Tag: competency education, competency-based learning

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Homework

November 25, 2015 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on October 13, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

At last week’s professional learning day, we all spent some time in our groups talking about homework. What is the point of homework? How much is appropriate? Are there boundaries?

According to Marzano, homework has a positive effect size only some of the time. It very much depends on a variety of factors if the homework is beneficial or not. He gives some of these tips for making sure homework is beneficial:

  • structured to ensure high completion rate
  • the amount assigned should not be a burden to parents or students
  • should have a clear purpose
  • tied to a small set of clear, current learning goals
  • able to be performed independently by students

I recently learned from a friend about his standing homework assignment for his 6th grade class. He calls it the “C-C-G” homework. Every week, students choose to engage with their curiosity or in activities to grow knowledge or skills in an area of their choosing. They set a goal, engage for an amount of time each day, and reflect on their progress.

CCG Homework

This assignment holds up well against the points listed by Marzano. Depending on what a student chooses to engage in, they could be working on a variety of different targets.  Developing life-long learning skills?  Growing work habits?  Absolutely. It also weighs in pretty well against the recommendations of Tony Wagner and Sir. Ken Robinson who advocate for more including creativity, innovation, and student passions in school.

See also:

About the Author

Courtney Belolan works at RSU 2 in Maine where she supports K-12 teachers with performance-based, individualized learning. Courtney works closely with teams and teachers as a coach, and with the school and district leadership teams as an instructional strategist. Courtney has worked as a 6-12 literacy and instructional coach, a middle level ELA teacher, an environmental educator, and a digital literacy coach. Her core beliefs include the idea that the best education is one centered on student passions and rooted in interdisciplinary applications, and that enjoying learning is just as important as the learning itself.

iNACOL Applauds U.S. Congress ESEA Conference Committee Vote to Reauthorize Federal K-12 Education Law

November 23, 2015 by

inacolThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on November 19, 2015. 

Today, the United States House of Representatives and Senate Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Conference Committee voted overwhelmingly (39-1) in favor of advancing an agreement to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which would replace No Child Left Behind.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) President and CEO Susan Patrick, along with Vice President for Federal and State Policy Maria Worthen, issued the following statement:

“iNACOL applauds leaders in the House and Senate for their bipartisanship in reaching a compromise agreement to reauthorize ESEA. Today’s actions represent a historic step toward fixing No Child Left Behind and supporting the success and achievement of all students.

States are making progress on creating personalized, competency-based pathways for students to improve student learning outcomes. Removing the barriers from outdated federal K-12 education policies will help enable the adoption of student-centered learning models.”

Recently, iNACOL published The iNACOL Federal Policy Frameworks 2015 which provide concrete, actionable recommendations for policymakers to align policy to student-centered learning. Through ESEA reauthorization, Congress can support the shift to new, personalized learning models by redesigning assessments, rethinking accountability, and supporting the modernization of educator and leadership development, among other actions.

iNACOL applauds the bi-partisan effort to move the ESEA forward. Next steps are to evaluate the compromise agreement which will be available on November 30. Then, both the House of Representatives and the Senate have scheduled time for a floor vote the first week of December. Follow @nacol on Twitter for updates with #ESEA.

About the Author

Susan Patrick is the President and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). iNACOL is the international K-12 nonprofit association representing the interests of practitioners, providers and students involved in online learning worldwide.

Casco Bay High School: The What and HOW of Learning

From the Casco Bay HS Website

From the Casco Bay HS Website

This post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine. This is the third of a four-part look at Casco Bay High School. Read Part One for Tips and Takeaways and Part Two for Learning as Exploration

Casco Bay High School in Portland has developed a strong standards-based grading system built upon several principles (below). It seems to me that it would be a good exercise for any and all schools to be able to identify the principles that drive their grading, reporting, and extra support/extra time policies. Can you imagine trying to do that for A-F, time-based systems?

Principle: Grades should clearly communicate what students know and are able to do in each class.

Practice: We report on student mastery of specific skills and concepts within a course (called “course standards”); traits like participation and effort are reported on separately.

Principle: Students should have multiple opportunities to show what they know and can do.

Practice: We ask students to build a body of work to demonstrate their mastery of each course standard.

Principle: Schools should support students in acquiring all of the essential knowledge and skills in a course versus just a portion of it.

Practice: To earn credit, all of the course standards must be met.

Principle: Academic knowledge and work habits are both important to acquire for college and life.

Practice: Students receive both academic grades (based on course standards) as well as habits of work (HOW) grades for each class.

Principle: If students are working hard (as shown by their HOW grade) to meet standards, they deserve more time and support to learn the material.

Practice: Students receive additional time after the term has ended to meet course standards if they have a “3” or above in Habits of Work.

Principle: All students should have the opportunity to excel.

Practice: Achieving “with Honors” is an option for all students in all courses.

Principle: Regular communication with families about student progress supports deeper learning.

Practice: We formally report progress ten times a year through report cards, progress reports, and conferences. Infinite Campus, our online grade book, is updated frequently by teachers and is always open to parents.

Principle: Learning cannot be averaged: students need time to practice and learn from mistakes.

Practice: We determine trimester grades based on trends, and take more recent performance into account. Trimester grades reflect a student’s current level of achievement.


Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Anchor Charts

November 19, 2015 by

School SuppliesThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on October 5, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

A major goal of learner-centered proficiency based learning is to foster independence in our students. An excellent classroom tool for supporting this work is an anchor chart. Anchor charts are posters that make processes, cues, strategies, and guidelines visible to students. As students are internalizing and learning these, the chart serves as the reference text. Many people already use flow-charts and s.o.p.s in their rooms. Some people have reading and writing charts up. Other people have group work charts, and problem solving charts. All of these fall under the broader category of anchor charts.

Like anything, some anchor charts are stronger than others. Here are some basic tips for creating and using quality charts in your classroom:

When To Make A Chart

  • To support routines and procedures such as the process for leaving the room, turning in homework, getting help during class, getting ready for the day, putting away materials, how to get the teacher’s attention, etc.
  • To support specific procedures or that students will use over time, like operating a microscope or initial troubleshooting with a computer or other device.
  • To support complex skills, such as working in a group, solving a problem, reading, and writing
  • To support the application of content that does not need to be memorized, like the periodic table, a timeline of dynasties in China, formulas, and editing marks


Casco Bay High School: Learning as Exploration

November 18, 2015 by

MapThis post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine. This is the second of a four-part look at Casco Bay High School. Read Part One for Tips and Takeaways. You can also read about Casco in Making Mastery Work and Inside Mastery Based High Schools: Profiles and Conversations.


From start to finish of my day at Casco Bay High School, the overwhelming feeling was one of fun. Or perhaps it is really an all-out pervasive joy of learning. I saw it in the students gathering together in the Great Space before the start of the school day, the group conversations among students, the discussions with teachers, and the knock-me-over-I-was-laughing-so-hard game of Your Greatest Fan with the staff and visiting educators from Chicago at the end of the day. (You can get a taste of FUN at the video Movin’ On Up – the celebration when students get accepted to their first college.)

Before I dive into describing the proficiency-based system (remember Maine uses the term proficiency-based), it is important to understand the overarching design of Casco. It’s not easy, as Casco is what I described as an integrated model. The pieces all work together – take away one element and it will have direct implications on the rest of the model.

1. Size and Student Population

Sharing space with the Portland Arts and Technology High Schools, Casco serves, at its maximum capacity, 400 students with about 50 percent FRL. It is one of three public high schools in Portland and has a large number English Language Learners, many of whom are from the over ten African countries for which Portland serves as a refugee settlement city. With a waiting list, students are admitted to Casco based on a lottery weighted for Free and Reduced Lunch, special education, and ELL. Given that refugee families are in the midst of many changes as they create new lives, mobility is an issue. In addition, Casco accepts students in all grades throughout high school.

2. Expedition, Community, and Adolescent Development

Casco is an Expeditionary Learning school with an emphasis on achievement, character, and meaningful work. (If you haven’t visited it yet, check out the Illuminating Standards that has been developed by a partnership between Expeditionary Learning and Harvard Ed School.) Again, Casco is so integrated that any activity is designed to build on all three components.

Expedition: The concept of expeditions, or learning as an exploration, is constantly drawn upon throughout the school. Expeditions, all of which are interdisciplinary, can take place within the school, on Cow Island for outdoor learning, or in the community to look at topics such as sustainable foods. Each class has a major question guiding their year. This year, sophomores are exploring Africa Rising, juniors are looking at income equality, and seniors are learning about the Arab world with a final project of turning the school into a museum so others can learn as well. Freshmen and seniors have Quests, and the Junior Journey is a week of investigation, community service, oral histories, and video production on inequity in an American city such as New Orleans, NYC, or Biloxi. Here is a video about expeditions created by Edutopia in the Schools That Work series.

Another form for students to explore their passions, the world, and their own perspective on the world is through intensives. These week-long opportunities may include learning to swim, learning conflict resolutions skills, or embarking on career exploration. (more…)

Charleston South Carolina: Balancing Competency Education with Student-Centered Culture

November 17, 2015 by

CCSDI’m on my way to Charleston School District in South Carolina today after great site visits to Lake County in Florida and Red Bank Elementary in Lexington, SC. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see competency education growing with a deep grounding in personalized learning and student agency. After I finish getting everything I learned in Maine and Philly written up, I’ll be sharing everything about this trip through the Southeast.

However, I just have to share Charleston’s description of personalized learning right now because it is so strong. For those who work in the online learning world, I hope that you will think about this carefully because when a school embraces this philosophy, online learning can be easily integrated as a powerful tool to support personalized learning, but not as the source of personalized learning itself.

Personalized Learning in Charleston County School District is built upon the concepts of Competency-Based Instruction and a Self-Directed Learning environment.


Competency-Based Instruction

  • Students have an effective teacher who meets them where they are, fills their learning gaps and accelerates learning
  • Data, rather than seat time, is used to determine when a student is ready to move to the next concept
  • Students work with their teacher to revisit standards that haven’t been mastered
  • Students produce evidence of learning to determine proficiency
  • Learning is transparent for all students. They know what they have learned, what they are currently learning and what they will learn next
  • Students take responsibility for their learning, thereby increasing their engagement and motivation
  • Frequent formative assessments drive instruction; summative assessments are given when a student is ready
  • Focus is on student learning, not on test scores or grades
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support and feedback based on their individual learning needs and formative data



Calling All CompetencyWorks Readers


SixWe need your help! Although many of you were at the iNACOL Symposium, not everyone could make it. So please take ten minutes to answer six questions. By gathering the voices from all over the nation, we can build on our strengths, make sure we are doing the best job we can in curating resources, draw on knowledge in our networks, and make sure that we are focusing on the things you think are important.

  • What is your elevator speech?
  • What is your biggest AHA! (i.e., insight) about competency education and its implementation?
  • Who have you talked to or listened to who has influenced your thinking? (The question is based on the iNACOL Symposium, but don’t worry about that. We want to find out who is making a difference.)
  • What issue or topic do you think needs us to direct our collective knowledge and creativity as a field to figure it out so that we can unleash the full potential of competency-based education?
  • What resource, paper, video, podcast, or blog have you found particularly helpful that you would recommend for those just starting out on the path to competency-based education?
  • Educators, are you using an information system to support tracking student progress and standards-based grading? If so, what product and what are the strengths and weaknesses of the product?

Just go to Getting Smart’s Voices Hub and you’ll see a link for CompetencyWorks. Or you can go directly to the questions by clicking here.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Casco Bay High School: Tips and Takeaways

November 16, 2015 by

Casco Bay HSThis post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine. This is the first of a four-part look at Casco Bay High School.

I am so glad I had a chance to visit Casco Bay High School. I learned so much, and there is so much more to be learned from the incredible set of educators. I know the visit will continue to influence my thinking and understanding of proficiency-based learning along the way. Thanks to all the staff and students for sharing their stories and insights.

Two Big Takeaways

1. Putting it All Together: One of the things you can’t help asking yourself while visiting this school is, “How do they do all of this?”

I think the answer can be found in a few things. First, they are very clear about what they want for students and the strategies that will work best to get them there. Everything feels intentional and driven by clear principles. Second, there is a strong culture of learning. As one staff person said, “We are always under construction. We are always trying new things.” Third, there are strong rituals. Those rituals reinforce the culture, reinforce values, and often contain a number of activities wrapped together. Fourth, principal Derek Pierce uses a distributed leadership model. He is very comfortable engaging others in decision-making. A teacher remarked that few decisions are made by Pierce without substantial input. In fact, when they started the transition to proficiency-based learning, all the teachers were part of the leadership team. Now that they are operational, the leadership team is smaller, with one representative from each of the teams and one at-large representative. However, they still use protocols to make decisions that ensure input and participation. Finally, they all share in the joy of learning.

2. The Power of the HOW: Casco has created a balance of a number of principles that have contributed to a sophisticated use of HOW (habits of work). Just think about it – Habits of Work are HOW we learn. First, they are dedicated to making sure students can participate (a good principle for anyone interested in creating an equitable culture). Second, they want to make sure students have ownership over their learning and have the skills to succeed. Third, they want to make sure everyone succeeds.

In ensuring students can participate and get more time for learning, they each have to demonstrate a 3 on the Big 3. The focus is on making sure students are putting in the effort, not whether they have mastered every skill or standard.

This got me to thinking: The GPA is supposed to be a powerful predictor of college success because it indicates that students put in the effort. It’s not much of an indicator of what you know, as schools have offered such a wide variety of content in their courses. Couldn’t we replace the GPA with the HOW? Couldn’t a 3 or more indicate that you have built the necessary skills to be an independent learner? (more…)

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