April 3, 2014 by Caroline Messenger
I had asked my ninth grade students to write a “last” chapter to the novel Seedfolks by Paul Fleischmann we had finished reading as a class. I knew they had read the entire novel and even annotated it because we did all of our reading in this room. Sometimes we did it in a literature circle. Sometimes we did it by ourselves. Sometimes we used a form of Socratic Seminar to ask questions of each other and dig deeper into the author’s intended meaning.
But I knew all my students had read the novel and understood its metaphors, allusions and themes because we did the work together. And because of that, I knew they would be able to creatively adapt what they knew and believed.
I knew they’d be able to do it because I would be there to help them, guide them and monitor their progress because their work would be completed in class and during after school workshop sessions.
I knew their levels of competency because I assessed it every single day.
The pattern here isn’t new. Rick Wormeli suggests rethinking how we assign work to students and how we penalize them for not doing it. Both Wormeli and Doug Reeves make powerful arguments against “the zero” in the teacher grade book. (more…)
March 14, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Thanks to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the Maine Department of Education was able to conduct a number of case studies on district implementation. The studies are great reading and raise a number of issues about principal leadership, community engagement, continuous improvement, and implementation planning. However, it’s hard to find the hour or so it takes to nestle in with each of the case studies and do the necessary reflection needed to learn from them.
So that’s why its so great that the Maine DOE Center for Best Practices did the work for us with the Threads of Implementation: A Thematic Review of Six Case Studies of Maine School Districts Implementing Proficiency-Based Systems.
It will only take you 15 minutes or so to read this summary, which includes sections on vision and framework, policy, leadership, teacher engagement, finance and professional development, technology, pacing, communications, and cultural change. The review is even more valuable as a discussion tool for district teams thinking about converting to competency education. Use each of the segments to help you devise your strategies and implementation plan, learning from the successes and stumbles of these districts.
Thanks to the state leadership in Maine – they are walking the walk when it comes to creating a learning culture.
March 10, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Working conceptual model of a proficiency-based diploma system, from Implementation of a Proficiency‐Based Diploma System
Although no research or evaluation can ever capture all the dynamics of change, I found the report Implementation of a Proficiency‐Based Diploma System in Maine: Phase II – District Level Analysis a fascinating read and incredibly affirming that we are going in the right direction. How often do you read, “a common theme clear in every district in this study was that the educators and educational leaders involved in this work were thinking deeply about ways to embrace this reform in a manner that benefitted every student. There was a great deal of hard work being done in schools and school districts to understand the needs of students, develop a plan to implement this legislative policy with fidelity, and work collaboratively with all stakeholders to improve the educational experiences of Maine’s children.” A reform in which educators are trying to understand the needs of students – that’s the heart of personalization!
The research team identified the following benefits of the personalized, proficiency-based approach being implemented in Maine:
• Improved student engagement
• Continued development of robust intervention systems for struggling students
• Collaborative professional work to develop common standards, align curriculum, and create assessments
• Collective and transparent monitoring of student progress and needs by educators, administrators and families. (more…)
November 21, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
It is a mouthful, — personalized, blended and competency-based learning. And I assume that someone out there is going to come up with an acronym or create a name for it. Before they do, I hope problem-based or project-based will be included in that list as well since kids need the opportunity to use deeper levels of knowledge (as well as being downright fun most of the time).
I’ve made the case why we need to continue to understand each these characteristics separately as we are in such rapid stages of learning. We need a way to break it down when we talk to each other. When I ask a school in New Hampshire “how do you use blended learning?” I expect to hear about the adaptive software students are using, the online courses and competency recovery that is available through Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, how teachers are learning to organize their curriculum in units on the web so that students can advance more quickly, and how they are using tablets for those students that do not have internet access at home so they can download what they need and take it home with them.
When I visit a school in Maine to learn about their competency-based model they will tell me about their proficiency-based schools. I might hear about the transparency of the measurement targets and learning targets based upon standards, how their learning management system Educate allows teachers to track progress and principals to monitor pacing across the school, about their school-wide system of supports including daily Flex hour and reading specialists that work with individual students as well as building capacity of their teachers, their grading scheme based on depth of knowledge that targets proficiency at Level 3 (i.e. application of knowledge and skills) and how they are developing assessments for Maine’s Guiding Principles or what might others call lifelong learning competencies. (more…)
October 15, 2013 by Courtney Belolan
One of the reflection questions I routinely present to teachers to use as they develop their customized classrooms is the following:
How am I making learning targets as transparent as possible in my classroom, instruction, and assessment?
When I visit classes I routinely ask students the following questions:
1. What is your target?
2. How do you know when you reach that target?
3. How do you know what to do next?
These questions get at one of the essential elements of competency-based learning: the transparency of learning. In a successful customized classroom, everybody has the map. The destination — a learning target — is clear to all. The route to the destination, the foundational knowledge and expected reasoning level, is given to everyone. Everybody has a map, and uses it.
Getting to the point where everybody in your class has the map can be a bit of a journey in itself. Change takes time, especially the change from a traditional classroom to a customized classroom. Take small steps. Here are some tools that you can use: (more…)
August 23, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
Stephen Bowen, commissioner of education for Maine; www.maine.gov
In the same week that I heard that Maine’s Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen was stepping down to lead the Council of Chief State School Officer’s Innovation Lab Network, the Maine DOE’s Center for Best Practice released its latest case study, Sustained Change, Continuous Improvement, focusing on the transformational efforts of Regional School Unit 16 (Mechanic Falls, Minot, and Poland).
Bowen’s career shift promises that the direction of the ILN will be sustained and a continuation of his leadership for personalized, proficiency-based education. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more emphasis at the ILN on adaptive leadership and leveraging systemic reforms as compared to piloting new practices.
However, his departure raises questions about the future direction for Maine. It’s one of the leading states in competency education, but there is a cadre of folks in influential positions that are not advocates for the Common Core. So Maine could find itself using a different set of standards to shape learning trajectories and design competencies. The person appointed by the Governor to replace Bowen has a lot of choices – to continue to support personalized, proficiency-based education, the primary education policy passed by the state legislature is one. Or they may simply push new agendas and allow districts to continue the work. Worst-case scenario, there is an effort to dismantle the investments of the past decade.
August 14, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
Interested in finding out more about Maine’s implementation of a proficiency-based diploma? Take a look at the report Preliminary Implementation of Maine’s Proficiency-based Diploma by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute.
It’s a good read that provides lots of insights into the stage of development of their personalized, proficiency-based system. The characteristics that are outlined in the report should be helpful to districts and states that are involved in planning or early implementation.
My only frustration in reading the report is that it would have been great to get a sense of the results of the most developed schools (which was beyond the scope of the study) or at least to find out if they were seeing results.
Hopefully someone will start to look at the early indicators to understand if those districts and schools that are farther down the road in implementation are seeing improvements in academic achievement or other important indicators for their most vulnerable students. As national attention on competency education grows, we need to demonstrate that competency education works for low-income students or special populations soon.
July 24, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
The Maine Department of Education has just released a new video on their efforts to transition to personalized, proficiency-based education. This is a delightful, inspiring, informative video on the interdisciplinary academies (innovation, ecology and international) at Troy Howard Middle School.
Also check out Maine’s new website Getting to Proficiency: Helping Maine Graduate Every Student Prepared. It’s designed to provide technical assistance for districts and schools that are getting started in proficiency-based education. It’s a model for other states who are starting to put together introductory materials for their districts. Be sure to check out the planning tool.
June 12, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
Maine’s Center for Best Practices is building up a resource center that can help principals and educators understand the nuts and bolts of personalized, proficiency-based education. As I was reading the latest case study based on RSU 20 (highlighted here), I was poking around in the resource section and found a document on the Basics for Assessment for Learning. For those of you who are asking the question “What does competency education look like in the classroom?” this may be helpful – although if you are familiar with the work of Rick Stiggins, this won’t be anything new.
Essentially this describes the core practices of a proficiency-based classroom. You can see all the most important ingredients – clear, transparent targets; preparation for when learning isn’t taking place; strong emphasis on formative assessment; and empowered students.
Getting Started: Assessment for Learning
5 Keys to Quality Assessment
- Clear Purpose-Year 1
- Clear Targets-Year 1
- Sound Assessment Design-Year 2
- Good Communication-Year 2
- Student Involvement-Year 1 (more…)
June 10, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
Maine’s Center for Best Practices has released a new case study The Power of Principals — I consider it a must-read for anyone starting down the path of proficiency-based education. It’s the story of how Regional School Unit 20 has advanced toward personalized, proficiency-based learning over the past three years. Here are my three big takeaways:
1) Three important questions to guide design. The case study starts with the story of Searsport District High School. After losing its accreditation and getting a federal Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration grant, they began transitioning to standards-based reforms. In redesigning their school, Searsport District High had focused on two questions:
- What should kids who graduate from Searsport District High School know and be able to do when they graduate, and
- How shall we design curriculum, assessment, instruction, and reporting to ensure that they do know?
The case study explains: There was a third question, though, that they hadn’t yet addressed: What will we do if a student does not know what they need to know?
In response to this question, Searsport devised its system of academic interventions… The intervention system developed two branches: skill-based interventions, for when the student was not getting a standard or learning target, and behavior-based interventions, for when the student was choosing not to complete assignments. In both cases, it was seen as essential that the intervention occur as soon as possible after the need was recognized, certainly during the same day. Check out the flow chart on page 5. (more…)