CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K-12 education system. Drawing on lessons learned by innovators and early adopters, CompetencyWorks shares original research, knowledge and a variety of perspectives through an informative blog with practitioner knowledge, policy advancements, papers on emerging issues and a wiki with resources curated from across the field. CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K-12, higher education and the workplace.

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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…)

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Training Teachers for Competency-Based Learning Classrooms

March 15, 2017 by
sajan-george

Sajan George

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on October 21, 2016. 

While competency-based learning is not new to the education industry, there are still challenges in implementation. The biggest impediment to launching such a model is not the technology, content, or standards mapping—it is in how we train our teachers. To effectively deliver competency-based learning strategies in our schools, we also need a strategy on how to best teach the teachers those particular strategies.

At Matchbook Learning, a national non-profit charter management operator, we have continually revised and refined our professional development training for teachers at three levels: the charter schools we operate in Newark and Detroit, the schools we’ve partnered with, and the schools we will be indirectly partnering with through “Spark,” our virtual competency-based learning platform. In our explorations, we have learned that training teachers on competency-based models requires three design principles:

1.  Design for Form (Not Just Function)

The form training takes is as important as its function. When teachers receive this training, it should be experienced in a competency-based manner. From the outset, this requires identifying the core competencies for every core position in your organization (i.e. teachers, deans, principals, operations, etc.).

We have identified seven macro competencies or domains that every person in our organization should master, modeled after the national criteria used by organizations across the country in search of world-class distinction. Whether you use Baldridge or some other industry analog, competency development must be mapped against pathways with multiple entry and exit points. If you are explaining your training in whole group seminars or singular pathways, you are NOT delivering the training in a competency-based way.  Competency-based training must happen in both form and function. The medium is the message.

For our work, we anchor the start of our journey in the seven core criteria of the Baldrige excellence process below:

NGLC1

(more…)

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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…)

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New Zealand Leads the Way on Competency-Based Learning – Part 1

March 13, 2017 by

New ZealandThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on January 5, 2017. 

Research Underpinnings

New Zealand has been exploring future directions in competency-based learning and assessment for decades. The movement is grounded in social justice and equity. The principles of good practice which are the focus of the conversation today should realize that assessing competency in a situated learning setting is a balancing act and an activity of social learning via communities of practice while holding all students to the same high standards with articulated outcomes of what a student knows and can do with exemplars.

An important focus in New Zealand is the research underpinning competency-based learning on how students learn best:

  • Learning highlights skills that are transferable.
  • Learning is situated (Lave and Wenger: 1991; Vygotsky: 1978).
  • Learning occurs in the same context in which it is applied.
  • Learning is co-constructed in communities of practice.
  • Learning is co-operative and in a learner’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

Students work on mastery toward skills to be competent and there is an emphasis on peer-to-peer and social learning that empowers student agency. There is increasing interest in competency-based learning with an integrated approach to assessing learning. Sufficiency, timing and methods of assessment are examined in competency-based systems. Some students have control over how they are assessed (on set standards), assessments should be a meaningful part of the learning process and students (as well as assessors) are aware of exemplary work as a guide. (more…)

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How to Participate in the Quality Technical Advisory Group

March 10, 2017 by

Well, we have successfully completed three of the Technical Advisory Groups (TAG) as part of the process leading up to the National Summit on Competency-Based Education. I think it is safe to say that crowd-sourcing ideas is great but that Google Docs has its limits as a platform. Thanks to all of you who have participated – the ideas being brought forth to the Summit are so much stronger than when we started.

This blog announces that the last Technical Advisory Group is on how we can and should think about quality of personalized, competency-based systems. We only have bits and pieces of research to help us think about quality, so we need to rely on practitioners knowledge to inform us. The TAG will run from Monday April 3 through April 7. For those of you who prefer to work on the weekends, the Google doc will be open starting April 1. We will have a phone call at 1 pm ET on Monday, April 3 for those of you who want an overview of the TAG process and introduction to the key ideas.

How to Participate

If you have one year experience in competency-based education (we don’t mean online learning; at CompetencyWorks, we focus on competency education as a school or district structure that replaces the traditional structure), we invite you to join the Quality Technical Advisory Group. Please note: These are not designed to support people just learning about competency education. We suggest that those of you who are new to the topic start by reading the case studies of districts and schools to get started. You will have an opportunity to learn from these conversations as the papers on each TAG prepared for the Summit will be made available in early June as well as the final reports post-Summit.

REGISTER for QualityTechnical Advisory Group here. (Remember, all the other TAGs are over, so there is no need to sign up for any other one.) (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Grouping is a Strategy, Not the Goal

by

DesksThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 31, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

An essential component of learner centered proficiency based education is being able to meet learners at their particular readiness level in any area. Readiness level is another way of talking about the Zone of Proximal Development, the sweet spot of learning. In a personalized learning environment there should never be a moment when a learner is disengaged because they are being expected to work at a level that is either too hard or too easy. This is where flexible grouping comes in.

Flexible grouping creates the space for learners to work where they are ready, then move on. The groups are flexible, meaning that they do not have many fixed characteristics. Members of a group can change, the length of time a group meets for can change, when the group meets can change, and even who teaches the group can change. What is fixed about a flexible group, is the purpose. Once the purpose has been fulfilled, then the group dissolves.

At this point, I want to emphasize that flexible grouping is a strategy for personalizing learning. Flexible grouping is not a goal in itself. It never makes sense to group and regroup just for the sake of doing it. Flexible groups must have a purpose for being together, and the purpose will drive the rest of the “hows” about the group: how long, how often, how much, and even who. Here are some potential purposes for groups:

  1. To address individual learning targets
  2. To address a group, or series, of targets that fit together
  3. To explore an interest

The “flexible” in flexible grouping is extremely important. Once we form groups, and learners stay in those groups for an extended period of time without the ability to move on from the group, we’ve created a tracked system. We all know that tracking is not good for learners. Separating learners with different strengths prevents them from seeing, hearing, and trying out strategies and ideas of other learners. Grouping flexibly keeps the space for learners with different strengths to continue to be able to interact with each other. (more…)

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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…)

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Competency-Based Education Gains Momentum

March 8, 2017 by

This post first appeared in the EDUCAUSE Transforming Higher Ed blog on Febuary 6, 2017.

We’re examining competency-based education (CBE), an approach that has been celebrated for its customization and modularized structure, enabling students to demonstrate mastery and move at their own pace through academic programs. Beyond its timing advantages, CBE also has been cited as a means of supporting student equity, and encouraging knowledge transfer—in order to sufficiently educate kids as well as adults for roles that are currently evolving, or perhaps those which have yet to be created.

While CBE remains somewhat nascent across K-12 districts and postsecondary institutions, it has gained a foothold and interest in it continues to grow across the United States.

I spoke with educators, academic experts and institutional leaders to learn more about the ways in which CBE is serving students of all ages, grades and skill levels, and to better understand existing collaborations or points of intersection between schools and academia.

The approach is currently bridging gaps between employers and aspiring college graduates; there appears to be significant potential for CBE to also positively impact younger students.

Embracing the Real World

Matthew Prineas, Vice Provost and Dean of The Undergraduate School at University of Maryland University College, agrees.

“The promise of competency-based methodology is its power to create new connections and seamless pathways between K12, higher education, and the workplace,” he said.

“At UMUC, we are developing competency-based learning experiences that connect the real-world skills employers are asking for with the intellectual abilities our students need for academic success. We believe that competency-based approaches are equally adaptable to the needs of our adult students, who are looking to connect their prior experience with a college credential and a profession, as they are for high school students, who need to develop the foundational skills and behaviors necessary for success in college and beyond.

The emphasis is, of course, on demonstrated mastery rather than rote memorization.

“By putting the focus on what students can do, not just what they know, competencies give us the means to construct learning experiences that are more relevant and engaging—and that is to the benefit of all students, wherever they are in their educational journey.” (more…)

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Hear Ye! Hear Ye! All of You Planning on Attending iNACOL17

March 7, 2017 by

Hopefully iNACOL17 is on your calendar. It will be held at the Swan & Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida on October 23-25, 2017.

As I think most of you know, we organize a strand of sessions on competency-based education at the iNACOL Symposium. So we wanted to make sure you know that iNACOL has opened their process for submitting workshop and session proposals to present at the iNACOL Symposium. The deadline is Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Here are a few ideas of topics/questions that I think could be really helpful in creating a strand that would meet the needs of people based on different levels of experience:

  • What is Competency-Based Education? It would be great to have a session that is an open conversation to help people really new to CBE make the paradigm shift, ask questions, and learn about different models. We always need to make sure there is a 101 session.
  • Personalized Learning Coaching: In most districts, there is anywhere from one to ten people who take on the role of personalized learning coach to help teachers build the new practices. I think it would be wonderful if there was a session that was created for personalized learning coaches to talk about their work, share practices, and perhaps build some shared knowledge (job descriptions, options for offering personalized learning modules for teachers to learn about personalized learning in a CBE school, etc.).
  • Creating a Unified Set of Equity Strategies: We know that there are sub-groups of students who have been historically underserved as well as groups of students who may be marginalized in schools (for example, Muslims or LGBT students). If we want to make sure that all students benefit from personalized approaches, districts need to make sure there is capacity to provide proven strategies designed to address learning needs of students. What if there were a session to accumulate and integrate these strategies? (This idea has developed in the Equity Technical Advisory Group but needs more work to build out.)
  • Student Agency: It’s becoming more and more clear that student agency, in addition to intentionality and transparency in CBE schools, is a really powerful and important change. We need to build knowledge on 1) the different ways that schools are structuring themselves, 2) the processes used for classroom management, and 3) how schools are taking advantage of student agency to create more opportunities for cultural responsiveness, lifelong learning skills and other important features of learning.
  • The Policy Horizon: It’s really hard to think outside the box of any given policy context. But we can’t get what we need unless we can envision it. Is there a way to take examples of policies from different states to begin to build out a more comprehensive understanding of what we need for policy to support and sustain personalized, CBE?
  • Innovations at the Margin: There are some schools and districts pushing on what CBE can do to explore very different approaches. We have Young Women’s Leadership Academy’s design of ten skills driving learning; Building 21’s dual credit system; and using continuums rather than grade level standards to open up opportunities for students in Waukesha and Kettle-Moraine. I think we are ready to start looking across these models to think about what they tell us about what is possible.
  • Telling the Information System Vendors What We Need: The vendors of information management/student information systems that monitor learning are failing us badly. (What I hear is that they say there isn’t a market. Well  they may want to read Clayton Christensen’s work. Because they are going to lose the market to the first one who can support personalized, competency-based systems.) Let’s talk about what we really need for these systems to do, build agreement, and then figure out how to engage them. This could require two steps – one part might be to look at each other’s systems currently in use to see how they are designed and how they might be better. This would allow us to create a short article on strengths and weakness of each model and publicize it. Second, we could then put together the core functions we need – and maybe we could start doing a survey or petition to show the number of schools that want this functionality.

These are just a couple of ideas. I’m hoping our network has gotten strong enough that people can find each other to help think about sessions that are building on knowledge in multiple schools and districts. I’m also thinking that it might be possible to use iNACOL17 as a place of building knowledge as well as sharing it.

We are going to have a leadership forum as a pre-conference session for anyone with one or more year experience to spend some time working through more challenging issues together. So plan on coming for October 23 if you have 1+ years experience in competency education (And newbies we’ll make sure there are valuable opportunities for you as well).

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One Good Question with Susan Patrick: How Can We Build Trust in Our Education System?

March 6, 2017 by
Susan Patrick

Susan Patrick

This post originally appeared at iNACOL on December 16, 2016 and One Good Question on December 6, 2016.

In what ways do our investments in education reveal our beliefs about the next generation’s role in the world?

There’s a big difference in how you would fund the education system if you were building for the longer term – you would invest in building capacity and trust. We need to take a very honest look at our investments. If people and relationships matter, we need to be building our own sense of inquiry. That’s not at odds with innovation investments. We should be about innovation with equity. That way, we can change our own perspectives while we build new solutions.

The debate about top-down reform vs. bottom-up innovation is tied to the same trust issues. In Finland, they made an effort to go towards a trust based model and it meant investing in educator capacity so that the systems trust educators to make the best decisions in real-time. If we don’t start investing in trust, we can’t get anywhere.

When US educators visit other countries, we tend to look for silver bullet programs from the highest-performing countries. What are we missing in that search?  

During my Eisenhower Fellowship, I was able to meet with teams from OECD and UNESCO that gave me great perspective. UNESCO has just published an Education 2030 outlook presenting their global education development agenda that looks at the whole child. Their goals are broad enough to include developing nations who aren’t yet educating 100% of their population. When we read through the goals and indicators, the US could learn a lot from having our current narrow focus on academics. Our current education structure is not going to lead us to provide a better society. Are we even intending to build a better society for the future? We’re not asking the big questions. We’re asking if students can read and do math on grade level in grades 3-8. In Canada, they ask if a student has yet met or exceeded expectations. If not, what are we doing to get them there? You don’t just keep moving and allow our kids to have gaps.

The UNESCO report specifies measures about access to quality education. Is there gender equality? Is there equity? They define equity as:

Equity in education is the means to achieving equality. It intends to provide the best opportunities for all students to achieve their full potential and act to address instances of disadvantage which restrict educational achievement. It involves special treatment/action taken to reverse the historical and social disadvantages that prevent learners from accessing and benefiting from education on equal grounds. Equity measures are not fair per se but are implemented to ensure fairness and equality of outcome. (UNESCO 2015)

Across the global landscape of education systems, there is a diversity of governance from top-down to bottom-up regarding system control, school autonomy and self-regulation and how this impacts processes and policies for quality assurance, evaluation and assessments. It is important to realize the top-down and bottom-up dynamics are often a function of levels of trust combined with transparency for data and doing what is best for all kids. In the US, let’s face it, our policy conversations around equity are driven by a historical trend of a massive achievement gap. Said another way, there is a huge lack of trust from the federal government toward states, from states to districts and even down to schools and classrooms. We ask, “How do we trust that we’re advancing equity in our schools?’” (more…)

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