April 1, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
This is the first of a two-part series about Making Community Connections Charter School. Click here for Part 2.
“As a learner, I grew in the way a fire would if you sprayed gasoline on it.” – From a student’s graduation portfolio
That’s what Making Community Connections Charter School (MC2) is all about –creating dynamic learners. At MC2, serving grades 7-12 in Manchester, New Hampshire, it feels like they wiped the slate clean of all the traditional ideas of what makes a school and started to design the school from scratch. It’s deeply student-centered in its design and operations. Its theory of change is built upon a deep understanding and appreciation of adolescent development, motivation, and learning sciences. MC2 is a model that will work for any student. At its center, it is designed around the kids who are educationally challenged (about 35% of MC2 students are classified as having special education needs), have already had a tough time in life by age 14, who have felt betrayed by the adults in their lives, and are drawing from their own reservoirs of stubborn hope that things can get better.
This case study on MC2 is broken into two parts. The first is on the design principles and the theory of action driving the school. The second is on how students progress and the implications for teachers. (more…)
March 31, 2014 by Michelle Finn
We’ve been hearing a lot recently about the importance of these attributes through the work of Pink, Duckworth and Dweck. Should we in the field of education be sitting up and taking notice? When research shows that these attributes, rather than IQ scores, are a better determiner of success, you better believe we should notice. And act.
In the classroom, moving students from compliance to engagement, from fixed to growth mindset, from reactive blamers to proactive problem-solvers doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen, and it may come in many forms. As we discussed in previous articles, a focus on building culture and student goal-setting has great impact on not just the way students learn, but on how they think about themselves as learners. This self-reflection is crucial. In order to grow, we have to be aware of both our strengths and weaknesses, which in turn can help to set challenging, yet realistic goals. Self-reflection also promotes a growth mindset. If you continually set targets for yourself, plan the steps of your 10-mile march, to borrow from Collins, then act upon your plan, you begin to realize that everything is about a learning progression, not a pass or fail. What an empowering stance from which to greet each day! (more…)
March 28, 2014 by Rose Colby
I was recently reading about Google X. We often think of the Google workplace as the sandbox of Millennials. It is filled with spaces for work and play and sets the pace for work-space design that challenges the thinking of educators who are working in spaces that are far different. Google X is the Google work environment on steroids. It is the think tank of Google, where the only expectation of the employees is audacious thinking.
This has really jarred my thinking. As we look at this new entity called competency education, we could really use a good dose of audacious thinking. The No Child Left Behind era, which I hope is firmly ensconced in our rear view mirror, has trapped our thinking and caused a great deal of reactionary behavior in our ranks. Have you heard the following: “Our kids haven’t done well on the state test for the past few years; we must need a new literacy program.” “We don’t have enough supports in math, we’ll just have to build an RTI system for that, also.” (more…)
March 26, 2014 by Brian Stack
Sanborn Regional High Principal Brian Stack
Amanda is a typical high school student who loves spending time with her friends, participating in a variety of clubs and activities, and doing well in school. Since a very young age, she has wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become an emergency room nurse. My school is preparing her for that demanding career with a competency-based model that has been designed to help her master a series of academic competencies, academic behaviors, and college and career-ready skills. Our competency-based model engages Amanda in her learning in ways that traditional high school models never could.
Five years ago, the administrative team in my school district and I began suggesting that our school make the move to a competency-based grading and reporting system. We knew that was going to be a monumental shift for some of our elementary and secondary teachers, but that it wouldn’t be such a bold move for others. The career and technical education (CTE) teachers and administrators who work at our regional CTE center, for example, applauded our efforts to move the school district to the model that they had always used to define their work. (more…)
March 25, 2014 by Jonathan Vander Els and Ellen Hume-Howard
Writing Wall PLC
Looking closely together at students’ work can unveil a treasure trove of insights to guide educators as they reflect on their purpose, assess their progress, and plan strategies for reaching all students more successfully. Students’ experiences are enhanced when teachers develop an awareness of where they fall along a continuum of learning. Writing, for instance, is a content area that lends itself well to studying student work within a continuum, and has been the focal point in guiding our teachers at Memorial Elementary School as we align our work not only within each grade level, but vertically within all grade levels in our school.
Getting to this point, however, was a three-year journey that continues to evolve as we learn more about not only our students’ skills and needs, but also about our own staff needs related to instruction and aligning our assessment of student work. (more…)
March 24, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Depending on which knowledge taxonomy you use, the highest level with the deepest learning is either Level 4 or Level 6. As we think about equity in a personalized, competency-based world, how do we ensure that all students – even those who entered school at an earlier point on the learning progression than their peers and are on a steeper trajectory – have the chance to deeply engage in learning? How do we make sure that students who want extra challenges but want to stay with their peers can continue to grow without advancing to the next level of studies?
The granularity of standards may be too fine to have students trying to do Level 4 for each one. Learning progressions organized around anchor (power) standards and essential understandings will lend themselves more easily to knowledge utilization. Still, we know that incorporating projects, designed by teachers, students or together, takes time, planning, resources and flexibility. So how are schools managing to create Level 4 opportunities and ensuring that all students have a chance to dive deep into their learning?
Schools are using a variety of techniques: (more…)
March 21, 2014 by Dan Joseph
Last December I was at a conference sponsored by the Maine Principals Association and the keynote speaker was Dr. Anthony Muhammad. The topic was building and changing your school culture. As I listened to his presentation, I realized that when building leadership capacity for transformative change, two variables must be acknowledged to better identify and mobilize the ideas and people who are a part of the change process.
First, the technical changes that occur become the tools and structures for learning. Second are the “cultural” pieces, our beliefs, practices, behaviors and norms within and across the organization. Philip Schlechty offers this perspective of the interplay between structure and culture: “Structural change that is not supported by cultural change will eventually be overwhelmed by the culture, for it is in the culture that any organization finds meaning and stability.”
This is where many school officials and reformers fear to tread, but it is the place that holds the biggest keys to unlocking the potential for real change in our schools.
It reminds me of a staff meeting that I had as we began to really push ourselves and our thinking around teaching and learning. I placed a statement on the wall, “All students can meet high standards regardless of their home situation or the teacher they are assigned.” Needless to say, we had a very powerful conversation that afternoon. This is where we pushed our shared vision of all learners into a covenant of collective responsibility. We had adopted a set of values that supported professional development, a sense of responsibility for student learning, and a positive, caring atmosphere. The old model of compliance was being dismantled, as opportunities to enter the realm of collaboration, support and transparency increased. How was this different than before? We had PLCs, staff led committees, and individual goal-setting. (more…)
March 20, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
The Northeast College and Career Readiness Research Alliance (NCCRA) at the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands at EDC has kicked off a research group on competency education to help researchers and practitioners collaborate. It’s clear from our conversations that research is needed in three areas – to help inform practice, to support policy development, and to catalyze more interest in research.
We desperately need research, and it is a challenging time to do this research. The term competency education is being used for different things. From what I can tell there are two primary variables: 1) The scope and 2) the definition of mastery.
See below for list of published and upcoming research.
SCOPE varies to the extent of the learning experience: 1) the inclusion of adaptive software such as ALEKS or Khan Academy in classrooms; 2) online credit recovery programs where adaptive software is the primary way instruction is delivered and learning is assessed; 3) proficiency-based classrooms in schools that have not engaged in systemic reform; 4) systemic reforms of districts and schools; and 5) statewide conversion to competency education, which has a different set of issues from those districts and schools converting voluntarily. So a competency-based classroom in a competency-based school where there are going to be daily supports to help students who are not yet proficient is very different from a competency-based classroom in a school that still passes students along with Cs and Ds. (more…)
March 19, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
This is the third of three blogs about Sanborn Regional School District. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
“We weren’t getting traction in any of our academic improvement initiatives. Competency-based education helped us to get traction. Parents saw the value of the model. Students value the transparency – they no longer have to guess at what teachers want. It’s allowed us to focus in on the most important things to do to support our students.”
Sanborn Regional High School Principal Brian Stack explained that the most important change has been in the nature of the relationships. PLCs have more meaning as they focus on student progress. Students are taking more responsibility, even holding teachers more accountable by asking, “Am I passing all my competencies? What do I need to do to make sure I meet the expectations for proficiency?”
SRHS is a work in progress, as are all competency-based schools. However, it stands out as one of the few places that I have visited that has taken the time to draw on best practices of highly effective high schools, taking into consideration what students need to keep them in school as well as prepare them for college and careers. Below are just a few of the highlights of structures for learning Sanborn has put into place, as well as insights gathered during the visit. (more…)
March 18, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
On Thursday, April 24, 2014, 2:00-3:00 PM ET CompetencyWorks is sponsoring a webinar Understanding Grading in Competency-based Schools. You can register for the webinar here.
The webinar will start with an overview of competency education and the elements of grading in competency-based environments.
Abbie Forbus and Brett Grimm from Lindsay Unified School District in California will share Lindsay’s grading practices. Lindsay Unified, a Race to the Top winner, has a strong personalized, performance-based system and well-developed grading system that emphasizes providing feedback to learners. Forbus and Grimm will provide an overview of the values and educational philosophy that guides Lindsay’s grading policy. Then going into more depth, they will present the structure, practices, and reporting mechanisms. During this webinar you will learn how their information management system enables teachers, students and families to monitor student learning and progress along their learning progression.
The final segment of the webinar will offer a discussion on implementation challenges and emerging issues.
In preparation for the webinar we hope that you will review Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education, a CompetencyWorks briefing paper.
Abbie Forbus, Counselor, Lindsay Unified High School (CA)
Brett Grimm, Assistant Principal of Curriculum & Instruction, Lindsay Unified High School (CA)
Chris Sturgis, MetisNet and co-founder of CompetencyWorks