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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Classroom Instruction of Skills and Dispositions

April 7, 2016 by

ClassroomThis is the third in a series of articles specific to the developing understanding of skills and dispositions of educators working with students in a competency-based educational system. There has been increased recognition nationally of the importance of skills and dispositions and how these are intertwined within the overall growth and College and Career Readiness of learners. The skills and dispositions are referred to in a number of ways (Non-cognitive skills, Habits of Learners, Work Habits, General Learning Outcomes, “soft skills,” etc.) Our school has been delving into skills and dispositions for the past few years, but we have found that there are limited resources to support our work, and, at times, this has caused frustration. We are very excited about the opportunity to work with the recently released Essential Skills and Dispositions Frameworks (Lench, S., Fukuda, E., & Anderson, R. (2015)) this upcoming school year to support our continued learning in this area. For the purposes of this series of articles, we will be using the term the State of New Hampshire recognizes, Work Study Practices, for skills and dispositions. Locally, we have aligned the Responsive Classroom’s CARES to our State of New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices, which are referenced in this series of articles.

To read the first article in this series, please click on the following link: Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions. The second article may be accessed by clicking here: Collecting a Body of Evidence.

Memorial School is a Pre-K to Grade 5 elementary school in southeastern New Hampshire, part of the Sanborn Regional School District. As we have made our transition to a competency-based educational model, our recognition of the importance of skills and dispositions has evolved significantly. This evolution in understanding has progressed from our very early days in our journey when we realized that academics and academic behaviors MUST be separated. Today, our teachers recognize the importance of providing time for students to reflect on their own strengths as well as areas for growth within these skills and dispositions. And our growth will continue to evolve, as teachers have begun developing lessons and opportunities for learning for students within their classrooms within these important competencies.

Growth in these areas, for our elementary students, will not happen all by itself. It is imperative that teachers willingly and mindfully plan lessons that will help students to make connections and assist them along in their learning journey. It is also imperative to debrief, reflect, and provide meaningful and timely feedback, just as it is within any type of formative assessment that is happening within a classroom.

The insight of two of our teachers below outlines their work with their students specific to the instruction of these invaluable competencies within not only their classrooms but outside of their classrooms and in the greater world itself. Their reflections provide a glimpse into the world of both a first grade classroom and a fifth grade classroom, and describe how students’ increased self-awareness and understanding of the CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-regulation) within their own learning are having a tremendous impact on not only the individual learner, but the entire classroom community as a whole. (more…)

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Competency-Based Education Task Forces: A State Policy Mechanism to Foster Personalized Learning by Creating Dialog, Surfacing Barriers and Providing Solutions

April 4, 2016 by

Conference TableThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on March 23, 2016.

Transitioning from a traditional seat time based system to a competency-based learning system often requires changes at multiple layers in policies from the school level to the state-level. State policy makers can provide thought leadership in their states by creating a space for dialog between policy makers, stakeholders and communities across the state by establishing a formal statewide task force for competency-based education (CBE). A CBE task force brings together a group of experts and stakeholders to examine the issue in depth, to consider needs in policy and practice, and to provide recommendations and next steps in a state.

States (generally legislators through sponsoring legislation) establish task forces for the purpose of studying policy issues related to CBE. The needs and issues will vary state-to-state because of the differences in educational statutes, regulations and capacity, but CBE task forces offer a future-focused approach by providing a safe space to identify barriers, needs, and consider options to best enable competency-based pathways.

Why CBE Task Forces are Important

An education task force convenes to study a specific topic. During this time, a task force often engages with educators and experts on best practices and policies regarding the topic of the task force.

Establishing a CBE task force allows the members to study CBE policies and practices. CBE task forces enable CBE by encouraging state leaders to develop a deeper understanding on the need for and the benefits of creating competency-based pathways to ensure student success and the importance for educators to personalize learning to meet students’ needs. The CBE task force will interview educators from competency-based education systems, learn what policies are supportive and which are barriers, identify educator capacity needs, evaluate system capacity and provide recommendations for getting started with aligning systems to support CBE. (more…)

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March CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

April 1, 2016 by

Calendar Page MarchHere are the highlights from March 2016 on CompetencyWorks. Happy reading. And let us know if you have questions you want us to delve into!

Site Visits and Case Studies

Building 21

Charleston County School District

Parker-Varney Elementary

 

Principal, Superintendent, and Teacher Perspectives

When Red Bank Went to Lindsay by Marie Watson

Dear Future Principal: Here is How You Can Positively Impact Student Learning by Brian Stack

Evaluating Your School’s Competency Education Journey and Answering the Question: Are We There Yet? by Brian Stack

Two Teachers’ Perspectives on CBE by Lauren Vann and John Paul Sellars

My Journey as a Self-Directed Learner by Jonathan Vander Els (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Pace? Whose Pace?

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PaceThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on February 11, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Pace, as it is commonly understood and applied in education, is at its root a concept that is in conflict with learner-centered proficiency based education. Educators think about pace as the rate at which the curriculum scope and sequence moves. One big problem with pace is that it is usually set by someone other than the one doing the learning. Another big problem is that teachers, schools, and districts use pace as a subjective measure of performance. In both of these cases, the learner is not at the center of the learning and the industrial model of education is perpetuated.

Who decides pace? Who should decide pace? Do we even need to have a pace? If we do, how do we decide what the pace should be? How do we know if it is too fast, or too slow? ​

A logical thinker might attempt to figure this out using something like the oversimplified steps below:

  1. Determine the learning required for a student in public education to graduate.
  2. Complete a statistical analysis of how long it takes a representative sample to complete this learning.
  3. Determine the median length of time to learn.
  4. Recommend that be the pace.

(more…)

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My Journey as a Self-Directed Learner

March 31, 2016 by

JVE-USCapitol-2There have been a number of recent studies completed that ask employers what their future employees need to know to be successful within their job. Their responses, although not surprising when you consider it, are not competencies that have been typically “taught” in schools. Overwhelmingly, these employers respond with things such as “Self-direction,” “Collaboration,” or “Ability to Communicate Effectively.” They follow up with, “We can teach them what they need to know to do their job, as long as they can do these other things.”

There has been a growing body of research related to the absolute necessity and import of these skills and dispositions within the overall learning process itself, with some suggesting that these skills are as important, if not more important, than the academic competencies we tend to focus on.

I consider myself a very self-directed learner at this point in my life, but that has not always been the case. Throughout my K-12 experience, I went to class, attained pretty good grades, and moved on to my next class. I was always able to communicate and collaborate effectively, yet never was really pressed to direct my own learning, as I moved from class to class, studying as I needed to and completing the requirements needed to go to college.

This inability to direct my own learning, however, caught up to me when I went to college. I was now expected and required to figure things out on my own, and I was unable to do that as effectively as I needed. It was no one’s fault but my own, but it resulted in learning a hard, yet incredibly valuable lesson. Ironically, I would learn this lesson from “teachers” and from an “education” that I still consider to be one of the most important ones I’ve ever had, and it didn’t occur in a school. (more…)

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Evaluating Your School’s Competency Education Journey and Answering the Question: Are We There Yet?

March 30, 2016 by

Are We There Yet?I’m sure this is a story we can all relate to: Mom and Dad have packed up the gear and the kids into the family minivan (or station wagon, depending on your frame of reference) for a long trip. In less than an hour, one of the kids asks, “Are we there yet?” The trip continues with at least one kid asking this same question every half hour. With five kids under the age of ten and countless road trips, my wife Erica and I know this story all too well. We try to patiently answer them the first time they ask, but as the hours pass and the question keeps coming up, our patience begins to wear thin. We can’t fault them because they don’t know where we are going. This past summer on a ten hour car ride from Boston to Washington DC we finally found out how to appease the oldest of our children and silence the question once and for all – we gave them each a road map so they could chart our journey.

As the principal of a high school that started on a journey to transition from traditional to competency education six years ago, I am often asked if our school is “there” yet. Surprisingly, my response has two parts: It depends on who you ask, and it depends on where we are trying to go. Over time we have found that a competency-based structure has led us to several directions of improvement. For example, we learned that we could be more responsive to our ninth graders by creating accountability of our ninth grade teachers to prepare students for high school rigor. We realized that our assessments and instruction needed to be lifted up to meet the higher depths of knowledge. Now our district is on a new journey to create greater personalization. This is all happening because we started on the journey to competency-based education.

When we started our journey we lacked an important tool: a road map. Six years ago, we were one of the first public schools making the transition. Feeling a little like Lewis and Clark and with no one to help us chart our journey, our first few years felt very much like we were driving without a road map. Our Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Brian Blake, likes to refer to it like we were building a plane and flying it at the same time, and he shows people this video to make light of the situation. Best practice and research was our compass. It navigated us through our early work with assessment, grading, and instruction. As time passed, more and more schools began their own journeys. Researchers began to study this transition and pull together the experiences that schools like us were having with our journeys. Through this work, some of the earliest road maps for schools looking to transition to a competency education model have begun to emerge. (more…)

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Charleston: Progression of Implementation for Personalized Learning

March 29, 2016 by

mindsetThis is the second post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework here.

One of the big—no, huge—takeaways from Charleston County School District was the framework the district has created and the structure for personalized professional development. Thanks to Dr. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning;

Sherry Kirkland, Professional Development Administrator; Rebecca Mestaz, Marzano Research; and Personalized Learning coaches Kimberly Kascak, Kayela Clark, Hannah Studemeyer, Jessica Lucas, and Erin Abner for sharing their powerful insights.

Personalizing Learning for Teachers

CCSD has made two big advancements in the field of competency-based education. The first is a very strong framework of personalized learning that integrates competency-based learning, student-directed learning, and flexible learning environments (see the first post on CCSD for more information). The second is their “Personalized PD Model” (pictured below) for PL coaches to support teachers in building the capacity and developing the skills to implement the personalized learning framework. This progression allows the PL coaches to personalize the learning for teachers just as teachers will personalize for students. (more…)

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Charleston County School District: Breaking Ground for Personalized Learning in Big Districts

March 28, 2016 by

CCSDThis post kicks off my tour of Charleston County School District in South Carolina. The next post looks more deeply at implementation strategies.

A few times during my visit to Charleston County School District (CCSD), I felt my jaw hit the ground. Even though, at the time, they were just entering into the third year of implementation, the team of district staff, personalized learning coaches, principals, teachers, and partners engaged in this work are advancing our understanding of how we can effectively introduce personalized, competency-based education in medium- to large-sized districts.

In this series—which is based on my two days with Dr. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning; Sherry Kirkland, Personalized Learning Professional Development Administrator; and a team of personalized learning coaches, principals, and teachers—I’ll share some of the most important things I learned, including:

  • CCSD’s powerful Personalized Learning Framework
  • CCSD’s Personalized Learning Progression
  • Strategies for change
  • Focus on student agency and achievement

CCSD is making tremendous progress even though they are still in the early stages of implementation. They provide support to approximately twenty of the district’s eighty-six schools. Although they are not yet engaged in whole district implementation, they have been building the supports, tools, and best practices to make this vision a reality. The district is moving to a more personalized approach to professional development via initiatives such as their Read to Succeed District Literacy Plan. It is well worth the visit to Charleston if you are a medium or large (or even small!) district contemplating the move to personalized, competency-based learning. For more information about learning tours please contact Christina_Counts (at) Charleston (dot) k12 (dot) sc (dot) us. (Lake County in Florida and Henry County in Georgia are also districts that can be helpful in thinking through medium-sized district strategies.) (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Reining in the Checklist Mindset

March 25, 2016 by

CircleThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 26, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Student autonomy is a philosophical pillar of learner-centered proficiency based learning. Transparency of expectations is another. Learning communities that believe in learner-centered proficiency based learning create tools that are intended to support this transparency and autonomy. Pacing charts, learning maps, capacity matrices and the like are standard in these communities. The intention is to lay out the learning path for students, so that they can progress “at their own pace.”

Unfortunately, many times this intention results in the “checklist mindset.” Students race through activities and targets. ​The goal is completion, a check in the box to show they have finished that target and can move on to the next. ​

Learner tools should, and can, be the heartbeat of learner-centered practices when crafted with the goal of deep learning in mind. Try these suggestions to reign in the checklist mindset: (more…)

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ESSA Represents an Historic Opportunity to Advance Personalized Learning

March 24, 2016 by

ESSAI have great news. After fifteen years of operating under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), we finally have the chance to say goodbye to one-size-fits-all assessments, accountability systems that mask achievement gaps, and autopsy-style school improvement strategies. While there were some good things about NCLB, the law also created a long list of policy barriers that made it impossible to build and scale personalized learning environments. The newly-enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), on the other hand, eliminates almost every one of those barriers, gifting the personalized learning community with an historic opportunity to transform the education system.

While enactment of ESSA marks an exciting turn of events, we cannot celebrate until we do the hard work of helping states identify and leverage these opportunities. To this end, KnowledgeWorks recently released a side-by-side tool entitled New Opportunities to Advance Personalized Learning in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This tool provides a brief overview of each opportunity in the law along with a description of how it compares to policies in NCLB and the Obama Administration’s NLCB waiver package. Our hope is that states knit together these opportunities into a comprehensive and compelling vision for teaching and learning that meets students where they are and provides them with customized supports to ensure their success.

Here is a quick overview of KnowledgeWorks’ top ten opportunities in ESSA to advance personalized learning. (more…)

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