Three insights on “self-directed learning”—and how to aim for equity

September 4, 2014 by
Julia Freeland

Julia Freeland

Originally posted Sept. 3, 2014 by the Christensen Institute

Last week, FSG Consulting’s Matt Wilka and Jeff Cohen released a case study, “Self-Directed Learning at Summit Public Schools,” as part of a Dell Foundation-sponsored effort to catalogue Summit Public Schools’ model. It’s a good up-to-date look at some of the new efforts afoot in the Bay Area-based charter management organization. The authors do an excellent job showing how shifting from a teacher-driven to a student-directed model impacts students, teachers, parents, and administrators respectively.

Given its overlap with blended, personalized, and competency-based education, I personally am still trying to understand exactly how we should define “self-directed learning” in a manner that will be useful to the field. I worry that deployed irresponsibly, a “self-directed” approach could suffer some of the same pitfalls in terms of equity that online and competency-based education may suffer: that is, students who can take advantage of greater flexibility or ownership can sail ahead, leaving other students in the dust. Luckily Summit Public Schools maintains an unwavering commitment to closing the achievement gap, so if anyone can square self-directed learning and equity, it’s them. With that in mind, here are three of my takeaways from the new case study: (more…)

The Danger of Assumptions in Innovations: A Primer on Progress

September 3, 2014 by

comfort zoneAs an educator of the behavioral sciences, the lessons I most enjoy participating in with my students are those that hinge on progress. When we look at behavior, we can identify the indicators of both success and failure as well as identify, explain, and predict how things might have been different. We do this in hopes that the mistakes of the past can be used to circumvent the pain of repeating failure or missteps. After all, humanity is addicted to progress.

At a micro level, a school is the same as society. Each has its own structure, culture, and purpose. Similar to the major historical empires of the sub/counter cultures of American society, the living organism that is education also evolves elastically.

As schools evolve, we need to adapt, shifting perceptions and changing behaviors in order to reap the potential benefits.

Many of these changes can be difficult, as we are treading into an area of less understanding and predictability. Although difficult to do at times, we must get out of our comfort zone if we are to reap the benefits of positive change. (more…)

A Personalized Learning Approach to Professional Development at Education Achievement Authority

September 2, 2014 by
kristen vogt

Kristen Vogt

The Education Achievement Authority of Michigan calls the academic model employed at their schools “student-centered learning.” Perhaps their professional development for teachers—the subject of the latest Next Gen Tools brief—could be categorized as “teacher-centered professional learning.”

EAA joins the growing list of school districts and charter organizations that are reimagining professional learning for educators, as my colleague Stef Blouin blogged about last week—she was drawing on the personalized, self-directed, ongoing, collaborative, and embedded professional development at Matchbook Learning, Intrinsic Schools, Alpha Public Schools, and Horry County Schools. USC Hybrid High’s Oliver Sicat offered his perspective of personalized professional development in his recent blog at BlendMyLearning.com. (more…)

Add to the School Supply List: Mindsets Emphasizing Effort, Attitude, and Respect

September 1, 2014 by

Originally posted August 22, 2014 on Getting Smart. 

Students running down hall

From Getting Smart.com

Steve Wilkinson (“Wilk”) has dedicated his life to teaching – and modeling – the art of focusing on what one can control (such as mindset) as opposed to what one cannot control (such as circumstances). While Wilk – professor, Hall of Fame tennis coach, author and friend – has chosen the venue of tennis to teach mindsets of effort, attitude and respect, his teachings apply in any circumstance. These principles, which my teammates an I were exposed to during college years, continue to profoundly impact my thinking as an educator and parent.

As parents send kids back-to-school, and teachers welcome students into their classrooms, there is naturally a lot of emphasis on logistics – school supplies, devices, passwords, locker combinations, and schedules. This blog offers tips to also equip young people with mindsets – such as those emphasized by Wilk – as they head off to school:

Full effort: striving for excellence through daily discipline  (more…)

Shifting to Mastery-Based Approaches in New York City Public Schools

August 27, 2014 by
Revell, student at FDA VII.

Revelle, student at FDA VII. From FDA VII video.

“I want to achieve, I want to get high grades; [mastery-based learning] is a great way to map out exactly how to get there.”

         – Revelle, student at Frederick Douglass Academy VII, Brooklyn NY

A small but growing number of New York City schools are making assessments more meaningful for teachers and students through mastery-based approaches to learning. There are early and encouraging signs that mastery can motivate and engage students who have experienced previous academic failure by providing a clear outline for what they need to learn. The video below demonstrates these powerful effects at Frederick Douglass Academy VII High School (FDA VII) in Brooklyn:

Mastery-Based Learning – Featuring Frederick Douglass Academy VII High School from Digital Ready on Vimeo.

Starting Out Small

While school-wide implementation models have been a source of inspiration, more often than not, a shift toward mastery starts on a much more compact level. Last year, teachers at FDA VII “took the leap” by transforming their curriculum and grading policies to reflect student learning more transparently. This year, school leadership hopes to take it school-wide. At Brooklyn International High School and Hudson High School for Learning Technologies, teachers have worked alone or in small groups to pilot new ways to deliver content broken down by skill, and provide more granular feedback in distinct areas of learning. (more…)

What’s New in Competency Education in K12 and Higher Education

August 26, 2014 by

K12 ResourcesScreen Shot 2014-06-23 at 5.46.08 PM and Events

In the News

  • The Des Moines Register’s article Five Trends to Look for This School Year includes student-led conferences and student setting the pace. Shawn Cornally from Iowa Big is quoted, “”Some students move much faster, and some students move much slower, but they learn it a lot better.”

Performance Assessment for Competency Education

August 25, 2014 by
Paul Leather

Paul Leather

On Monday August 11, 2014, leaders from our four NH PACE-implementing school districts gathered, along with our partners, Dan French and staff from the Center for Collaborative Education and Scott Marion of the Center for Assessment. PACE stands for Performance Assessment for Competency Education.  We are moving forward this year with a demonstration project, to prove that we can advance the transformation of our public education system, in part, by changing our accountability model. We would like to lessen the importance of taking simply the summative Smarter Balanced in the spring of 2015 by establishing a richer array of assessments designed to help us with measuring learning and growth for students, teachers, and schools. We would rather see an assessment system include SBAC at grade spans, as well as complex performance assessments.

We believe that this kind of system will allow us to measure a more complete range of knowledge, skills, and practices, necessary for CCR.  Linda Darling-Hammond, Gene Wilhoit, and Linda Pittinger[1] have pictured this range of learning in a recent paper:

knowledgeskillsworkstudy (more…)

Reflections on Ferguson: Why We Need to Increase Racial Diversity in the Field of Competency Education

August 22, 2014 by
Chris Sturgis

Chris Sturgis

The courageous people of Ferguson have been standing up for their young men as well as forcing all of us to face the crisis that threatens African American boys’ survival, ability to graduate high school, get a job, and be actively engaged as fathers to their children.  However, there is no reason that they have to be standing alone. It’s up to all of us to eliminate the patterns of structural racism and implicit bias that reinforce inequity and threaten the lives of African-American young men.

All of us in the field of competency education want all children to succeed.  Our intentions are good. However, how can we really be sure that we ourselves do not carry some bias deep in our minds when the leaders in our field are almost all white? If we are committed to equity in our schools, how can we build the capacity in our organizations to be able to systematically address structural racism and bias?

I think that we have evidence that we do have a bias problem in our field. The leadership in the field and our organizations for the most part are very white.  Our success in advancing competency education is threatened if we fail to correct this situation by increasing the racial diversity of our leadership. First, many people see lack of diversity as a sign of organizational weakness. If you can’t figure out how to have diversity on your board and staff, how can you effectively train others or develop policies that don’t reinforce racial equity? (more…)

Turning Mistakes Into Learning: The Power of High Reliability Schools

August 20, 2014 by

Handbook for High Reliability Schools cover“In industries where mistakes and errors lead to significant and far-reaching consequences – such as power plants, air traffic control towers, and electrical power grids – organizations must adjust their operations to proactively prevent failure. . . .  [W]hat distinguishes high reliability organizations is not the absence of errors but the ability to contain their effects so they do not escalate into significant failures.”

I’m just diving into A Handbook for High Reliability Schools . . . The Next Step in School Reform by Marzano, Warrick and Simms. It’s a brilliant idea to think about what it would take for schools to become a high reliability organization. Certainly a student failing to receive an adequate education, failing to be prepared to pursue post-secondary education and training, has far-reaching consequences. It’s a pathway to poverty and fragile families.

What makes education a bit different from business is that mistakes and failures are part of the learning process. So we have to be able to distinguish from the customer making mistakes as part of the learning process, yet have the educators “contain the effect” so that the outcome is success.

The authors describe how schools can become so powerful and so timely in responding to children that the natural errors in learning will produce learning gains. Essentially, schools can become high reliability, taking “proactive steps to prevent failure and ensure success.” I already had a vision of how powerful schools can become, and reading this book took it to a whole new level.

The authors propose five levels of operation for a high reliability school: (more…)

Just Start

August 19, 2014 by

Just startWhat do Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Bill Belichick, and Anshul Samar have in common? Sure, they all had a vision of what they wanted to accomplish. But more importantly, they got STARTED. The difference between a great idea and an idea that makes a great difference, is someone executed it. To engage in the process of continuous improvement, the crux of leadership, one needs to begin. As investor and motivational speaker Robert Kiyosaki said, “If you are the kind of person who is waiting for the ‘right’ thing to happen, you might wait for a long time. It’s like waiting for all the traffic lights to be green for five miles before starting the trip.”

The person most responsible for the construction of the path to change for any school is the principal. Too often administrators try to line up all the pieces so there is a guarantee we do not make a mistake. After all, we are working with young minds. A simple mistake could ruin their future. So we analyze, plot, analyze again, get new information, see how that informs our decision, analyze again, make adjustments, analyze the adjustments, which causes the need for more decisions. All of this is hypothetical since we have nothing tangible to adjust. Voltaire warned, “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.” We need to not worry and simply apply what we know today. The fear of hitting the magic switch and turning our students into thoughtless zombies left to wander aimlessly in a land of lost potential is unfounded. What school leaders need to do, regardless of role, is get a vision of their postcard destination, map the critical steps to get them from where they are to where they want to be, and then take that important first step. (more…)

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