align to their true needs as learners.”

The program follows six key tenets: project-based learning, learner agency, whole person development, blended learning and competency-based assessment. New Hampshire schools participating in NG2 represent urban, suburban and rural parts of the state. While the elementary schools are alike in piloting a “no grades, no grades” structure, each was given flexibility for how it would implement the program specifically.

“We don’t talk about that [grades] anymore,” says Amy Allen, principal at Parker Varney Elementary, a NG2 school. For Allen, moving away from just using the word “grades” has been an important piece of keeping students motivated in the program. So if a first-grade student is attending a kindergarten intervention group, he is not told he is going to a kindergarten class. Instead, he might be going to see “team cooperation.”

Allen says that about 80 percent of the school is participating in the pilot. There are two separate K-2 groupings, one second/third grade group, and a fourth/fifth group. (The other 20 percent of the school, including a standalone kindergarten and third-grade class, are sticking to the status quo.) (more…)

Looking to Ditch Traditional Grades? Here’s How to Get Stakeholders On Board

June 2, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at EdSurge on May 17, 2017.

You know that old interview question: What would change in education if you had a magic wand? For Scott Looney, there’d be no hesitating: He would have every school switch from traditional grading to competency-based evaluations. “They’re more authentic, more meaningful, and more logical,” he explains. “They just make sense.”

Looney is the mastermind behind the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), an organization made up of over 100 private schools. Rather than a traditional GPA, the group imagines a credit-based transcript , with links to artifacts that demonstrate students’ mastery across different competencies. The basic premise is that by providing a more complex and accurate picture of students, academic needs can be better met, colleges can make more informed admissions decisions, and intrinsic motivation will follow.

The MTC is not alone in its mission. An increasing number of schools—including charter and traditional public schools—are making a similar move to ditch traditional grades in favor of a more robust approach to assessing students’ skills. Whether they call it competency-, mastery-, or standards-based grading, the movement aims to improve students outcomes sans As, Bs, and Cs.

But making the switch may be easier said than done. Competency and mastery-based evaluations often require more work from teachers, more self-motivation from students, and less certainty when it comes to the college application process. So how to reap the benefits of competency-based education and make sure parents, teachers and other stakeholders are on board? We check in with the schools in the process of figuring that out.

Spoiler: it may boil down to good communication. (more…)

Why We Use Digital Badges at Del Lago Academy

May 3, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on March 23, 2017.

Del Lago Academy in Escondido, California, is a public high school of about 800 students focused on Applied Sciences. Educators here really want students not only to have desirable skills and knowledge for potential employers but to do meaningful work in school that feels relevant and connects to their lives now.

In order to ensure we’re meeting these objectives, we realized we needed a way to assess what students were doing throughout the scientific process and not just by observing the final projects they turn in. Thus our digital badging system, Competency X, was born.

Digital badges fill in the gaps for how we describe what scholars know and can do in the real world. Traditionally, most scholars only have a transcript of coursework to represent what they can do. Digital badges unbundle the competencies within both courses and workforce experiences to help fill in the gaps of larger credentials (e.g., degrees and certifications). This allows them to be more precise about what a learner is capable of accomplishing. (more…)

Juarez Community Academy: When Big Schools Become Competency-Based

April 25, 2017 by

Principal Juan Carlos Ocón

This is the seventh post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

There are always exceptions, and Benito Juarez Community Academy (Juarez) in Chicago is one of them. At CompetencyWorks, we tend to advise against using grading as the entry point into competency-based education. It can create confusion and anxiety, especially in high schools, before the full competency-based infrastructure has been put into place. Yet Juarez successfully moved to standards-based grading, having used the practice for the last seven years, and is now ready to move to a fuller competency-based model. Actually, I think they have already taken the substantial steps to restructure their school as competency-based.

When Juan Carlos Ocón became principal, Juarez had been on the list of the forty worst schools in Illinois. In 2010, it jumped off that list. In 2008-2009, principal Ocon and his team began a deliberate and strategic shift from a content-based curriculum to a standards-based curriculum. This was a necessary shift that allowed the school to focus on what students should know and be able to do. In the spring and summer of 2010, Juarez adopted the College Readiness Standards. In 2011, Juarez continued to develop a schoolwide shift from what teachers teach to what students learn. Ocón explained, “After analysis and research on instructional and grading models, we needed to shift our focus from what teachers teach to what students learn. That is how we were going to improve rigor in the classroom. Benchmarking, therefore, is a system of instruction that is focused on student assessment and skills mastery.

At Juarez, we had a lengthy conversation with about fifteen teachers and administrators. I apologize, as I was unable to put everyone’s names with what they said as I normally try to do. Next time I visit Juarez, I’ll do better so that readers can get to know the leaders, administrators, and teachers there.

Background

Serving 1,600 mostly Hispanic students, Juarez is a neighborhood school offering an IB program and 5 CTE programs. There is a strong college counseling program that includes resources for DREAMers. In 2008, they began to introduce standards-based grading (SBG) with school-wide implementation in 2010.

They are now in a process of preparing for the transition to competency-based education or what they referred to as “resetting.” Principal Juan Carlos Ocón explained, “Moving to competency-based education is forcing us to revisit our core values.” The leadership team, including teacher leaders, organized a retreat with Camille Farrington and members of the UC Consortium on School Research to clarify their philosophy about education and equity.

Juarez is part of the high schools organizing the pilot under the state’s Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements Pilot Program. (See CBE in Chicago for more information.) (more…)

Servant to Two Masters: Balancing Skills and Content at Lindblom

April 20, 2017 by

This is the sixth post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

I met with several teachers at Robert Lindblom Math and Science Academy (Lindblom) to discuss their experience in PBL. Three years into implementation, they estimate that about 90 percent of the teachers believe in the principles of PBL and about 50 percent have implemented strategies to match those principles.

Changing Practice

Casey Fuess, high school choir and teacher representative on the local school council, said, “Without clear learning objectives, teacherspurposefully or not—focus on engaging students for the sake of order and discipline. Instead, PBL leads teachers to plan the instructional environment to meet specific learning goals. PBL pushes teachers to think about how to intrinsically engage students with relevant material and the opportunity to see themselves getting better over time. Our students know that success is possible. PBL shifts teachers practices – we are always asking, ‘What do you want students to know, where is each student in their learning, and how can we create engaging projects that will help them get to the next step?’”

Nell Kemp, biology and biotech, explained, “Teachers need to have confidence in their practice and in themselves as learners. PBL can be difficult if teachers haven’t embraced the philosophy or don’t have a love of their content.” In hindsight, Kemp wished she had been able to take a full year to think about what proficiency-based learning looks like in the classroom.  

Supporting New Teachers

Everyone agreed that new teachers need support on classroom management – no matter what kind of classroom management. Schools need to build in support for teachers to use the classroom management practices designed around student agency and personalization. Molly Myers, AP geography, explained that professional development from Doug Finn of Marzano Research Labs was instrumental in learning how to organize classroom structures and procedures to support greater agency and personalization. The teachers are also exploring how to have more metacognitive reflection so students can better manage their learning processes. Myers emphasized, “Just let the experienced teachers who love their content go. They will create wonderful learning opportunities for students.”

“Teachers need to be reflective,” added Myers. “We have to own our failure as educators. We have to use them as an opportunity for learning to improve our skills.” (more…)

Getting Results at Lindblom

April 18, 2017 by

This is the fifth post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

Robert Lindblom Math and Science Academy (Lindblom) is relatively new to proficiency-based learning. They are in the third year of implementation; year one was spent introducing new practices, which were then introduced school-wide in the second year. The structures they have put into place include vertically aligning a transparent set of academic standards, introducing habits of learning, developing strong flex schedules, and implementing four-year looped advisories, universal revision policies, and standards-based grading. They are a school that is constantly trying to figure out what works best for students and is sustainable for teachers.

Getting Results

Lindblom is seeing results with the introduction of proficiency-based learning structures and practices. These results include higher on-track indicators, increased GPA, more scholarships being awarded, and an increase of selective college admissions. Scholarships have increased from $15 million to $55.5 million. The rate of students going to highly selective colleges increased from 15 to 30 percent, including two students going to West Point and one to Stanford. As Principal Wayne Bevis explained, “These are life-changing colleges for minority and low-income students.”

Lindblom Before & After PBL Implementation
Data Point Before PBL Today with PBL
Freshmen On-Track 83% 99.3%
Unweighted GPAs 2.4 3.0
Highly Selective Colleges Acceptance     17% 31%
Scholarships $15,000,000     $55,500,000


It’s important to understand the context of these results. A recent report from the 
University of Chicago looked at the question of whether selective schools benefit low-income kids. Their finding was that neighborhood schools were a better choice for highly skilled kids because they were able to generate higher GPAs that led to more selective colleges. Lindblom challenged that finding by putting into place proficiency-based learning structures that led to students building their skills and earning higher GPAs. (more…)

Personalizing Learning at West Belden

April 13, 2017 by

This is the fourth post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

After the visit to Lovett Elementary School, our tour (sponsored by LEAP) headed over to CICS West Belden (K-8), a Distinctive Schools campus, for a quick visit. Ninety-five percent of students are low-income and more than 90 percent are Hispanic.

West Belden was an early adopter of personalized learning in Chicago, and the school is quickly becoming a national exemplar in the space with about seventy-five tours per year. Using a personalized approach supported by blended learning, they’re seeing substantial growth results.

To jumpstart their journey to personalized learning, West Belden competed and was selected for LEAP Innovations’ Breakthrough Schools program, which provides design support, access to national experts and innovative school models, and grant funding to school teams as they implement personalized learning school-wide. West Belden turned to personalization for three reasons: stagnation of student growth, desire for increased student engagement, and teacher readiness. West Belden is organizing their school around co-teaching, multi-age learning environments. They have two teams for first through third graders and two teams for fourth and fifth graders. Kindergarten and middle school all operate with single grade levels (with multi-age electives for middle school). Their definition of personalized learning includes: (more…)

Loving Learning at Lovett Elementary

April 11, 2017 by

Dr. Haney from Chicago Public Education Fund

This is the third post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

During my visit to Chicago, I joined a tour hosted by LEAP to Lovett Elementary School. It was a group tour, so I didn’t have the opportunity to dig in as deeply as I do with other school visits. Lovett is starting with personalized learning as their entry point. They have some of the things one would expect to see in a competency-based school but not all.

These are just a few highlights:

Lovett Elementary School vibrates with energy. Dr. LeViis Haney, principal of Lovett, explained, “A few years back, we came up with the tagline, ‘Love it at Lovett.’ The problem was the kids didn’t really love it at Lovett. So we asked ourselves, ‘How can we transform the environment so that kids really would love learning?’”

At the time, the school was very traditional, with thirty students “jammed” into classrooms with one teacher. Many of our students come “from down the hill,” referring to the income levels of the community. Nearly all students are on Free or Reduced Lunch. Many of our parents didn’t do well in school themselves and their opinions of schools and teachers were informed by their own less-than-positive experiences.

Haney described their previous top-down, compliance based-culture: “Everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing. Teachers were teaching the curriculum and kids were listening and receiving knowledge. Students went from one worksheet or workbook to the next. The problem was that all the instruction was just one-way without consideration of students’ needs.” The results were manifold: a high percentage of disciplinary office referrals and high suspension rates; teachers were isolated and only felt responsibility for their classrooms; technology integration was almost nonexistent and didn’t come with teacher training; and there were low rates of parent satisfaction and high rates of student apathy. (more…)

Leap Innovations – Learning Exponentially for Advancing Potential

April 6, 2017 by

This is the second post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

Although only three years old, LEAP (Learning Exponentially for Advancing Potential) is already making a difference in the Chicago region and nationally. I had a difficult time finding LEAP Innovations in the old Chicago Merchandise Mart. Exiting the elevator, I followed the signs for the suite number. I found myself surrounded by very hip people half my age all dressed in black (although a few neon ties or scarves were to be seen), wandering around in intense conversations, eyes locked to their phones, or meandering dazedly toward the equally hip café in search of coffee. The receptionist informed me that I was, in fact, in the right place: LEAP is based within 1871, “the country’s largest tech incubator.” That explained it all.

The LEAP Framework

The most important thing to know about LEAP is its framework. It’s one of the best ones out there that can guide districts in understanding what a next generation model might look like. It’s powerfully written in that it focuses on the student experience.

The LEAP Learning Framework has four components:

  • Learner connected: Learning transcends location in relevant and valued ways, connected to families, communities, and networks
  • Learner focused: Understand each individual learner’s needs, strengths, interests, and approaches to learning
  • Learner demonstrated: Allow learners to progress at their own pace based on demonstrated competencies
  • Learner led: Enable learners to take ownership of their learning so that it can dynamically adjust to their skills, curiosity, and goals

You can listen in to CEO Phyllis Lockett and Chief of Staff Amy Huang talk about personalized learning on the Dell Foundation podcast. Chris Liang-Vergara, Chief of Learning Innovations, is leading the efforts to improve the framework. They are collecting feedback on the framework as we speak. A 2.0 version will be released soon.

Please Note: The third component (learner demonstrated) in LEAP’s framework focuses on flexible pacing. At CompetencyWorks, we don’t emphasize pacing. In fact, we believe that pace matters. We understand competency education to be a structure to replace the traditional structure. It is designed to make sure that students are successful. Providing students with more time really means providing them with more instructional support. 
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