Tag: competency education, competency-based learning

May 2017 CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

June 1, 2017 by

Getting Closer to the Future of Teacher Learning

May 31, 2017 by

This post and all graphics originally appeared at 2Revolutions on May 12, 2017.

As I discussed in my earlier piece on the future of teacher learning, there is the need to transform what and how teachers learn in school districts, charter management organizations (CMOs), and state systems. While I’m confident from our experiences at 2Rev that there are no cookbook recipes to doing this — since every context, community, and culture is unique and the needs of the adult learners are vast and varied — I’m also confident that people need support to help them move in the right direction. In this post, I share some strategies and tools that have helped us move teacher learning with our partners.

#1 – Design Principles for Adult Learning

Our design principles that we use to drive our adult learning experiences at 2Rev.

Over the past several years, our team has been refining our approach to designing personalized, job-embedded, learner-driven learning experiences that support and coach educators as they transition to future-oriented learning models. Much of our work with adults stems from our growing understanding of andragogy and deeply held beliefs in the importance of mindset as a gateway to transformed learning — why should we ask professional educators to spend time doing something that feels irrelevant to their craft, tangential, and/or is just plain boring or uninspiring?

With that in mind, we created a set of design principles as guideposts for how we think about and plan for adult learning experiences. These principles (right) guide us and serve as a screen for creating an optimal learning experience.

Can you create your own design principles for adult learning? How do these principles align to the principles you consider necessary for high-quality student learning to occur? (more…)

When Reinventing Schools, Don’t Relegate Relationships

May 29, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on May 12, 2017.

In an effort to modernize school systems, communities around the country are beginning to revisit what graduating high school should really mean. Some are doing so by creating an ideal “profile of a graduate,” articulating the range of skills and habits a successful high school graduate ought to possess. The organization EdLeader21 has begun to curate a gallery of emerging profiles from around the country and provide tools to school systems hoping to create their own. A great synthesis of these initiatives lives on its new site, Profile of a Graduate. If you haven’t already, it’s worth a look.

These new visions mark a promising first step to updating our century-old school system. Innovations grow along the metrics by which we hold them to account. And the emergence of multi-dimensional graduate profiles hint that schools are evolving beyond using average test scores as the sole metric guiding K–12 school reform. But skimming through these new and expanded definitions of success had me at once excited and worried. Amidst a number of bold metrics that profiles depict, a crucial ingredient remains missing from most emerging profiles of what makes for a successful graduate: his network.

A student’s network—both his access to strong- and weak-tie relationships and his ability to mobilize those relationships—can drive his access to opportunity in postsecondary and beyond. Indeed, an estimated 50 percent of jobs come through personal connections. Not to mention, access to networks has been shown to shape everything from health outcomes to investment prospects over the course of adults’ lives. In the shorter term, access to formal and informal mentors can have real impact on students’ engagement in school and success in postsecondary pursuits.

These assets are particularly crucial for schools worried about equitable outcomes among their graduates: like the skills gaps plaguing our education system, there are likewise network gaps. Given external forces like increasing residential segregation and disparate enrichment spending, much as some students’ find themselves on the wrong side of stubborn achievement gaps, many find themselves on the wrong side of mentor gaps as well. (more…)

The Future of Teacher Learning

May 26, 2017 by

This post first appeared at 2Revolutions on May 2, 2017.

“We should seek to be fellow students with the pupil, and should learn of, as well as with him, if we would be most helpful to him.”

– Henry David Thoreau

In all of our engagement at 2Rev, we work to create authentic, personalized learning experiences for educators that model the approach we seek for kids. This photo is from a recent design kick-off with the Bush Foundation in Minnesota. Read more about that work here. (From the 2Rev website.)

How do you learn? It’s a simple question…and yet, you have to think about it. Turn it over in your mind. It’s something I think about a lot. Rather than Calculus, or Shakespeare, or the effects of the American Civil War, consider cooking, or skiing, or teaching your five-year old daughter to ride a bike. How did you learn to do or teach those things? Did you watch others? Talk to an expert? Watch online videos incessantly or read articles and books? Did you listen to a lecture, or two or three? Try and try again? A combination of all or none? How you did it speaks to some important components of the learning process: motivation, learning style, and assessment, to understand how you know you’ve reached mastery of that stage of learning.

In schools and districts around the country, far too often we talk around rather than about this issue of how we, as humans, learn. It is amazing to me, the chasm between this question, which feels central to everything, and how we teach. This is the learning profession, right? The science and psychology of cognition can do a great deal to inform how we teach.

Over the past few years within our practice, how teachers learn has become a much more central focus in how we work. At 2Rev, our focus is building the knowledge and skills of educators – teachers and leaders – to transform student learning. In order to get there, though, our work passes squarely through their willingness and readiness as learners. I’d go even further to say that it is these dispositions of willingness and readiness to learn that drive how we approach creating the learning experience — grounding the work in what is relevant to them in their practice and meeting them where they are from a knowledge and skills perspective. We work hard to create a process of learning that models the destination; whether the focus is personalized, competency-based, or deeper learning. For example, if the content is performance assessments, educators should understand the concept and how to develop, score, and calibrate; but they should also have the experience of completing complex performance tasks as part of their learning experience. Mental models shift when we experience the content as part of the process.

As Ron Ritchhart, a researcher at Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero says, “For classrooms to be cultures of thinking for students, schools must be cultures of thinking for teachers.” In order for educators to embody and facilitate new learning experiences, they must experience those for themselves and buy into their effectiveness and power. In Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, authors Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel do a thorough walkthrough of the empirical research on how people learn, throwing many assumptions and ideas you hear passed around like folklore out the window. One quote that rang particularly true for us as we think about the experiences educators need to create and what they need to know to be able to do it. The authors write, mastery requires “both the possession of ready knowledge and the conceptual understanding of how to use it,” so how do we rethink teacher training to help them with both? (more…)

Beware of AnythingGoes-Ness and Bandwagonitis

May 25, 2017 by

It’s very clear to me that we, the field of competency education, are at a turning point in many ways. First, we have reached a place where there are lots of different organizations with enough knowledge about competency education that we are seeing very valuable reports and articles with important insights. (Just in the past week, three reports/articles were released that are worth taking the time to read, as they give a sense of some of the expansion and challenges: Competency-Based Education: Staying Shallow or Going Deep?; Policy, Pilots and the Path to Competency-Based Education: A National Landscape; and Why There’s Little Consistency in Defining Competency-Based Education.) There are other organizations – other than CompetencyWorks, that is – that are identifying and lifting up new innovators and new practices. We’ve worked hard over the past five years to support organizations and our colleagues so that whatever knowledge we were building was being transferred and embedded into other organizations. And I can really feel that it is paying off because I’m finding that I need to put time aside now to read, not just skim, many of the things being published because they are enhancing my understanding.

Second, the field is expanding at a steady pace, and with that comes a variety of new challenges. For a while, competency education was under the radar. The folks who knew about it were all leaders who had come to the same conclusion that we weren’t going to move forward if we were handcuffed to the ranking and sorting of the traditional system. Then there was growing attention as states began to introduce the idea in their innovation zones and to take the concept of college and career readiness a step further with the idea that credits and diplomas actually had to have meaning (i.e., proficiency-based diplomas). However, we are now nearing what I used to call the “fad” stage when I was a foundation program officer: People are hearing about competency education from different organizations and feel that they may want, should, or need to get on the bandwagon. In some ways, of course, this is great news but it also carries a number of new problems: (more…)

National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education Recommended Reading

May 24, 2017 by

We are now in high gear to get ready for the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. I continue to be both amazed and grateful for the collaborative spirit of the competency education field. I wanted to share with you the incredible list of resources that the Summit participants have suggested as the best reading and resources in the field right now. A bunch of them are new to me – so I better get reading!

Online Resources for Competency Education

Introducing Personalized, Competency Education

Case Studies



Lessons from a Social Studies Teacher: Work Study Practices Matter in a Competency-Based High School

May 22, 2017 by

Competency-based schools work to separate the reporting of academic performance and behavior into separate categories as a part of their effort to move from compliance to competency. For many teachers and students, this is a very difficult transition. What we all recognize is that behaviors that lead to learning are still important and can not simply vanish from the school entirely. Instead we need to continue to address them and instruct them so our students are competent academically and possess well-developed employable skills. There are many names for these types of skills; our district uses Work Study Practices, developed by the state, and is working to improve how we instruct and assess them in our schools. It is a work in progress but essential to student success at all levels.

Lesson #1: All students at all levels benefit from instruction in work study practices.

Nothing drives me more crazy than when teachers talk about how students should already know how to do things, and this type of conversation happens a lot when talking about work study practices. We wouldn’t assess students on academic material we haven’t taught them, but teachers do that with work study practices. Teachers expect students to be mindreaders and know what they are looking for in terms of creativity, collaboration, self-direction, and communication even though it may look different with any given assignment. The simple truth of the matter is that students need developmentally appropriate instruction in order to understand the expectations for collaboration on a group project so that they can work to meet them, just like they need to know how communication might be different on a digital assignment versus an oral task. Just like with academic competencies, they need a target so they can navigate their path to success.

Lesson #2: Reflection is an important key to success for students who are practicing work study practices.

Providing students with the opportunity to reflect on work study practices is the key to them internalizing them and applying what they have learned outside of the classroom. Students have the opportunity to identify how their behaviors have impacted their success on a given task: are they contributing to or detracting from the results? I have found that asking students to write about how they have demonstrated one or more of the practices by providing examples of positive behaviors has led to increased success, and it doesn’t take very long to see changes. Another important factor when talking about collaboration is to allow for student groups to reflect together on what they are doing well and what they can improve on the next time they are together. Reflection may look different depending on the age of the students in class, but it needs to be present so students can take ownership of their progress and internalize the experience for future tasks, whether they are in school or in the workplace. (more…)

Thank You TAGs! We Couldn’t Have Done It Without You

May 19, 2017 by

We are busy putting the finishing touches on the four papers for the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. Each of the papers is incredibly rich (and each probably deserving of a book). The topics – equity, quality, policy, and meeting students where they are – are all huge issues that, if we can’t get some significant traction on, could cause trouble for us in the future.

We knew that we needed to tap into as much brain power and knowledge out there in order to really move the ideas forward. In order to prepare the papers we tried a new idea – Technical Advisory Groups or TAGs – that essentially crowd-sourced ideas.

We are so grateful to the people who participated in the TAGs. It was hard work and took time. Some folks would keep working right into the weekend. It was amazing how generous you all were – and I know I personally learned so much from you (and still processing some of the ideas).

Thanks, thanks and more thanks to…

Denise Tobin Airola, Amy Allen, Sharyl Allen, Thomas Arnett, Elliott Asp, Lexi Barrett, Mary Bellavance, Jan Bermingham, Elaine Berry, Michelle Bishop, Mandi Bozarth, Kelly Brady, Betsy Brand, Colleen Broderick, Michael Burde, Harvey Chism, Rose Colby, David Cook, Carisa Corrow, Wesley Daniels, Randy DeHoff, Emily Dustin, John Duval, Karla Esparza-Phillips, Theresa Ewald, Daniela Fairchild, Dawn Ferreyra, Julia Freeland Fisher, Pat Fitzsimmons, Amy Fowler, Dan French, Dale Frost, Cynthia Freyberger, Thomas Gaffey, Laurie Gagnon, Liz Glowa, Jim Goodell, Brittany Griffin, Jill Gurtner, Renee Hill, Anne Hyslop, Thomas (T.J.) Jumper, Ian Kearns, Kristen Kelly, Michael Klein, Jeremy Kraushar, Tim Kubik, Christine Landwehrle, Susan Lanz, Steve Lavoie, Paul Leather, Diana Lebeaux, Bethany Little, Scott Marion, Kathleen McClaskey, Christine McMillen, Caroline Messenger, Gretchen Morgan, Mark Muenchau, Nikolaus Namba, Joy Nolan, Ellen Owens, Lillian Pace, Susan Pecinovsky, Shawn Parkhurst, Alfonso Paz, Ace Parsi, Alexandra Pritchett, Jeff Renard, Patrick Riccards, David Ruff, Blair Rush, Bror Saxberg, Aubrey Scheopner Torres, Aaryn Schmuhl, Matt Shea, Don Siviski, Bob Sornson, Karen Soule, Andresse St. Rose, Dale Skoreyko, Katherine Smith, Andrea Stewart, Circe Stumbo, Vincent Thur, Barbara Treacy, Jonathan Vander Els, Brenda Vogds, Glenda Weber, Karen White, Mike Wolking, Jennifer Wolfe, Margery Yeager, Stacy Young, Bill Zima

Why Engaging Parents Matters: Maloney High School

May 17, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Students at the Center Hub on March 22, 2017.


Francis T. Maloney High School in Meriden, Connecticut, held its first “Parent Walk” earlier this year, inviting parents and guardians to experience student-centered learning in action. Maloney had been hosting successful quarterly instructional and community learning walks, during which community members such as Meriden’s mayor got first-hand views of classrooms and students fully engaged in lessons. These walks helped to demystify the ideas behind student-centered learning by showcasing the academic and social benefits of student-centered approaches. Witnessing the impact and benefits of these instructional tours, leadership and staff at Maloney introduced the Walk to parents to ensure that families of students at the school can experience and fully support a learning environment that may not look like the one they experienced when they were in high school.

Lynette Valentine, a parent of Kaitlyn, a 9th grader, provides an example of the power of Parent Walks. She participated in the recent walk at Maloney, and was moved to write a letter of appreciation about her experience. The following is an excerpt from her letter to the principal of Maloney, Mrs. Straub, and one of the teachers, Mrs. Showerda.

“The first thing I noticed was the bright atmosphere–students were moving and alert–the classrooms were not lined up with seating, front to back in alphabetical order, like traditional classrooms. I could clearly see that Maloney’s learning structure involved both social and academic supports. Classes were engaging–students were able to work in groups and lean on each other, instead of having the teacher as the main resource. To me, this is perfect for socialization and helps students to be ready to enter the workforce­–figuring things out with a team is important! … When Maloney’s B.Y.O.D. (Bring Your Own Device) initiative first came out, I was at first skeptical but it is obvious that it truly works. What a way to engage students to learn! I witnessed teachers helping students interested in pursuing a direction they felt strongly about (e.g., an entrepreneurial experience for a business student). I wish I had the same opportunities when I was a student.”

Read Lynette Valentine’s full letter


What’s the Difference Between Blended and Personalized Learning?

May 15, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on April 25, 2017. 

Earlier this month, after two exhilarating and exhausting days at the Blended and Personalized Learning Conference in Providence, R.I., (which we cohosted with our partners at Highlander Institute and The Learning Accelerator), I boarded an evening flight back to D.C. Just after takeoff, a school principal from Virginia seated in the row just ahead of me poked his head through the seat to ask:

“So, what’s the difference between blended and personalized learning?”

First off, I want to say kudos to this school leader, who had also attended the conference. Over 48 hours of sharing practices, research, and challenges had me running on fumes. But he was tireless and eager to push the conversation forward.

Second, this moment felt distinctly like a healthy dose of karma given the title we had used for the conference. Not wanting to box ourselves too narrowly into one approach or model, we had taken the route of dubbing the conference theme “blended and personalized learning.” That phrase has become so common in the education lexicon that it’s almost like a single, deeply unfortunate compound noun—blendedandpersonalizedlearning. It’s a mouthful. Not to mention, it hardly lends itself to a pithy hashtag.

I particularly don’t recommend overusing the phrase because collapsing these two terms—blended and personalized—risks diluting the clarity of each and confusing the leaders and educators expected to do the hard work of educating real students in real schools.

So here’s the gist of what I discussed with that school principal, and how we at the Christensen Institute try to make a clear distinction between these related but distinct terms.

Blended learning is a modality of instruction. As we at the Christensen Institute define it, blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns: (more…)

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