Tag: curriculum and instruction

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

Accountability

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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…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Including Multiple Readiness Levels

May 12, 2017 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on April 28, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

As we enter into the last few months of the school year, many of us are starting to turn an eye towards next year. It is a great time to think about the learning experiences we’ve put together for our learners, and how to grow them to be even more learner centered. One place to go is thinking about expanding learning opportunities to include targets at multiple readiness levels rather than only centering on one or two. We can describe this as having multiple access points. Some contents and measurement topics lend themselves more easily to this flexibility, while others take a little more thinking.

Last year I wrote two posts that can be helpful to review:

3/10/16   Increasing Engagement: Connecting Learning Targets
4/12/16   Thinking in Measurement Topics, Not Targets

Expanding our unit, or project, or applied learning, plans to include a range of access points allows for a more diverse and rich learning environment. When learners at different readiness levels have the opportunity to interact with one another in meaningful ways some wonderful things happen. Learners get to hear, see, and think about different ideas and strategies they may not have thought of or tried before. The culture becomes much more inclusive and learners practice essential collaboration skills. Learning pathways are opened up, and much more flexible, allowing learners to move through the targets more freely. So how could this look? (more…)

Lessons from a Social Studies Teacher: The Power of Interdisciplinary Work in a Competency-Based School

May 4, 2017 by

Interdisciplinary projects in a high school provide students with amazing opportunities to learn and grow. Though they can be incredibly valuable experiences, many teachers may face some pretty significant challenges depending on the structure of your school. So I will preface my observations by saying: We can do this in our school because it is valued by the administrators who have helped put people together who believe in it and created a schedule with the flexibility we need to make it work. Similarly, our school has developed small learning communities of teachers in different content areas who share the same students, thereby making interdisciplinary work possible. Finally, our schedule allows for teachers who share students to have common planning time to develop and implement interdisciplinary assignments and common assessments during the year. I recognize that not all schools have these structures in place, which might make this kind of work more challenging but does nothing to diminish its value.

Lesson #1: Two (or three) heads are better than one.

Working with competencies gives me the flexibility to choose a path for my students to demonstrate competency, which means I can select the content, resources, and experiences I want my students to explore. It also means that I can sit down with the biology and/or English teacher and we can look for places in our courses where we can find opportunities to create something together. Each of us can identify what we need our students to demonstrate on a particular performance task, and we can build on each other’s ideas in a way that textbook teaching doesn’t allow. As a result, our students have a richer, more diverse experience and we become better teachers. My favorite example of this is the emergency response plan we have our students write for all three of our classes. In English, they read The Hot Zone by Richard Preston about ebola in the United States; in Your Government, Your Money (a social studies class), we look at government agencies that are tasked with protecting the public from emergencies; and in Biology, they study how viruses and bacteria can be dangerous. This work is all happening at the same time in our classes, and students are totally immersed in the project.

Lesson #2: Get students excited about their learning.

Student engagement is one of our school district’s three pillars, something we are all focusing on and working to improve. This pillar is one of the reasons for doing this type of interdisciplinary work. They are more invested in what they are doing in each class because it is relevant to what they are learning in other classes and it’s not just another assignment done in isolation. Students have the opportunity to make connections between their classroom experiences and apply what they are learning in biology to what they are reading in English and what they are studying in Your Government, Your Money. Educational research tells us that making connections is a fundamental piece of learning for the long term, not just for now, and this is a natural way to help students connect to what they are learning and to increase their curiosity. For example, during our interdisciplinary units, it is not uncommon to overhear students in the hallway talking about the gross new information they learned about their contagion or the new facts about discrimination (the focus of another project we do) that have them outraged. (more…)

Five Lessons from a Social Studies Teacher: How Competency-Based Education Has Been a Game Changer

April 27, 2017 by

Donna Harvey-Moseley (Photo by Mark Giullucci)

The traditional social studies classroom that I participated in as a student has experienced a steady evolution thanks to the introduction of competency-based education. Gone are the days of teachers dispensing knowledge from behind a podium at the front of the room while students memorize dates and names to pass the next test. Indeed it was a big change that was intimidating; it was a learning experience and I didn’t always get it right the first time. I had to be flexible and forgiving but the rewards are great and I have learned many lessons along the way.

Lesson #1: Competency work can not be done in isolation.

You must collaborate with other teachers to identify the knowledge and skills you want your graduates to have after they have completed the program. For us, this meant meeting K-12 and deciding what content students needed to have in order to successfully complete an International Relations course as seniors and which grade levels would be responsible for the individual pieces. Further, you need to evaluate and re-evaluate how your school and district are going to define competency in the social studies, and that means you need to research. I have spent years working with my colleagues and administrators to set competencies, continually looking at what other schools and districts were using and what national options were out there. We are now using the C3 Frameworks at all grade levels, K-12, which I love! Among the greatest benefits of the C3 Frameworks is that in addition to history, civics, geography, and economics, it also includes Dimensions 3 & 4, which are skills-based and linked to the Common Core. One adjustment that we did make was to create language that is student-friendly and to make sure that what we expect of our students and the material that is delivered is specific and developmentally appropriate.

Lesson #2: Focus on the big ideas and the big picture.

The beautiful thing about competencies is they offer targets to aim for but do not prescribe the path to take to get there. As a teacher, I have the freedom to be creative and selective when I am designing lessons, activities, and assessments. I am no longer bound by the textbook. Instead, I can let student choice drive the class or focus on problem-based tasks that allow students to demonstrate competency. I can also relinquish some control over what is happening in the classroom and allow students to take on more leadership roles. For instance, I have a project that I am planning to do with my psychology students called “The Psychology of…” that will allow each student to finish the thought with a topic of their choosing. We will work together on a rubric, and I will provide them with benchmark assignments along the way to make sure they are on the right track and moving forward, but what they do and how they do it will be up to them. It’s an exciting opportunity and a little bit intimidating. As I tell my students, it is either going to be awesome or awful, but either way, we will all learn from the experience.

Lesson #3: It’s not all academic but it’s all important.

Competency-based assessment forced me to take Work Study Practices (behavior) out of the academic grade and challenged me to assess them in new and objective ways by collecting data throughout the quarters, semesters, and year. I am no longer sitting when grades close guessing at scores for work study practices because I have been paying attention to them and recording data all along. Most importantly, I am working with my students to define what they mean, practice what they look like, and improve how they apply those skills. It can be as simple as talking to students about collaboration when it is time to start a group project or activity. Take five or ten minutes to make sure everyone has the same understanding of what it means to work collaboratively and identify the types of behaviors students should be demonstrating, clearly define what you are looking to see but give them input as well. Finally, give them the opportunity, again five to ten minutes, to reflect on their performance providing examples of how they demonstrated collaboration and how it helped the group to be successful. It will be time well spent as your students become more efficient and effective collaborators. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: A Move to Increase Agency

April 21, 2017 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on March 4, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

One of the core questions in creating a learner-centered proficiency based environment is “who has the control?” Posing this question in a variety of circumstances can help teachers and staff in a learning environment take steps to increase the learner-centeredness of any place or experience. Today I want to talk about this question in relation to handing out papers or materials for assignments and tasks.

Imagine you are sitting a class, let’s say a social studies class. You know that you and your peers are learning about the responsibilities and qualities of effective leaders and how individuals have a voice in democracies through the driving question “Who decides who gets to lead?” You also know that you and your work group have decided to explore the connections between the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Bernie Sanders campaign as part of your culminating project. You even know all of the foundational pieces you need to learn, and which input resources and processing activities match those foundational pieces. Your teacher has even given you access to a document that lay out all of that information so you can look at it at any time, there is also a big map on the wall showing the order of targets. Today started off with a self check in and goal setting for work this week. You have your plan for today and will start off reading an article about Gandhi before you meet with your group to talk about how what you did today connects to Bernie Sanders. One other person in your group chose to read about Gandhi too, and someone else is watching a video about leadership qualities with a few other people. You walk up to the teacher’s desk and wait for your turn to get the reading. They move your name along the big map, and hand you the text you chose. You head back to your desk and begin to read.

Who has the control?

The teacher still has control in a significant way. The teacher is the one who moves the names along the target map. The teacher is the one who hands out the readings. There are some great systems in place that support transparency, and turning some more control over to the learners would go a long way for increasing agency. Here are some things this teacher might do: (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Exceeding is More Work

April 7, 2017 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on February 15, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When working in a learner-centered proficiency based system, it is really important that members of the learning community have some common understandings. I can’t think of any place where this is more important than with proficiency expectations. We’ve spent a good deal of time working on learning targets and assessments, and much of that work has focused on score 3 and foundational elements. It is equally important that we spend some time building common understandings about what it means to work a score 4, or exceeding levels of targets. ​

One of the most common mental wrestlings around the score 4 I hear from people sounds something like this:

 “A score 4 is not supposed to be more work, so then what does exceeding look like?”

This points to some confusion around what a score 4 actually is. And as we all know, if one person has the question chances are many others do to. So let’s take a look at some important features of score 4 work. We will use the following example to work through three important features:

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Grouping is a Strategy, Not the Goal

March 10, 2017 by

DesksThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 31, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

An essential component of learner centered proficiency based education is being able to meet learners at their particular readiness level in any area. Readiness level is another way of talking about the Zone of Proximal Development, the sweet spot of learning. In a personalized learning environment there should never be a moment when a learner is disengaged because they are being expected to work at a level that is either too hard or too easy. This is where flexible grouping comes in.

Flexible grouping creates the space for learners to work where they are ready, then move on. The groups are flexible, meaning that they do not have many fixed characteristics. Members of a group can change, the length of time a group meets for can change, when the group meets can change, and even who teaches the group can change. What is fixed about a flexible group, is the purpose. Once the purpose has been fulfilled, then the group dissolves.

At this point, I want to emphasize that flexible grouping is a strategy for personalizing learning. Flexible grouping is not a goal in itself. It never makes sense to group and regroup just for the sake of doing it. Flexible groups must have a purpose for being together, and the purpose will drive the rest of the “hows” about the group: how long, how often, how much, and even who. Here are some potential purposes for groups:

  1. To address individual learning targets
  2. To address a group, or series, of targets that fit together
  3. To explore an interest

The “flexible” in flexible grouping is extremely important. Once we form groups, and learners stay in those groups for an extended period of time without the ability to move on from the group, we’ve created a tracked system. We all know that tracking is not good for learners. Separating learners with different strengths prevents them from seeing, hearing, and trying out strategies and ideas of other learners. Grouping flexibly keeps the space for learners with different strengths to continue to be able to interact with each other. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Supporting Learners with Common Language

February 17, 2017 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 20, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Have you ever visited a classroom, or a team, or a school, and felt like there was some kind of secret code the members all shared? Perhaps the learners and teachers were using hand signals, or using specific words and phrases which clearly had a meaning that was understood by all the learning community members. The communication took very little effort, and happened quickly and smoothly. Classrooms and schools that have successfully shared and sustained a common language are special places with an environment prime for powerful learning.

Without a doubt, shared language contributes to a positive culture. When a group has special words and gestures that mean something to them, it binds the group together. The benefits of using a common language across classrooms and grades extends beyond culture, into academic learning as well. Common language removes barriers to learning, allowing learners to move between physical spaces without having to move between too many mental spaces. This in turn increases transference of skills and knowledge between contents and disciplines.

For example, a middle school team decided to work on the idea of problem solving with their learners. They had notices that the learners were waiting for the adults to give them solutions in a variety of situations ranging from a broken pencil to deciding what to write about for a story. Rather than have a different process in each classroom, the team decided to use a common set of steps for solving problems. The team also agreed to use the same language and explicitly make the connection between the problem solving steps and their content.

CB1

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Revisiting the Vision

February 10, 2017 by

calendarThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 4, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

January, the start of a new year and at the same time the middle of a year. In the rest of our lives outside of school we are all thinking about new starts, reflecting on the successes and struggles of the previous year and laying plans for embracing what we have learned in order to grow and move forward. In contrast, many of us in school are picking up with a new learning opportunity and continuing along the content marathon of the school year. This year, why not take some time for reflection in school as well?

We all know that using the first hours and weeks of a new school year are optimal for setting culture in our classes and buildings. Turning the culture over to the learners, by engaging them in vision crafting and creating codes of conduct, is a powerful move for establishing a learner centered community that fosters learner agency. It is even more powerful when sustained over the course a year. A culture that fosters learner agency is the cornerstone of learner centered proficiency based learning. It is worth taking the time to revisit, review, reflect, and revise.

Once we get into the groove of content and targets it can be a challenge to find the time for culture sustaining work. It is easy to fall into the pattern of valuing content completion over the nurturing of a learner-centered culture. Now is a great time to revive attention to the culture in our classes and buildings, and it does not have to be overwhelming or complicated at all. Here are some ideas to get you and the learners you work with reflecting on how the year has gone so far, and how to move even closer to their vision of the learning environment they want. (more…)

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