Category: Resource

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Homework

November 25, 2015 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on October 13, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

At last week’s professional learning day, we all spent some time in our groups talking about homework. What is the point of homework? How much is appropriate? Are there boundaries?

According to Marzano, homework has a positive effect size only some of the time. It very much depends on a variety of factors if the homework is beneficial or not. He gives some of these tips for making sure homework is beneficial:

  • structured to ensure high completion rate
  • the amount assigned should not be a burden to parents or students
  • should have a clear purpose
  • tied to a small set of clear, current learning goals
  • able to be performed independently by students

I recently learned from a friend about his standing homework assignment for his 6th grade class. He calls it the “C-C-G” homework. Every week, students choose to engage with their curiosity or in activities to grow knowledge or skills in an area of their choosing. They set a goal, engage for an amount of time each day, and reflect on their progress.

CCG Homework

This assignment holds up well against the points listed by Marzano. Depending on what a student chooses to engage in, they could be working on a variety of different targets.  Developing life-long learning skills?  Growing work habits?  Absolutely. It also weighs in pretty well against the recommendations of Tony Wagner and Sir. Ken Robinson who advocate for more including creativity, innovation, and student passions in school.

See also:

About the Author

Courtney Belolan works at RSU 2 in Maine where she supports K-12 teachers with performance-based, individualized learning. Courtney works closely with teams and teachers as a coach, and with the school and district leadership teams as an instructional strategist. Courtney has worked as a 6-12 literacy and instructional coach, a middle level ELA teacher, an environmental educator, and a digital literacy coach. Her core beliefs include the idea that the best education is one centered on student passions and rooted in interdisciplinary applications, and that enjoying learning is just as important as the learning itself.

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Anchor Charts

November 19, 2015 by

School SuppliesThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on October 5, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

A major goal of learner-centered proficiency based learning is to foster independence in our students. An excellent classroom tool for supporting this work is an anchor chart. Anchor charts are posters that make processes, cues, strategies, and guidelines visible to students. As students are internalizing and learning these, the chart serves as the reference text. Many people already use flow-charts and s.o.p.s in their rooms. Some people have reading and writing charts up. Other people have group work charts, and problem solving charts. All of these fall under the broader category of anchor charts.

Like anything, some anchor charts are stronger than others. Here are some basic tips for creating and using quality charts in your classroom:

When To Make A Chart

  • To support routines and procedures such as the process for leaving the room, turning in homework, getting help during class, getting ready for the day, putting away materials, how to get the teacher’s attention, etc.
  • To support specific procedures or that students will use over time, like operating a microscope or initial troubleshooting with a computer or other device.
  • To support complex skills, such as working in a group, solving a problem, reading, and writing
  • To support the application of content that does not need to be memorized, like the periodic table, a timeline of dynasties in China, formulas, and editing marks


Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Deadlines and Redos

November 12, 2015 by

Real WorldThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 28, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

One of the goals of learner-centered proficiency based education is to create authentic, real-life experiences for our students. Traditionally, the way school has been structured does not really mimic the experience people have outside of school. Do you categorize tasks into subject specific chunks? When is that last time you did just “math?” Have you ever said to yourself, or someone else, something like “Hold on, I’m doing science right now. That writing will have to wait until later.” I doubt it. How strange would that be!?

Or how about other real-life competencies? What happens when you are planning a group presentation, and one member doesn’t do their part? The presentations stinks, or is clearly lopsided. Perhaps the group members get annoyed with one another, and the slacker never gets invited to be a part of that kind of opportunity again. Maybe your supervisor expresses disappointment, and now you feel extra pressure at work. What about if you are late paying a bill? Maybe now you have to pay more. Depending on who you owe the money to, it can be a real hassle to correct the late payment. On the whole, however, we always have a second opportunity or a chance to fix the problem in real life. Even if we mess up royally and end up in prison, there is typically a way to work towards fixing the issue and getting back on track. What generally motivates us to do our best work, and get things paid on time is the hassle involved if we don’t.

If we want to create some of the real-world-esque scenarios around things like deadlines and retakes, we have to start thinking about setting up comparable hassles for our students. Giving students multiple opportunities to show what they know means giving second chances, maybe even third chances, but not without some work on their end. Here are two ways to build the hassle in so that students begin to learn that doing it well, and on time, on the first chance is worth the effort:

1. Require students to do an error analysis before resubmitting work, a project, or an assessment. In an error analysis, students need to identify what they got wrong, why they got it wrong, and then do whatever it takes to show they can do it. Here is an example of an error analysis for a math assessment:


What Role Can/Should Assessment Play?

November 7, 2015 by

aflThis is a resource alert!

The Center for Innovation in Education (CIE), in partnership with Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) and with 2Revolutions as lead design partner, launched the Assessment for Learning Project with the release of a Request for Learning (RFL) for an initial round of grants totaling about $2M (made possible with the generous support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). The initiative will award twelve to fifteen grants for educators to fundamentally rethink the roles that assessment should play to advance student learning and to improve our K-12 education system.

The term “Request for Learning” was an intentional choice to signal that the effort strives to reflect the innovative thinking and action expected from applicants in order to embody the principles of formative assessment and support continuous learning, personalization, and innovation. Although the initial number of grants will be relatively small, this is a tremendous opportunity to harness the wisdom of educators and practitioners to gain a broader understanding of the innovative assessment work already underway and will also inform the next phase of this work. For more detail about the Request for Learning, an overview is provided below and all materials can be found on the NGLC website. Proposals must be submitted by December 10, 2015.

This blog has been adapted from resources prepared by NGLC and 2Revolutions.

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Readiness Levels

November 6, 2015 by

RaceThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 21, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

One of the biggest concerns about proficiency based, and learner centered instruction, centers around the idea of “students working at their own pace.” Education community members wonder: what about deadlines? what if a student’s pace is “do nothing?” who will teach them if the just keep going ahead? what happens if a kid finishes all the standards by the time they are 16? The questions go on, and on. Most of them are completely valid questions, and worth conversations about. A good place to start is to examine how the idea of a student’s own pace.

Instead of thinking of the word “pace” think of “readiness level.” A student’s readiness level is the point where they have the ability to be successful with whatever the current learning is, and stretch a bit into new understanding and skills with the support of a teacher. Readiness level is the same thing as the Zone of Proximal Development. So now, think about this new statement:

 In a learner centered system, students work at their readiness level.


What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

November 5, 2015 by

Are you interested in understanding the competency-based models in higher education? Chris Sturgis shares her insights into the questions you need to ask about these competency-based programs.

Grant OpportunityScreen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AM

The Center for Innovation in Education and NGLC invite applications to the Assessment for Learning Project. The grants will support educators to fundamentally rethink the core role(s) that assessment can play to support student attainment of deeper learning. Nearly $2 million is available for 12-15 grants. Applications are due December 10, 2015. Learn more and apply here.

Student Reflections on Competency Education

Teacher and Leader Preparation

  • The Educational Leadership program in Texas Tech University’s College of Education will partner with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) to build a grant-funded, competency-based training model for school principals. The $7.2 million federal Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant will impact leadership training in high-need schools in Texas, Louisiana and Indiana.
  • Thomas College has announced it will be opening the Center for Innovation in Education which will offer a course of study designed to prepare education graduates to teach Maine’s high school proficiency-based learning curriculum.

Thought Leadership

Other News

  • Learn how to turn student-teacher conferences into student-led meetings, and learn how all parties can play an important role in the learning process of children.
  • Competency-based education is getting employers’ attention to fill gaps in workforce needs, after a study found that critical thinking and problem solving were the top competencies being sought in employees.
  • In Grand Junction, Colorado, interviews with prospective school board members raise the issue of whether to become performance-based.


For more updates, following us on twitter (@CompetencyWorks) and sign up for our monthly newsletter on our homepage.


It All Starts with Strong PLCs

November 2, 2015 by

BarbellJonathan Vander Els, principal at Memorial Elementary School, wrote a thoughtful piece about the power of professional learning communities in transitioning to competency education for ALLTHINGSPLC. In it, he described how the key questions guiding PLCs have shaped the progress of Memorial in re-tooling its system to ensure students are successful.

1.) What is it we expect our students to learn?

  • Our teachers are now crystal clear about what students are expected to know and demonstrate. This should never be a mystery, and through backwards design planning, the outcomes for any unit are established and made clear to learners.
  • Our teachers’ increased understanding of competencies ensures a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Our district has high-leverage competencies that guide the learning for our students. Underneath the umbrella of the competencies and within the assessment itself, teachers identify the leverage standards that will be assessed within each assessment.

2.) How will we know when students have learned it?

  • Team-designed rubrics outline precisely what students are expected to know. Competency is the ability for students to transfer their learning in and across content areas. Therefore, our teachers provide real-world problems and cross-curricular assessment opportunities for students to demonstrate this transfer of knowledge to other applicable situations.
  • Team-created common assessments are the driving force behind gathering data specific to each student’s progression of learning. This information is then collaboratively analyzed to inform the next instructional steps and learning pathways for each student.

3.) How will we respond when some students do not learn? (more…)

Extended Learning Opportunities and Equity

November 1, 2015 by

rfaREL-Northeast and Islands sponsored a webinar on October 21 highlighting new research from Research for Action, with the support of funding from Nellie Mae Education Foundation. The report is called Preliminary Results from a Two-Year Study of the Effects of Extended Learning Opportunities on Student Outcomes in New Hampshire.

The goals of the study of high schools in New Hampshire are three-fold:

  • Understand the variation in Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs) implementation and participation across the state.
  • Assess differences between the behavioral and academic performance of students in ELO courses compared to students in traditional courses.
  • Understand how ELO participation impacts performance of historically underserved students.

With two guiding questions:

  • How does ELO participation effect key short-term and long-term student outcomes?
  • What school-level factors influence the quality of ELO implementation, student ELO participation, and outcomes?

Given that New Hampshire is in the process of becoming competency-based, with credits expected to be awarded based on what students learned rather than time, the question about school factors could be quite interesting. As in any state moving to competency education, districts and schools are in different stages of the conversion process, with some approaching it as a transformational process in which new values and assumptions are embraced within the system and others seeing it more as a technical reform. Taking into account the degree and quality of implementation of CBE, might there be a difference in the impact of ELOs on student learning?

The study included over 3000 ELOs with a breakdown of online courses (66 percent), community-based experiences (23 percent), and school-based independent projects (11 percent). During the webinar, Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner at NH’s Department of Education, noted that in the past year state policy has changed so that online courses are no longer considered ELOs. He also explained that going forward, students doing an ELO is going to be considered a requirement rather than an opportunity.

The types of credits earned were 4 percent credit recovery, 30 percent core courses, and 69 percent electives. The fact that some schools do not allow ELOs for core courses may have implications for the findings.

Some of the findings included: (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Choice Words

October 30, 2015 by

Science ClassThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 14, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

By now the school year feels under way. The chaos of the first week has subsided. Classes are settling into routines. Units and projects are underway. Our excitement and expectations for the new year, and our students, is still there.

It is these expectations, the ones we as teachers hold up, that have the most power for our students’ learning. This piece from NPR explores the research behind teacher expectations and student achievement, and also offers some ideas for recognizing and adjusting our expectations.

In the book Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning, Peter Johnston talks about how the way we speak to our students conveys our expectations. He argues that our language is the central tool for the social, emotional, and academic development of our students. Here are three of my favorite suggestions for how we intentionally use language with our students so that we can create the intellectual life we want them to grow into:

Notice and Name: Be explicit about the praise you give. Say who you saw doing something you want to praise, then say what it is they did.

  • “I noticed, Sean, that you were putting yourself in the character’s shoes in order to figure out their motivations.”
  • “Class, I noticed that each group had different problems with their marshmallow challenge and each group kept trying different prototypes until they found one that worked.”


Learner Agency: The Missing Link

October 29, 2015 by

Student ControlThis post originally appeared at The Institute for Personalized Learning on September 14, 2015.

Defining Learner Agency
Learner agency often gets missed in conversations on transforming the educational system. We have a sense of ‘agency’ when we feel in control of things that happen around us; when we feel that we can influence events. This is an important sense for learners to develop. Learners must understand:

  • when they need new learning and how to learn what they need
  • when they need to unlearn what will no longer serve them
  • when they need to relearn what they need to be successful

They must develop the capacity to engage strategically in their learning without waiting to be directed. They must take ownership of and responsibility for their learning. And, they must possess the skills to learn independently, without heavy dependence on external structures and direction.

Why Learner Agency is Needed
There is a significant and growing demand for learners to be able to do more than receive instruction, follow a learning path designed by educators and complete problems and assignments presented to them by an adult. Learners need to develop the capacity to shape and manage their learning without over-reliance on the direction and control of others. Too often adults treat children as though they are incapable of making decisions or holding valid opinions. As children advance through the system, they develop a form of “learned helplessness” that keeps them from advocating for themselves. The process for learning and the role learners play must be different than most adults experienced. (more…)

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