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 9, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
I’m so dizzy…my head is spinning. Does personalized learning equal competency education equal blended learning equal student-centered learning? I think not…but the recent Student First report “A Personalized Future for Education” really tipped me over the edge. I can’t go on any longer without making sense of it all.
Now we know that we have a language challenge in competency education because each state has developed their specific terms. That makes sense to me – this is a local reform that is rapidly advancing across the country. New Hampshire and Iowa are “competency-based”; Maine, Oregon, and Colorado are “proficiency-based”; and Connecticut and Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority are mastery-based. That’s why we created the working definition– to provide some cohesion to the field. That’s how Diane Smith in Oregon and Sandra Dop in Iowa can have meaningful conversations without confusion, even though they may use different terms. We call it a “working” definition, so if we need to update it to reflect best practices, we can do that.
However, the confusion between the terms competency education, personalized, student-centered, customization, and blended is awesome. The Student First report is a great example of this. In the report, they lead with personalization, and then write, “Personalized learning is a student-centered approach to education that allows each student to advance through academic content at his or her own pace. In a personalized model, also known as a competency-based education (CBE)…” and continue to introduce the competency education working definition. They then go on to explain, “Thanks to an influx of choice and entrepreneurship in public education, personalized learning is popping up in all different shapes and sizes across the country. Since competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that students earn academic credit, states are exploring many different ways to personalize learning for their students. Some strategies to personalize learning include: blended learning, online schools, dual enrollment, project and community-based learning, and credit recovery. Blended learning and online schools are two of the fastest growing forms of personalized learning.” Once they started to describe blended learning in detail, I totally lost it – who wouldn’t think that personalization = competency education = blended? (more…)
September 16, 2013 by Sarah Luchs
As a recipient of Next Generation Learning Challenge’s (NGLC) most recent wave of investment, New Hampshire-based Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) is getting some much-deserved buzz (most recently in Forbes and Ed Week). VLACS will redesign its current online model to move beyond course-based competency measures and toward an entirely competency-based design for learning.
The new model, called Aspire, is free of all the conventional dictates. Learning is not confined to a class, a building, a set block of time, or a subject-bound course. In the journey to personalizing education, this is a giant step forward, in my opinion. Up to this point, course structures (and the content that defines them) have disproportionately shaped the competency discussion and available options. I’m not opposed to learning in a course per se and the course experience itself is being revolutionized by new technologies– also good. I just think the Aspire model creates some new possibilities that are long overdue and fundamentally exciting. Let me tell you what I mean.
Competency Reflections: Past and Present
I spent over a decade of my career prior to joining NGLC working for the Ohio Department of Education and state level policymakers. In Ohio, we created a provision known as Credit Flexibility that afforded students the option to earn credit for demonstration of previously learned knowledge and skills and/or to determine the means of their learning for any graduation requirement. Long story short, it didn’t benefit as many students as intended, in part because the system wasn’t built to implement this kind of flexibility, and schools, districts, and states still lacked the tools to enable it. It’s been my hope that NGLC—which funds innovative school models like VLACS-Aspire as proof points to demonstrate what’s possible, and shares knowledge in order to accelerate the adoption of new practice—will help position education systems to embrace and support innovative provisions like Credit Flexibility and benefit many more students. (more…)
July 15, 2013 by James Rickabaugh
The past few years have seen the growth of two important and highly potential movements: competency-based learning and personalized learning. Many innovators are bringing the learning of students into clear focus by aligning student work and learning to clear, worthy, and rigorous competencies. Students in these learning environments now know what they are asked to and are trying to learn, how it will be assessed, and what value the new learning will bring to their lives and future learning. For these students, the days are gone when the best indication of what they know was fuzzily embedded in credits earned and grades assigned or buried somewhere in the latest unit test.
Meanwhile, several initiatives committed to proving the power and scalability of personalized learning have surfaced across the country from Maine to Wisconsin to Colorado. Many of these initiatives are showing impressive results on traditional assessments, while educators are working with learners to build lifelong learning capacity and skills well beyond what standardized tests can hope to measure. They are also showing the way to scaling the work without depending on outside funding or adding to local expenditures. (more…)
June 19, 2013 by Jesse Moyer
This week, I had the pleasure of meeting with the folks at the Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) in Roxbury, MA. I always enjoy visiting with practitioners and students, as they offer great insights into what’s working and what isn’t, something I don’t always get in my own day-to-day activities.
Two things struck me about my visit and I want to write about both of them. The first thing that became very obvious early in the visit is how wonderfully simplistic their model is. They begin with the standards — once the Massachusetts state standards, and now the Common Core State Standards — and unpack the set of standards into more accessible competencies that are easily understood by students, parents, and teachers. From those competencies, they create course-specific benchmarks that students must meet in order to earn the distinction of being competent or highly competent in a given course. Students are assessed upon enrollment in BDEA to determine “where they are,” an individual education plan is created for each student, and each student is given the time, resources, and support they need to become competent in the material. I don’t mean to suggest that the work of unpacking standards and creating competencies is simple…to be sure, it isn’t. But the model itself is simple and completely logical; something I think we can all agree is sometimes missing from our education system today. (more…)
June 17, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
from LUSD website
We often think of innovation as an urban phenomena, a natural outgrowth of concentration of an industry, strong peer networks, and competition driving toward excellence. However, Lindsay, California shows us that innovation can take place anywhere, even in a town of 12,000, beribboned by orange groves at the edge of California’s Central Valley.
The Lindsay Unified School District is well on their way to transforming their entire system to a personalized, performance-based system. The conversations among district management teams vibrate with how they can fully implement a system in which all students are able to achieve. Students are part of the process – taking advantage of the new possibilities and helping to solve problems as they pop up. The high school began implementation in 2009 and they are now beginning to roll it out to middle and elementary schools.
This case study will be in two parts. This initial post will be on the design elements and the second part will be on the big take-aways from my site visit.
Lindsay is partnering with the Reinventing Schools Coalition (RISC), so many of the design elements will be familiar to those who have visited Maine or Adams 50.
Overarching Design: LUSD describes their system as performance-based: “In a performance-based system, students work at their performance level and advance through the curriculum when they have demonstrated proficiency of the required knowledge or skills.” LUSD identifies the following benefits of a performance-based system. Note they use the phrase “learner” instead of student and “facilitator” instead of teacher. (more…)
April 10, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
Based on school visits across the country, I have come to believe that competency education needs a large dose of personalization to bring it to life. In Maine where personalization is the leading policy concept, proficiency-based education and student voice and choice are being integrated as standard operating practices. However, in district-run high schools I visited in other states that don’t lead with personalization, competency education classrooms often lack that pride of learning that comes when students own their education. We need to build on the combination of what personalization and competency education together can offer if we are going to truly transform our education system into a place where everyone can succeed.
However, it’s hard to untangle the relationship between competency education and personalization, as the “field” of personalization hasn’t created a common understanding of what personalization is, and the variety of ways we can personalize education. I’ve often resorted to a basic Venn diagram where I’ve come to the conclusion that competency-based education is inherently personalized in terms of differentiated responses to students when they get stuck or fall behind, as well as offering flexibility in time. And it enables personalization by offering explicit competencies and rubrics. Looking at it through the lens of personalization, one can have many forms of personalization without competency-based practices. Some argue that personalization requires competency education in order to ensure equity. (more…)
January 2, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
from Making Mastery Work
During my travels in Maine last fall to three districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning that are well on their way to fully implementing competency education, an interesting question popped up during conversations with students: What happens once a student reaches proficiency? As I talked to students, they all had different responses to how they used the time that is built into the school day (reading The Learning Edge for more information about how districts are embedding support time):
Faster: Amidst a gaggle of 7th grade boys, one student clearly liked to power ahead in math. He emphasized it was only in math (his father was a math teacher) and that he was at “teacher-pace” in his other courses. If he had extra time in the class or in the day he would work on his math. Once he reached proficiency (usually described as a 3 or above), he would move on to the next unit as the learning targets, curriculum modules, and resources were available online.
Better: In a conversation at a high school, two young women, self-described best friends, discussed how they have a competition among themselves. They aim to get “4’s” on all assessments, in all classes, all the times. If they have extra time in the day they work on whatever topics they needed to in order to demonstrate the application of their learning beyond what was taught in the classroom to their teacher.
Passion: One young man, showing the slumped body language of disengagement, simply said that he does the minimum as he isn’t interested in school. He aims for a 3 at teacher-pace. With his art notebook always at his side, he uses an extra time to do the one thing he really likes – drawing.
Fun: A quiet young woman told me that it was doing the work to get a 4 that was the fun part of school. She felt that she could be creative, explore something new, apply the learning in a way that was meaningful to her. From what I can tell, the option of a 4 was a door to the joy of learning. (Check out the video The Box to see what this can mean for students).
December 10, 2012 by Chris Sturgis
from Making Mastery Work
The authors of Making Mastery Work open a fascinating door into the dynamics of competency education in Chapter 5: How Students Experience Competency Education. In talking with students and teachers across the ten schools with a high degree of diversity – rural/urban; district/charter; 4 year high school/alternative high school serving over-age, undercredited students – a number of important issues emerge.
Traveling a Longer Road: The driving force behind competency education in the K-12 system is equity. We know we need to find a better way than the time-based, A-F system that reproduces inequity. However, the way we think about equity in the traditional system doesn’t really make sense in a competency education system. Making Mastery Work starts to unpack equity in discussing how students in the same classroom may have different ways to show evidence of their learning based on their learning progression. “Equity comes in the fact that both students are stretching themselves as they work towards the same learning target.” What’s interesting in many of the conversations about personalized learning is that students understand the variation in their work if, and only if, the competencies and assessments are perceived as fairly implemented.
Trust: In a post-visit to Maine blog, I wrote about the power of the “growth mindset.” I think that it is this shared belief that we can all learn and that we are all supporting each other in learning that brings to life the trust and sense of all being in it together that is described in Making Mastery Work: MSAD15 students talk about working with their teachers to make competency education work, expressing appreciation for teachers who are open to their suggestions and invite them to make decisions. Four middle school students explained that “We unpack the standards” and then determine the best way to group themselves for a particular activity or recommend particular structures to organize learning more effectively. Teachers emphasized how they trust their students “to help us figure out what works best for them.” “My students usually come up with some great ideas,” said one, “so I trust them.” (more…)
November 27, 2012 by Barbara Weed
Time is one of the most precious commodities in a school, and students should know how to spend their time wisely. Students frequently expect their teachers to direct all of their time, and they assume that they are free to hang out or socialize if they don’t perceive that they have been specifically directed. This underlying assumption is so pervasive in many school cultures that it isn’t even recognized as a problem. It is, however, a key competency—and independent time management is almost a requirement in a competency-based classrooms.
Teachers universally agree that there is not enough time in the day to do all of the things that are expected. Part of that time crunch stems from the fact that whole class instruction is still a prevalent mode of delivery, and this method inherently wastes a lot of time. Teachers gravitate to whole class instruction because it offers a sense of control and it is easier to manage. Our experience has told us that kids who aren’t being managed are likely to be off task. This doesn’t have to be the case, but it does require some explicit changes in the way that adults talk to students about time.
Teachers have to understand that kids passively wait to be directed because that’s what they have been taught to do. In order to have kids understand that they are responsible for active learning at all times, they have to be taught this expectation and they have to be taught how to manage their time. In my own classroom, I see students in grade 5-8 for a quarter every year. The first time that they come to my room, they sit down and wait for something to happen. That is probably what they do everywhere, but I want them to learn to get their work out as soon as they arrive. That means that I have to devote time to creating an activity that young students, who possess limited executive skills, can initiate independently, and I have to prompt them repeatedly at each arrival. Eventually, they start to get it, and I no longer have to tell them to get started without me. Of course, they are only in my class for a quarter of the year, so they need a little reminder when they come to class the next year, but, in the end, they know that they are expected to get to work as soon as they arrive in my room. Students who are in other classes where this is the expectation find it easier to become self-directed, primarily because the expectation is reinforced by multiple adults in various situations. Those students come to expect that it is their responsibility to get to work. (more…)