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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Empowering Teachers

November 8, 2016 by

glassesThis is the sixteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

In competency-based schools, a collaborative and empowered cadre of teachers is the engine that drives learning. Student learning depends on a strong adaptive instructional cycle that, in turn, depends on skilled teachers using their professional judgment that, also in turn, depends on the structures and cultures of the organization. Missy DeRivera, a homeschool teacher at Chugach School District, explained, “The leadership question is always central to our work. Is this best for kids? That is at the core of our entire district. We identify what is best for kids and then we figure out how to make it happen.”

Strong Professional Learning Communities

It is difficult, if not impossible, to build the calibration mechanism that is essential for competency education to be effectively implemented without strong professional learning communities. It is also an ingredient for an empowered cadre of teachers. Sanborn Regional School District placed PLCs as core to operations right from the start. Their administrative team recognized that reorganizing in the district would require an investment of time, and opted for Professional Learning Community meetings over weekly informational staff meetings. As Ellen Hume-Howard, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, stated, “Doing this has been challenging and the administrators have worked hard at communicating to staff in other ways, but we believe PLC time is important and our calendar reflects this belief.”

Jonathan Vander Els, Principal of Memorial Elementary, emphasized that one of the principal’s most important leadership functions is to support PLCs, making sure they have the time to meet and are staying true to the norms that allow them to be a source of collaborative, professional development. “Principals and district leaders have the power to make sure there is freedom to have hard conversations in safety,” he said. “It starts with distributed leadership models that understand and value teacher leadership in creating a dynamic learning culture within the school.”

Aligned Human Resources System

Soon after converting to competency education, many districts find that they need to modify their human resources operations, including hiring, orientation, professional development, and evaluation.

Hiring and Orientation

Competency education is changing the way districts think about hiring. In the traditional model, they searched for teachers who had experience in teaching the curriculum for a specific grade. “Now we look for teachers who are interested in teaching students and know the discipline so they can help students who are in different places along their learning progressions,” explained Ellen Hume-Howard, Director of Curriculum Development at Sanborn Regional School District. Doug Penn, Districtwide Principal at Chugach, emphasized this with, “We don’t hire teachers, we hire members of a team. We don’t want people to compartmentalize.”

At Lindsay Unified School District, the hiring process is more robust now than it has been in years past. Prospective employees are introduced to the model ahead of time to gauge their interest, and the final step is an in-depth conversation with the principal regarding the district philosophy. “We always empower our staff,” said Jaime Robles, “so we need to make sure we hire individuals who share our belief systems on how students learn and what motivates them.” At Sanborn, much of the orientation takes places within PLCs, while new teachers at Pittsfield School District are assigned a mentor to help them align competencies, rubrics, and assessments, as well as learn how to manage a personalized classroom. (more…)

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Policies for Personalization: Levels, Pace, and Progress

November 7, 2016 by

scaffoldThis is the fifteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating the policies that will support greater personalization.

Districts will need to develop a set of policies or guidelines regarding pace. The function of keeping students learning at a meaningful pace (as compared to delivering curriculum) is one of the most important and challenging aspects of the conversion to competency education. As a field, we have yet to create new language, concepts, or metrics that help us understand pace and progress. As you consider the following questions, understand that you are on the edges of the frontier.

What academic level are students? As students enter a competency-based school, teachers will need to know their academic levels. Some schools do formal assessments using an array of formats. Some turn to one assessment system, such as NWEA Map or Scantron. Others have found that this can be off-putting for students, and look to teachers to use their professional judgment in leveling students. Teachers continue seeking understanding of the skills and knowledge students bring into the classroom by using pre-assessments to assess what students know or don’t know so they can respond more quickly to students who need extra help.

What is a meaningful pace? Flexibility in pace and pacing is one of the most important concepts in competency education and also one of the most challenging. Making Community Connections Charter School‘s Kim Carter explains, “One of the most significant distinct aspects of a personalized competency-based system is the ability to adjust pacing to meet every learner’s needs. This shouldn’t be construed to mean that each learner gets to set his or her own pace. At MC² we rely on ‘negotiated pacing with gradual release.’ This is an integral aspect of developing student agency and the central role of managing motivation in an educational system designed to create proficiency not just in facts and skills, but in habits and dispositions to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners. Determining progress is very clear in a competency-based system because of the transparency of the learning objectives. Pace is the progress (amount of learning) divided by an amount of time. Depending how a district has developed their academic levels, competency-based schools can determine the expected annual rate of learning.” (more…)

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#iNACOL16 Day Four Learnings on the Run

November 3, 2016 by
jim-rickabaugh

Jim Rickabaugh

Resetting the Classroom Power Dynamics: Every person I’ve met from WI is so visionary, so creative, so dedicated to figuring things out systemically. Every time I get a few minutes with Jim Rickabaugh, previously the director of the Personalized Learning Institute at CESA#1 (he’s still involved as an advisor — Ryan Krohn is now the director), I feel like he opens up door after door of insights. Here are a few:

  • Different Pathways: We aren’t ready to commit to one model or one best way of implementation. Our work in personalized, competency-based education isn’t mature yet. We may discover that there are very different pathways.
  • Learning Leaders: We focus too much on instruction and instructional leaders. We want our focus to be on learning and leaders who manage learning. “Learning leaders” have to think about the whole school, the entire learning environment, and what students are learning beyond school.
  • Learning Targets and Beyond: When we focus only on specific assessments, we are asking the question, “Did you learn this or that?” However, if there is robust, inquiry-based or “deeper” learning, then we should also ask the more open question, “What did you learn?” A good caution for us – we want to be intentional and we want to include learning beyond the anticipated. Deeper learning positions us to learn more about our own learning and to be generative in our learning.
  • Do Students Feel they Belong?: Disciplinary rates are an indicator of how engaged students are and how much they feel that they belong (in other words, how inclusive the school is). Robust personalized learning in a competency-based environment should be resetting the power dynamics in a school and in the classroom. In traditional schools, sanctions are compliance-based. In PL/CBE, our goal is to help students to commit to their own learning. So if students are resistant to power, then there is something going on and we need to listen to the students. When there is nothing to fight or resist against, because the goal is for you to take ownership of your own learning, then there is some other pain that needs our attention. Rickabaugh mentioned that he had heard of schools repurposing the position of assistant principal because discipline problems had so dramatically reduced.

(more…)

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#iNACOL16 Day Three Learnings on the Run

November 2, 2016 by

Well, actually, I’m not running anymore. I was able to catch my breath for the weekend before I head out to District 51 in Grand Junction to learn about their early stage implementation.

Here are some of my highlights from the final days of iNACOL16:

sajan-george

Sajan George

Productive Struggle: One of the reasons I think so highly of the Matchbook Learning team is that they are always trying to figure out how to meet the needs of students who have large gaps in foundational skills or are on a performance level that is below their grade level. (I apologize for the use of a deficit structure, but we still haven’t figured out a way to talk about students being at different levels that doesn’t use the grade level as a norm.) Sajan George described that they have concerns that leveling students and offering instruction that meets them at this level is not working the way they had hoped. Yes, it helps students build all the foundational skills they need, but it isn’t building other skills – specifically the skill and traits needed to productively struggle with challenging problems. One might think about it as the ability to apply learning, not just demonstrate the skills. Application requires us to think about which skill or approach can be helpful.

dixie-bacallao

Dixie Bacallao

Later that same day I had a chance to meet Dixie Bacallao from reDesign. How to design for productive struggle was one of the many things we touched on. She cautioned that it is important to take into consideration where students are in their own learning and development (including social-emotional learning and relationships with peers) and how big the gap between performance and grade level is in designing interventions. In other words, there is no single best intervention. (more…)

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October CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

November 1, 2016 by

calendar-page-octHere are the highlights from October 2016 on CompetencyWorks. Happy reading. And let us know if you have questions you want us to delve into!

SITE VISITS AND CASE STUDIES

Implementing Competency-Based Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders

  (more…)

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Policies for Personalization: Student Agency

by

booksThis is the fourteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

If a district puts into place all the pieces described earlier, they will be well on their way to creating a strong standards-referenced system—but not a student-centered one. The new value proposition is based on an integration of personalized learning that takes into consideration students’ needs, interests, and aspirations along with a competency-based infrastructure focused on proficiency, pace, and progress.

The following discussion, organized into two articles, is on the policies and procedures that need to be in place to ensure that the system you are implementing has students and their academic success—not the standards themselves—at the center.

Student Agency

Personalization and student agency go hand in hand—it is nearly impossible for teachers to manage a personalized classroom if students are constantly turning to them for direction. Thus, as schools move toward personalized, competency-based education, they will also want to create the conditions for students to take ownership over their education (i.e., student agency). There are a number of essential ingredients required to create an environment and learning experiences that help students build the skills they need to have agency: a school culture that is grounded in a growth mindset, strategies to help build habits of learning, opportunities for choice and co-design, transparency of learning objectives with well-developed assessments, and high levels of teacher autonomy. (more…)

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Creating a Common Language of Learning: Habits of Learning

October 31, 2016 by

studyThis is the thirteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

What are the skills students need to manage their own learning, and how are they developed?

Creating empowered students isn’t about moving them through a curriculum. It requires schools to organize their learning experiences to help students build all the skills (referred to by many terms, including habits of learning) to become independent learners ready to pursue college and careers.

In order to separate out academics from behavior in the grading system that indicates how students are progressing in reaching proficiency (i.e., a progress monitoring system), competency-based districts and schools must establish a set of skills or behaviors that are important for learning or are needed for college and career readiness. For example, at the Sanborn Regional School District, teachers have learned that assessing behaviors in elementary school students is an important step in helping students make academic progress. The Responsive Classroom CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-Regulation) project focuses on developing work-study habits early on. (You can read more about this effort here.)

The most advanced competency-based districts have discovered that these skills and behaviors are in fact an essential element of creating student agency and improving academic achievement. They are beginning to think about what the habits should be developmentally and how they interact with efforts to address social-emotional learning and the school culture. (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Making Targets Visible…Really

October 28, 2016 by

aimThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on October 18, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

We all know that making learning transparent is a key element of learner-centered proficiency based education. We’ve all gotten the memo: have targets posted. Many people have even taken posting targets a step further and posted all the learning targets for an entire project, course, or year. All of these methods can be a solid part of making learning targets and progressions visible to learners. The important thing to remember is that making learning really visible is about much more than simply slapping a learning target up on the wall; It is about developing learner agency. When learners know what it is they are supposed to be learning, and where that fits in the bigger picture of what they have to learn, motivation and engagement go way up.

If the goal is supporting learner agency, and not simply the posting of the target, we have to think differently about how we use targets. As a start, here are some target-posting pitfalls to be aware of, and some ideas about how to sidestep them and make the learning truly visible.

Pitfall #1: They Are Posted, And Rarely or Never Referred To

The point of having learning targets, or anything really, on the walls of a classroom is to have a visual reminder for learners. But anything that gets put up on the walls and ignored might as well be old wallpaper. Relying on the off chance that learners will notice or refer to them, even after being shown where they are, is not a successful strategy.

Sidesteps:

  • Have a consistent place in the room where current targets are posted
  • Point to the posted learning targets whenever you mention them
  • Mention the current learning targets at the start of every lesson

Pitfall #2: They Are Posted, And Are Too Small To Read From The Class Seats

(more…)

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#iNACOL16 Day Two Learnings on the Run

October 27, 2016 by

Well, I think it is safe to say the highlight of the Day Two was Virgel Hammond’s (KnowledgeWorks) keynote dedicated to helping all of us reduce our cool factor. His point is that for all of us to learn, we need to be vulnerable. We all need to be willing to take risks and get out of our comfort zones. He demonstrated this point by having Susan Patrick (iNACOL), Bill Zima (RSU2), Nick Namba (Lindsay), Dave Roberts (Fraser), and Steve Schultz (District 51) and yours truly dance our hearts out to silly songs such as The Twist, Greased Lightening, Thriller, Mr. Roboto, and Shout!

Lesson Learned: I’m too old (or perhaps I should admit just plain out of shape) to dance to Shout! anymore…instead of just twisting down to the floor, I found it more comfortable to just fall on my belly.

On a much more serious note, Todd Rose, author of The Myth of Averages, kicked off day two at #iNACOL16. If you haven’t heard him, it’s worth listening to one of his TED talks. His message is powerful – when you design for the average, we meet the needs of none. He draws on research and science to explain why we must root the design of the education system in the individual. We must figure out how to have more personalized systems of education. (more…)

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