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

April 1, 2016 by

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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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

by

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMStaying the course for over twenty years, Chugach has developed a personalized, performance-based system that places students at the center and deeply values teaching and teachers. CompetencyWorks released a new report on Chugach School district and how they implemented a personalized, performance-based system to serve the remote villages of Native Alaska. Check out the blog post or download the report here.

Upcoming Event: On April 20, CompetencyWorks is hosting an introductory webinar on competency educationRegister here to attend the webinar and learn how we define competency education, explore how schools are implementing competency education, and discuss why educators and communities want to convert to a competency-based structure.

Resources

Policy Updates

  • Under ESSA, states and localities have a unique opportunity to revisit accountability systems and rethink how they can better serve students, parents and teachers. Check out this article on how state accountability systems impact student learning.
  • The Florida Senate passed a competency-based education bill, which already passed the House by a 31 to 6 vote. The bill creates pilot programs in 4 Florida districts and establishes a laboratory school run by the University of Florida. (This article explains the competency education pilot program in greater detail.)

Schools Making Gains

  • Teachers from seven District 51 schools in Colorado shared with the school board the challenges and victories they’ve experienced since transitioning to a performance-based system.
  • Windsor Locks, a school implementing personalized learning, demonstrated notable gains in math and reading, pulling them from the list of worst performing schools. This news story shows how Windsor Locks empowers students to discover, to design their learning, to apply it, then to document how they learned it and defend that they learned against rigorous standards.

Research Opportunity

The Students at the Center initiative at Jobs for the Future announced a research collaborative that will build, define, apply and share a robust evidence base for student-centered learning. (Read more here.) They announced 2 opportunities: an RFP on student-centered learning, with a preference for basic exploratory research; and nominations for Students at the Center Distinguished Fellows. Two additional opportunities are expected to release in May. Check here for the most updated information.

Follow us on twitter (@CompetencyWorks) and sign up for our monthly newsletter for more information and updates in K-12 competency education.

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Announcing the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative

March 23, 2016 by

SATCI just heard about the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative. This is a great opportunity for the field of competency education. There are so many things we need to know more about. Here are a few things at the top of my list:

  • What is the impact of CBE on teachers and teaching given how much they are “all in,” “give it a try,” or “this too shall pass” and the specific structures such as planning time, PLCs, calibration, and willingness to do what is right for kids especially giving permission to teach students not curriculum?
  • When is there greater benefit from teaching students where they are at (performance levels) rather than grade level standards, taking into account academic domain, instructional strategies, age, maturity, and where they fall on the continuum between efficacy and learned helplessness? (See Time to Tackle the Elephant.)

Here is the announcement from Jobs for the Future:

The Students at the Center Initiative at Jobs for the Future is excited to announce a first-of-its-kind research collaborative that will build, define, apply, and share a robust evidence base for student-centered learning. The Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative, with initial thought leadership of and support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, will formally launch this fall with a core group of soon-to-be-selected scholars, school leaders, policymakers, practitioners, and funders, each known for their impact and influence, coming together to clarify and catalyze the field. Their bold charge: to work in partnership to investigate and evaluate what we know about student-centered learning both in and beyond today’s schools, and then leverage that knowledge to effect meaningful change at scale.

Do you want to join the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative as we grow and share the evidence for student-centered approaches to learning? If so, we encourage you to take advantage of one of the important and impactful opportunities below. (more…)

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Practicing What We Preach

March 22, 2016 by

ConferenceThis post originally appeared at ASCD Edge on March 13, 2016.

My school district in southern Maine is sixteen months into our journey to a learner-centered, proficiency-based teaching and learning system. Teachers are working incredibly hard to provide engaging, relevant and transparent learning for each child.

As we embrace this work, another one of our goals is to increase student agency. For us, this means taking charge of one’s own learning and fostering learner voice and choice. Increased motivation to engage in learning is becoming evident, now that many of our students see themselves as active learners empowered to make some choices within their learning experiences.

With these principles employed, we began to ask ourselves, “If learner voice and choice is so important and powerful, then shouldn’t we also empower our teachers to have autonomy over their professional learning?”

How many times have you gone to a professional development session, only to feel frustrated because it didn’t meet your individual learning needs? What would happen if we intentionally encouraged teacher voice and choice as we planned and implemented our professional learning time?

This concept was brought to our building leadership team and the group was enthusiastic about the idea. In addition to our PLC work and Instructional Coaching Model, our current district calendar includes monthly early release days for students. This time in the afternoon enables each school to plan additional professional learning for staff.

We planned our first menu of professional learning sessions and sent out a sign-up sheet to staff. The three-hour time frame was chunked into three blocks of time with several offerings for each time block. Personalized learning time to work individually or with colleagues was offered in each of the three blocks, along with facilitated sessions that focused on topics important to proficiency-based teaching and learning. Some of the topics included methods for tracking learner progress over time, technology integration in the classroom and Understanding by Design unit planning. Staff signed up for the sessions that were most relevant to their current learning needs. (more…)

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