Tag: competency education, competency-based learning

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Questions to Help Build Transparency

February 5, 2016 by

TransparencyThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 30, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Transparency is a key component of a learner-centered classroom. Being completely clear and open about what students are learning, what they have to do to show they have learned it, and where they are in their learning gives them the map and builds the capacity to direct their own learning.

These are questions I use to reflect on and build transparency of learning in a classroom:

  1. What learning targets are we working on?
  2. How does this task relate to the learning targets?
  3. How will I know when I have met this target?
  4. What comes next in my learning? Within the target or after the target?
  5. How does this learning connect to other learning?

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Red Bank Elementary School: Starting with the Pedagogy

February 4, 2016 by

2015-11-16 09.47.31This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the third in the series on Red Bank Elementary in Lexington School District. See the first on five big takeaways and the second on teaching students instead of standards

Throughout my visit to Red Bank, I had the opportunity to speak with educators. They were so very insightful that I did my best to capture the conversation in detail. Thanks to Marie Watson, principal; Jennifer Carnagey, literacy coach; Jamee Childs, technology specialist and instructional coach; Dawn Harden, assistant principal; and all the teachers, including Lauren Vann, Jennifer Denny, Susan Jennings, Sally Kathryn Deason, Tammy Ricard, and Jamie Sox.

How did you get started?

Principal Marie Watson explained that they used their summer retreats (they are voluntary) to begin to understand what is wrong with the traditional system. “You have to look at what is broken and own up to it. Teachers have to understand how the traditional system is impacting their teaching and their students. It becomes a felt need.”

The Red Bank team had book studies that used On Common Ground about professional learning communities, Larry Ainsworth’s work on formative common assessment, and Delivering the Promise. In a later conversation with teachers, they all agreed that Delivering on the Promise opened their eyes to what was possible.

“Once the majority of the teachers felt we needed to do something different, we organized training with Reinventing Schools Coalition,” continued Watson. “Teachers received training on the protocols and practices of designing a personalized classroom. Some teachers can take that and fly.” Others need more support and step-by-step instructions.

Jennifer Carnagey, literacy coach, explained that she was more hesitant, recounting her experience with, “It scared me at first. I’m not a risk taker. It felt like it was a huge ambiguous task, and I wanted to be told what to do. I kept thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, and I don’t know if I’m doing it right,’ so I would keep on doing things the old way so I wouldn’t mess up. I finally learned that I needed to identify a few places where I did feel ready to jump in.”

Since that time, Carnagey has grown a lot. “I’m proud of the things I’ve done and learned to do,” she said. “What I’ve learned is that when you begin to see the vision of what personalized, competency-based education is, it doesn’t mean that it has to be that way immediately.” Her recommendation to teachers is to “just try something.”

Assistant Principal Dawn Harden emphasized this point with, “Teachers need to understand it is a progression. It’s just like learning for kids is a progression.” (more…)

Red Bank Elementary School: Teaching Students, Not Standards

February 3, 2016 by

This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the second in the series on Red Bank Elementary in Lexington School District. See the first on five big takeaways.

Red Bank Elementary offers a great example of how districts can take a big step toward high quality competency education by allowing schools to move ahead when ready. It’s also an example that schools can go far down the path when districts don’t hold them back from innovating.

It says a lot about the leadership at Lexington School District that they have been supportive of Principal Marie Watson and the team at Red Bank as they took the enormous step five years ago to work with the Reinventing Schools Coalition to transform their school into a personalized, competency-based school. Susan Patrick and I had just completed the scan of competency education five years ago and hadn’t even started imagining CompetencyWorks at that time. It’s this kind of district leadership, to support innovation wherever it develops, that is needed to transform medium and large districts.

Red Bank Elementary is in the Lexington, South Carolina district a bit outside of Columbia. The school serves a socioeconomic mix of 580 students with about 56 percent FRL. The school has a bilingual Spanish Immersion program serving 30 percent of the students. Many of the families were hard hit by the flooding in the fall of 2015. Another thing you should know – South Carolina has its own set of standards, called the College and Career Ready standards, that have been described to me by one educator in my travels in the state as a “tweaked version of the Common Core.”

What’s Happening in Red Bank Classrooms

Red Bank is entirely organized around learning and leadership (leadership is a district initiative). It starts before you even walk in the door of the school with a sign for students coming in late: “Parents please check in at the office, learning has begun.”

The dominant feeling is of a quiet joy mixed with a good dose of respect, hope, and aspirations. There are lots of hugs, constant reminders of the qualities of leadership that everyone is aspiring to, and clear, clear, clear focus on learning. Staff are unified by a commitment to do better for kids and to intentionally improve their school based on a clear set of values and understanding of learning and teaching. After spending a few hours at Red Bank, I just wanted to do my personal best (it may have been the sign that says Everything you need is already inside you that gave me that lift).

Red Bank has taken many of the rituals of personalized learning that I’ve seen in other schools, mixed it with the The Leader in Me program, and then lifted it up into almost every aspect of the school. For example, two students, Hunter and Reilly, gave me a tour of the school, guiding me through hallways named Kindness Avenue, Creativity Lane, Perseverance Path, and Compassionate Way. Hunter and Reilly talked to me about what they like to study, when they like to do their work on a computer and when they like to work in a group, and how they get to make things, “really make things, like windmills” in STEM class. (more…)

Red Bank Elementary: Five Big Takeaways

February 2, 2016 by

2015-11-16 08.46.17This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the first in the series on Red Bank Elementary in Lexington School District.  

Amazing that a five-hour site visit at Red Bank Elementary School with Principal Marie Watson, her staff, and the students could produce so many big takeaways.

Teaching Students, Not Standards: At one point, Watson referred to the difference between standards-based and competency-based education. I asked her how she differentiated these two phrases, which are often used interchangeably. Her insight was so powerful that I’m now embracing it myself. She said that in standards-based systems, the schools teach based on the grade level. The focus is on the standards. Competency-based is about teaching students, starting where they are in their own development and academic level and then ensuring they reach proficiency on the standards. You start with the students. (This is the concept that most of the vendors of grading and tracking systems can’t seem to get their heads wrapped around. They keep creating systems based around the standards in a grade level or course.)

Intentional Blending: There is a lot of talk about models in the world of blended learning, but much less about pedagogy and how the instructional delivery choices reinforce it (or not). The team at Red Bank starts with pedagogy and building a shared understanding of how students learn as well as the implications for teaching before they make choices about products and apps. They think about whether products will support the development of higher order skills (they use the 4 Cs – creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking – as the criteria for making purchasing choices).

Competency Education for the Littlest Ones: Red Bank has one kindergarten class serving four-year-olds and one serving five-year-olds. Watson and the kindergarten teachers helped me to think about how important it is to understand the developmental stages of children and their brain development, especially when it is impacted by poverty. Watson explained, “Some students haven’t had exposure to colors or how to write their name. Some have rarely had books read to them. The idea of letters is totally new to them. It is their developmental stage that shapes whether they take off once they become exposed to new ideas and new skills, or whether they are going to take more time to build these early foundational skills. We have to pay attention to how their memory is developing as well as their motor skills. Some students may take three or four years to reach the level of development they need to become strong readers and learn their numbers with enough fluency that they can thrive in mathematics. We often see them take off and catch up at this point.”

This makes me wonder: Would it be useful to make the interplay between development and standards more explicit for teachers and parents so personalized learning trajectories could be created? If a student’s brain hasn’t developed enough to memorize 1-100, why would we expect them to do so? Wouldn’t it be more valuable to help them strengthen their skills at memorization first? Or perhaps what we need are bands or benchmarks rather than grade-level standards? (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

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Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMBelow is the latest news from across the field in K-12 competency education.

Student Agency

  • A new Harvard study exploring the influence of teaching on emotions, motivations, mindsets and behaviors suggests the development of agency may be as important an outcome of schooling as the skills we measure with standardized testing.
  • Teacher Angela Watson highlights six ways to support kids who don’t take ownership of their learning.
  • Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey created a continuum of voice and what it means for the learner, including three stages of personalized learning environments.

School Models

  • The Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS), an online charter school in New Hampshire, introduced a set of five pathways to guide students through multiple routes for demonstrating mastery of competencies: courses, projects, experience, college and teams.
  • RSU2 moves beyond grade-driven learning to teach students where they are in their zone of proximal development by designing for deep holes in learning.
  • Tom Rooney, Superintendent of California’s Lindsay Unified School District, presented on competency education and shared Lindsay’s story at FEE’s 2015 National Summit on Education Reform.

State Education Policy

  • The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents unveiled its policy goals for 2016 and called for a shift to personalized, competency-based education.
  • A Florida bill, if enacted, would establish a competency-based pilot program which would allow students in certain counties to advance to higher levels of learning after demonstrating mastery of a concept, instead of advancing based on seat time.

Thought Leadership

  • Founding editor of Education Week Ron Wolk wrote a piece arguing for the transformation toward personalized, competency-based education.
  • Bob Crumley, the 2016 Alaska Superintendent of the Year, wrote this leadership piece on advice for superintendents and leading a district.

Resources

  • A new study sought to understand how individual learning plans (ILPs) are operationalized in high schools, how ILPs are implemented and assessed, and the extent to which ILPs contribute to students’ college and career readiness.
  • The Center for Collaborative Education is launching the Massachusetts Personalized Learning Network, where CCE will partner with schools and districts throughout the state to place students at the center of their own education, creating personalized and engaging learning experiences for all students.
  • This resource highlights 10 expectations all students should have of their schools.
  • The Nellie Mae Education Foundation released a new report on understanding the landscape of technology for student-centered learning.
  • The Foundation for Excellence in Education created a new web resource on competency education.

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

January CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

February 1, 2016 by

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

Maine Road Trip Series

RSU2

Wells High School

University of Maine at Presque Isle

Northern Maine Education Collaborative

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Northern Maine Education Collaborative: High Aspirations

January 29, 2016 by

Northern Maine CollaborativeThis post is part of the Maine Road Trip series. 

While visiting with President Linda Schott and Provost Ray Rice at the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI), I learned about the Northern Maine Education Collaborative (NMEC), which was formed by seventeen districts to implement proficiency-based learning. Through its partnership with UMPI, NMEC is located downstairs from the President’s Office. Luckily, the stars were aligned and I had a chance to meet with David Ouellette, Director of the Central Aroostook Council on Education and the coordinator of NMEC.

Ouellette is a long-time educator in northern Maine, including having served as a principal. He described the community as “low income and high aspirations. We expect our kids to do well. They may leave to pursue education and jobs. However, we expect them to eventually come back here. This has been the foundation that has enabled us to be progressive in taking the initiative to improve education.”

Ouellette explained that the districts in Aroostook County are very interested in proficiency-based learning but have wanted to let the effort get grounded before they take substantial steps forward. He said, “We have learned that there can be a danger in getting too far out front. Previous efforts such as building new systems of assessments have died of their own weight.”

As he described the collaborative efforts of the seventeen districts in NMEC, it didn’t sound as if they were hanging back at all. In fact, because of the deep commitment to building the system together and with UMPI as a partner, what I was hearing was an intentional strategy that would ultimately create a relatively seamless, countywide proficiency-based system. The NMEC was formed because the districts knew that proficiency-based diplomas are a statewide policy and that there are cost-savings to be found if they coordinate their efforts. Lois Brewer, Assistant Superintendent, RSU 39 and Rae Bates, Curriculum Coordinator, RSU 29 are the co-chairs.

NMEC started by studying proficiency-based learning. They then began to make decisions together about instruction, habits of work, and information systems. Ouellette enthused, “It’s been quite an adventure. How lucky we are! These seventeen districts have come together in this time in history to create a system stretching from PreK-16. They have done some groundbreaking things by making countywide decisions.” For example, they are using the Art and Science of Teaching as a foundation for instruction and evaluation. The districts are all using iObservation to support evaluation and instructional improvement. They are adopting Habits of Mind as a strategy to support students in building the skills identified in Maine’s Guiding Principles. Finally, they are investing in the purchase of Empower (it’s the 2.0 version of the information management system Educate) to track student progress. They are working with the team that created Empower so they can build the local capacity to use its functionality and continue customizing it as needed. (more…)

Collecting a “Body of Evidence”

January 28, 2016 by

StudyThis is the second 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 entwined 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. 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.

The first article in this series, Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions, may be found here.

During our school’s transition to a competency-based educational system, our understanding of the importance of Work Study Practices has evolved significantly. One of the major shifts in our understanding has been relative to the importance of building a body of evidence specific to a child’s demonstration of Work Study Practices. During the initial stages of this transition, teachers may have only put one grade per marking period related to skills and dispositions. This began to change as teachers began to question why we wouldn’t be assessing work study practices on a more formative, ongoing basis as we did with our academic competencies. The resulting grade would be far less subjective than a “one-time” assessment at the end of the marking period.

Teachers also began to question how the resulting information was reported. Traditionally, it had not mattered that there was only one grade in a system because that was all that would be reported anyway. But now, with a body of evidence for each child, the information was averaging. We knew from our experience that this wasn’t a fair or accurate indicator of reporting either. We had moved away from “averaging” as part of our transition to a competency-based system. We knew that the most recent, consistent data was most relevant. It gave us information on where a student was on that DAY, not a compilation of the data over the course of six, ten, or even twelve weeks. This resulted in our district turning on the “trend-line” to report Work Study Practices, as we were doing for our academic competencies.

Building a body of evidence for our students’ CARES (Work Study Practices) has allowed us to truly follow a child’s growth, help them progress in specific areas, and provide the child and his/her parents with relevant and timely information related to where he/she currently is in his/her progression.

The insight of two of our teachers below describes their growth in understanding as we began the shift to a competency-based educational system. Their reflections within this particular article are specific to their developing understanding of the importance of Work Study Practices within their classrooms, and how the assessment of Work Study Practices is no longer considered just once at the end of a marking period. This change in mindset has proven to have an impact on not only how we assess WSP, but how integral it is to the learning process itself. (more…)

University of Maine at Presque Isle: Eliminating Remediation

January 27, 2016 by
UMPI President Linda Schott

UMPI President Linda Schott

This post is part of the Maine Road Trip series. This is the last in a three-part series on the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Read the first overview here and the second post on a faculty perspective.

One of the most fascinating discussions that was woven throughout my day at the University of Maine at Presque Isle was about the potential (and issues) of deeper alignment with high schools.

Linda Schott, President of UMPI, pointed out that creating the opportunity for students to build college credit while in high school is very important for their students. “Seventy percent of our students are eligible for PELL. High school students earning college credits are saving a huge amount of money, as the cost to them is $15 per credit instead of $220. For many who are going to be the first in their families to go to college, they are learning that they can do college level work. Dual enrollment helps students financially, can speed up the time to degree completion, and of course we hope that they will want to come to UMPI.”

Ray Rice, Provost, described the changes to dual enrollment in a proficiency-based system with, “We have always organized a little bit of early college and dual enrollment with a few of the districts in the county. With the introduction of proficiency-based learning at UMPI, we are retooling the process to meet the expectations of high quality pedagogy and transparent learning objectives, with the high school teachers becoming adjunct professors. UMPI faculty review the syllabus and the summative assessments as well as norming the rubrics in a process to calibrate at a college level.”

According to Rice, UMPI faculty are learning from high school teachers about practices used in proficiency-based learning and vice versa. In addition, the dual enrollment coordinator is now playing a catalytic role in helping to build up a set of proficiency-based dual enrollment courses. Of the sixteen high schools in the county, UMPI is currently working with five of them. (more…)

iNACOL Submits Recommendations to ED In Open Comment Period for ESSA Request for Information

January 26, 2016 by

Image from Wikipedia Commons

This post originally appeared at iNACOL on January 22, 2106.

ESSA’s Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority pilot program represents a significant opportunity for states to design student-centered education systems that improve equity by personalizing education for all students. We hope the Department considers these recommendations as it designs a pilot program that encourages innovation and quality implementation.

In recent years, we have witnessed an increasing number of states interested in the development of new, student-centered systems of assessments designed to support competency-based learning. But despite their potential to produce meaningful, real-time feedback on student learning, federal assessment requirements have made it challenging for states to design and implement new approaches to academic assessment.

Fortunately, the newly-enacted ESSA law includes a number of key provisions to help states interested in building next generation assessment systems. These provisions include a new Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority and provisions that will permit states to design assessment systems that incorporate individual student growth, use multiple measures of student learning from multiple points in time to determine summative scores, and use adaptive assessments that can measure students where they are in their learning. These improvements will help states design more useful assessments that guide improvements in teaching and learning to ensure all students master the academic knowledge, skills, and competencies necessary for success in college and career.

While we strongly support all of these improvements to the law, the following recommendations address clarifications of intent within the Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority authorized in Sec. 1204 of ESSA. We provide details for these recommendations below in the formal comment letter to ED.

Recommendations include: (more…)

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