Tag: competency education, competency-based learning

The Teacher Association Perspective on Performance-Based Learning

March 27, 2017 by

Heather O’Brien

This article is the fourteenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Heather O’Brien started at D51 as a student and has now entered her second year as President of Mesa Valley Education Association. She is aware of the demands of supporting MVEA in making the shift from a traditional union to professional association within a district going through a tremendous transformation. She is also humbled by these demands.

O’Brien explained that the educators at D51 value their professionalism and want to further expand upon it. “We use the language of association, not union,” she said. “We want to shift into a professional association. We don’t serve customers the same way other labor unions do. We have relationships with students and their families. Our focus and the focus of district leadership is on student success, not a bottom line of profit.” She explained that when educators think of themselves as teacher leaders, an association will provide more opportunity. She noted that the Colorado Education Association is also making this shift to a professional association.

On top of that, all 1,325 teachers in the district are beginning to learn about a new educational paradigm. “The most exciting part is that both P-BL and the changes at MVEA are about empowering teachers,” O’Brien said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for our educators.”

She herself is very enthusiastic about this shift to performance-based learning. “This is a pedagogy and a philosophy I’ve been trying to create in my own classroom for the last ten years,” she said. “Performance-based learning is right for kids and it’s right for teachers. But you can’t do it alone. You have to have the full system, the gradebooks, and a collaborative effort among teachers. P-BL is what I’ve been searching for as a teacher.” At the same time, she’s also cautious about how others are approaching the change. “I’m a phoenix. I need change. I like to go in totally new directions. But other people don’t. So I need to pay attention to how other people are experiencing the process of introducing P-BL. I need to always be open to authentic concerns.” (more…)

The Power of Grades

March 24, 2017 by

GradesThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on December 19, 2016. 

There are few fields where talk of equity is as ubiquitous as it is in education. For all of that, our system of education remains remarkable for its ability to continually reproduce inequitable outcomes along race, class, and gender lines. Up to now, efforts to foster equity in education can be grouped into two broad categories: reforms focused on the input of resources, or those focused on the output of achievement. While debates drag on around the input of funding and output of standardized test scores, what is focused on far less often is what happens inside the system.

Traditional grading deserves its own debate. Every day students interact with a structure of feedback that places their learning on an alphanumeric scale. At best, this feedback system is non-descriptive; at worst, it is one of the most fundamental pieces of a system that was designed to produce stratification. By its very nature, traditional alphanumeric grading aims to separate “strong” and “weak” students. Final grades are made up of an average of any number of learning tasks, attendance requirements, homework completion, and demonstration of learning on assessments. While each of these tasks may well have discrete and useful feedback, all of that information is aggregated into a non-descript label: A, B, C, D, F or 1-100. A grade of B can mean many things even within a single classroom, and so can an F. This lack of clarity grows exponentially between classrooms and more still between schools. While in some classes students are given A’s as a reward for sitting quietly, other classes demand that learning take place, and most demand a unique blend of both, none of this information is explicit in the end-of-course grade. Traditional grading fails to communicate to students what they know and don’t know, while conveying a false sense of objectivity provided by the use of numbers or letters to calibrate student performance.

Rather than providing accurate and complete feedback, grades label students as “good” or “bad” students. While every teacher knows the benefit of momentum — that knowledge builds on knowledge, and success builds on success — traditional grades halt this momentum, declaring learning on a certain task over, signaling the end of what is actually an iterative process. Imagine a student who has studied lots, worked hard, and is waiting eagerly for feedback on her most recent assessment. And then imagine she was wrong; she was unprepared (or the task was unclear, or the grading biased), and she receives a D. Her face falls; she is discouraged, maybe she folds into herself, maybe she withdraws from trying so hard again. This single label has changed her. When a child receives a low or failing grade, she internalizes the message that she is a failure, that she cannot learn. Students who experience repetitive failure are less likely to re-engage with material and eventually come to think of themselves as bad students who don’t deserve to do well. In this way, traditional grading and assessments can be traumatizing for struggling students, creating a learning identity that becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. (more…)

R5 High School: Abuzz with Learning

March 23, 2017 by

This article is the thirteenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

One of the reasons I believe D51 is going to be successful in implementing performance-based learning is that they already have a 100 percent strategy in place, with four alternative schools designed to make sure that every student, even those who left school and want to re-enroll, have options. It means they are putting resources toward serving 100 percent of the students. Even more so, they have demonstrated that all learners are valuable by co-locating two of the alternative schools, Summit and R5, in a brand new building (many district-run alternative schools I’ve visited have been in portable classrooms, old buildings, and very dingy basements).

D51 has thought strategically about the mix of high school programming that is needed. In addition to the four comprehensive high schools, there is Summit (a transitional program for students who do best with more support and structure); Valley High School (a small school model); the Career Center; and R5, an early stage performance-based high school designed for students who need flexibility and opportunity to advance more quickly than traditional course-based schedules will allow. R5 High School, which is based on Respect, Responsibility, Relevancy, Readiness, and Relationships, is the only high school of the seven demonstration schools in District 51.

Observation and Inquiry: Is having strong, comprehensive multiple pathways to graduation that ensure students can take a “leave of absence” and return to school at a later date to complete their diploma an indicator that districts are committed to helping all students reach proficiency? Will those districts that have expanded alternative schools to be better able to reach out and, when needed, re-engage 100 percent of their students (as opposed to maintaining a one-way door out of school) be better positioned to implement strong, continuous improvement efforts? Should we create formal leave of absence policies so that there are triggers about what this will mean regarding when students might graduate?

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New Zealand Leads the Way on Competency-Based Learning — Part 2

March 22, 2017 by

New Zealand 2This post originally appeared at iNACOL on January 11, 2017. Read Part 1 here

In 2016, I was invited as an Eisenhower Fellow to the 2016 Colloquium on Competency-Based Learning and Assessment (CBLA) in New Zealand. This Colloquium explored competency-based learning and assessment systems and their impact on equity. Attendees built consensus and exchanged ideas on global education systems transformation and educational innovation for equity.

In part one of this series, I highlighted New Zealand’s educational research underpinnings, their move toward equity, how their cultural roots play a role and how a standards-based system is probably best suited to assessment for learning in real time.

Here are other takeaways from various leading New Zealand experts and thought leaders in CBLA and teacher judgment.

(K)new Approaches to Teaching and Learning

  • Mastery is levels of competency demonstrated over time.
  •  Teaching and learning focus:
    • Whanaungatanga (attaining and maintaining relationships) as a concept is a customary Māori practice enabling kin to strengthen relationships and ties between one another and entrench responsibilities as whānau (family). This is about building relationships for teaching and learning.
    • Ako – learner agency in teaching and learning practices;
    • Aro – reflective practices (including assessment, reflection and review).
  • Recognizing cultural differences in approaches to philosophy and backgrounds is important.
  • Activities for reflection include formative assessment and capturing evidence in an authentic way.
  • When we think about setting standards, we think about this is in a Māori.
  • Progressions and proficiency have evidence and judgment statements with the standards-setting bodies related to qualifications.

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Performance-Based Learning in a Dual Immersion School

March 20, 2017 by

DIA1This article is the twelfth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

The Dual Immersion Academy (DIA) is not one of D51’s performance-based learning demonstration schools – it’s one of the schools that is going forward and building the effective practices because it simply can’t wait. Bil Pfaffendorf, a professional learning facilitator, and I made a quick stop to learn about how the efforts in building the effective practices were going. I am so glad I did, as I realized that the deep conversations about teaching and learning are rippling throughout the district – not just in the demonstration schools.

Principal Monica Heptner outlined the structure of the school: Of the 285 students K-5 that DIA serves, approximately 50 percent are English Language Learners and the other half are there to learn Spanish. Language is an intentional set of skills developed at DIA, with students building their skills in both languages. There are two language progressions, and students are tracked on both. Students come to school with different levels of familiarity with each of the languages. Students receive literacy in both languages, with math and reading in English and science and social sciences in Spanish.

Heptner provided examples of their progress in incorporating the effective practices, some of which had been previously used in the school to some degree: (more…)

Friday Focus: Cultivating Peer-to-Peer Feedback

March 17, 2017 by

NGLCThis post is adapted from the Next Generation Learning Challenges’ Friday Focus from February 3, 2017.

In this week’s Friday Focus, we discuss ways to help students and adults alike develop and strengthen their peer-to-peer feedback chops, an important and necessary skill for all learners.

Theories about Feedback

“Helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent,” writes Grant Wiggins in Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. Giving and receiving quality feedback requires that we listen carefully, observe, and reflect, and then synthesize and frame our thoughts and critiques in a way the recipient can hear and be able to use. In our NGLC grantee schools where feedback is an essential component to the learning experience, we see an emphasis on building strong relationships in which learners trust each other and know that feedback is being given in their best interest. We also see a focus on having a growth mindset, in which the person receiving the feedback understands it’s a necessary part to learning.

Sometimes, in schools, feedback can be provided by a critical friend, “someone who is encouraging and supportive, but who also provides honest and often candid feedback that may be uncomfortable or difficult to hear,” as defined by The Glossary of Education Reform.

An Evidence Base for Feedback

When trained in protocols, practiced, and emphasized, peer feedback at the student-peer level and the educator or colleague-peer level, within and outside of school settings, has been shown to have an impact on performance, community, culture, learning, and more. Explore the research below to learn more about feedback’s impact and how feedback is being implemented in the learning process:

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Lincoln Orchard Mesa: What Did You Notice?

March 16, 2017 by

LOM1This article is the eleventh in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

What I noticed at Lincoln Orchard Mesa (Lincoln) is that every teacher in every classroom I visited would at some point or another engage a student with the question, What did you notice?

What did you notice about the drawing of the sheep in the book? What did you notice about differences in the charts on how we are doing learning words? What do you notice about the words in the sentence? The constant reflection is aimed at building meta-cognition, one of the Habits of Mind needed to become a self-directed learner. The question wobbles right next to its shadow question, What weren’t you noticing? When prompted, frequently reflecting on what you are noticing (or not) soon helps you become very intentional about where you are directing your attention.

Background

Leia Kraeuter

Lincoln, serving 380 students in the mixed income neighborhood of Orchard Mesa, is one of the seven demonstration schools in D51. It’s a “title school” with over 50 percent of the students on Free and Reduced Lunch. As Principal Leia Kraeuter escorted us from one classroom to another, she would point out the strategies being explored by different teachers: This teacher is experimenting with flexible seating. This teacher has co-created an expectation rubric with students to guide their behavior, such as what it means to be on task.

As in all the demonstration schools, teachers are learning the effective practices needed for personalized, performance-based learning to take root: a classroom that includes culture, transparency, and a learner-centered environment. Personalized learning has a variety of meanings, ranging from online learning and differentiated instruction and support to engaging students by increasing relevance and student agency. At D51, their vision for a personalized, performance-based system starts with organizing the learning environment to help students build the skills they need to take ownership of their learning. Transparency is one of the keys to unlocking student agency. (more…)

Training Teachers for Competency-Based Learning Classrooms

March 15, 2017 by
sajan-george

Sajan George

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on October 21, 2016. 

While competency-based learning is not new to the education industry, there are still challenges in implementation. The biggest impediment to launching such a model is not the technology, content, or standards mapping—it is in how we train our teachers. To effectively deliver competency-based learning strategies in our schools, we also need a strategy on how to best teach the teachers those particular strategies.

At Matchbook Learning, a national non-profit charter management operator, we have continually revised and refined our professional development training for teachers at three levels: the charter schools we operate in Newark and Detroit, the schools we’ve partnered with, and the schools we will be indirectly partnering with through “Spark,” our virtual competency-based learning platform. In our explorations, we have learned that training teachers on competency-based models requires three design principles:

1.  Design for Form (Not Just Function)

The form training takes is as important as its function. When teachers receive this training, it should be experienced in a competency-based manner. From the outset, this requires identifying the core competencies for every core position in your organization (i.e. teachers, deans, principals, operations, etc.).

We have identified seven macro competencies or domains that every person in our organization should master, modeled after the national criteria used by organizations across the country in search of world-class distinction. Whether you use Baldridge or some other industry analog, competency development must be mapped against pathways with multiple entry and exit points. If you are explaining your training in whole group seminars or singular pathways, you are NOT delivering the training in a competency-based way.  Competency-based training must happen in both form and function. The medium is the message.

For our work, we anchor the start of our journey in the seven core criteria of the Baldrige excellence process below:

NGLC1

(more…)

Transparency and Trust

March 14, 2017 by

Transparency1

This article is the tenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Opportunity to Learn

Like most districts, transparency hasn’t been a strong point at D51 in the past. Thus, with transparency being a core value of performance-based education, there are trust issues that will have to be worked through. D51 knows it is important to provide teachers with the chance to understand and learn how to use the T&L Framework and effective practices. Any tools being developed are being designed to support growth – not evaluation. Rebecca Midles, Director of Performance-Based Learning (P-BL), noted that, “We are moving step by step and need to constantly communicate about our timelines and sequencing. Understandably, educators are wondering how the performance-based system will impact them. We are trying to be very clear about whether something is going to be evaluative or not. Eventually the T&L Framework will help us create the foundation for strengthening our human resource processes. But only when we are ready and only after teachers have had the opportunity to learn.” Opportunity to learn standards: an important piece of competency-based education for students and adults.

Preparing for Angst

Bil Pfaffendorf, a professional learning facilitator, mentioned the double edges of transparency. “The sense of trust is changing in D51,” he said. “There is more dialogue, people are sharing their opinions, and they are starting to feel confident that those at the district level are listening. We are all trying to be transparent, which is difficult in the midst of so much change. Transparency is important in building trust. It can also lead to anxiety. If teachers understand the expectations but don’t have the skills yet to do it, anxiety and angst are totally understandable feelings. So we are thinking about the the social and emotional learning of our teachers as we design the labs.”

Angst and anxiety came up several times during my visit. In a discussion, one teacher emphasized, “The level of professional engagement of our teachers is very high. Some are anxious because they recognize they have a lot to learn. Some may even be in cognitive overload as they wrap their heads around what it means to personalize their classrooms. Their can-do attitude is a beacon. It’s inspirational.”

Midles explained to me later that when educators start to feel anxious, it is often for one of two reasons. First, they may feel the expectations of their job are changing or they may not have the skills to excel. Thus, the trust-building response needs to be an assurance that there will be supports provided and that adults will not be evaluated until expectations are clear and they have had an opportunity to learn. Please note, this is the same principle used for students.

Second, anxiety and angst may build up when teachers feel out of control or that new expectations of compliance and control are being layered on top of their jobs. Midles referred to the Csikszentmihalyi model of flow in thinking about the mix of challenge and ability to strengthen educators’ and students’ relationships to learning. A middle school teacher, Darren Cook, explained to me that teachers have endured at least a decade of sweeping new reforms only to be replaced by the newest sweeping reform. With the introduction of the state-teacher evaluation policies that are not rooted in the culture or strategies of the district or their schools, teachers have become even more suspicious of changes. The trust-building response here is to make sure that teachers understand that as the district creates a more intentional common Teaching and Learning Framework, teachers will actually have more autonomy and opportunity for creativity in the strategies and learning experiences they use to help students learn. The other response is to offer opportunity to learn about performance-based learning not through memo or lecture, but through engaged reflective learning as well as opportunity to participate in creating the new system. (more…)

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