June 19, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Over the past two months, I’ve had several invitations to discuss the intersection of higher education (HE) and K12 in competency education. It makes sense to see these two sectors of education as one huge movement. Both receive complaints from their customers of poor and inconsistent quality (i.e., students are ill prepared for advanced studies and entry into the workforce). Both sectors are turning to greater personalization, online and blended learning and competency education to help them improve their systems. It’s easy to leap to the conclusion, especially if you are a systems thinker who jumps for joy when alignment is in the air, that the pieces are all going to snap into place.
No matter what we all imagine, no matter how beautiful our maps of an aligned system are, there are two important things to remember. First, in a personalized world where students have agency, we have to let go of our mental model of a linear, conveyor belt model. We need to think about adaptive systems. If you need a picture to hold in your mind, think highways with lots of on and off ramps.
Second, there may be risks in talking about HE’s and K12’s transition to competency education as one and the same. Certainly both emphasize progress upon mastery. However, much of the drive for change in HE is to reduce tuition costs, whereas in K12 it is to personalize education so that all students get what they need to succeed. Thus, the K12 focus is on cost-effectiveness, not cost reduction. This may have large implications about what is emphasized and how models develop. Furthermore, our efforts will come to a grinding halt if we lead policymakers to assume that they can reduce budgets in K12 competency education systems. We can explore competency education in both sectors without advancing the idea that they are the same thing.
I’m now going to break a rule of blogging with a very long exploration of the intersection of competency education across K12 and HE. I start by exploring the similarities, differences and intersection of the two systems and close by looking at the implications of the different contexts in which competency education is developing in each sector.
June 10, 2014 by Anthony Kim
In working with over 100 schools across the country on new approaches to integrating instruction and technology in order to personalize learning, we’ve learned a lot about school models.
For decades, many schools have looked to digital content and online instruction primarily as a way to move students on one axis, below grade level to at grade level or at grade level to above grade level. This is demonstrated by the proliferation of credit recovery programs as well as the massive use of programs like Khan Academy. Often, the use of these programs for individual students is geared towards having students start at one point and complete tasks at a level of proficiency to get to another point (Figure 1, click on images for larger view).
The blended learning approach and subsequent new school models start to look at two axes, with x-axis being the one we already discussed, levels of learning (and acceleration of learning content), and the y-axis being the depth of learning (Figure 2). For example, we often show a three group rotational model and associate the potential of these rotations to focus on different levels of Bloom’s (Figure 3). You can also apply Webb’s Depth of Knowledge here, but in this example, we will use Bloom’s for consistency. The independent station is great for students to learn at their own pace to be introduced to or practice new skills using adaptive digital content, which emphasizes the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy – remembering and understanding. At the small group instruction station, students receive instruction from the teacher to learn to apply and analyze skills. The project/collaboration station is great for students to work together on projects and develop mastery (evaluating and creating). [As a note, we can describe other models using the same approach, but I’m using the rotational model since it’s the easiest to describe.]
June 2, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
The American Youth Policy Forum is sponsoring a webinar Promoting Partnerships Between K-12 and Expanded Learning through Competency-Based Approaches on June 12, 2014, 1-2:30 PM ET. Expanded learning is an important technique for personalizing education for students — see examples from Pittsfield and Making Community Connections Charter School. This webinar is a great chance to get up to speed on the practices and policy conditions that can enable students to build their skills out in the real-world.
Below is the description of the webinar and you can register here:
Students need a broad range of knowledge, skills, and abilities to graduate from high school prepared for college and career success. K-12 systems have traditionally been unable to incorporate many of those skills into their instructional practices. However, many educators and policymakers are beginning to reframe their approach around a more student-centered philosophy in which student progress can be measured through demonstration of competency in place of seat time.
As this shift to a system focused on measuring actual competency takes hold in communities across the country, this means that educators can think more flexibly about what counts as an educational opportunity. Expanded learning opportunities that take place beyond the traditional school day, either at school in community-based organizations or in real-world settings, can provide student-centered learning opportunities. They should be seen as a key partner with schools to promote academic advancement and college and career readiness for all students. More intentional partnerships between school day educators and expanded learning opportunities can validate learning already happening in non-formal settings and allow for a wide range of learning experiences that might otherwise be unavailable to students.
This webinar will be the first in a series focused on showcasing promising initiatives in which expanded learning is being embedded into competency-based K-12 systems. This event will discuss the rationale for such an approach, describe program implementation strategies, and highlight the necessary conditions for implementation. Presenters will include Kim Carter, QED Foundation; Alexis Menten, Asia Society; Jennifer Portillo, Denver Center for International Studies; and Beth Colby, Council of Chief State School Officers.
May 26, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Why do we always assess students at the same time and let that be the governing factor for student achievement?
Andrew Miller, a faculty member at Buck Institute and ASCD, explores this issue in Personalizing Assessment with Time in Mind:
We know that students each learn at their own pace. Some take longer; some take a shorter amount of time. We have the same high expectations for our students, but we also know students take different amounts of time to get to those high expectations. One critical element of personalization is that time is no longer the driving factor. Instead of relying on the Carnegie unit, students show mastery and are assessed when they are ready. Granted, so many outside forces are demanding our time, but how might we move past them to meet students were they are in the assessment process?
Here are Andrew’s three steps for how you can start to create systems of assessments that enable you to further personalize the learning experience for students: (more…)
April 25, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
A big light went on during a conversation with Anthony Kim of Education Elements:
WHAT IF… The process used by districts that already use blended learning to transition to competency education is different than the process used by districts with little ed-tech that start with competency-based in their journey to personalization?
Blended-first districts that have infused their curriculum, instruction and assessment with all that technology can do, are turning to competency education as a natural progression from the self-paced nature of adaptive software and online learning. There are specific aspects that competency education can provide – empowering students to own their education through transparent expectations, ensuring students can apply academic skills, focusing attention on habits or lifelong learning competencies, and strengthening college and career readiness by building the capacity among teachers to assess competencies/skills. And most importantly, creating the structure to support students — students that are not yet proficient, students that are performing at academic levels 2+ years behind their grade levels and students ready to leap forward in their studies. (more…)
April 7, 2014 by Kaili Phillips
One of the big pushes in our district (and many others throughout Maine) is customized learning: students working at their own pace to progress forward from the point at which they are currently achieving.
One of the primary tools used to facilitate this type of learning is a “learning continuum” or “learning progression” (hereafter referred to as the continuum or continua). The continuum seems sequential, as it contains rows and explanations for forward progress in each of the given areas of focus, seeming to offer a step-by-step, methodical guide that a child can follow to a successful education. In fact, in many cases learning continuum do not have to be sequential at all. The design of continua suggests linearity so that students can follow the steps and essentially be “done” learning when they get to the end of the line. This obviously makes no sense whatsoever. The challenge to educators is to rethink how and when they use continua in their lessons.
Here are some possibilities and suggestions regarding how to effectively use the Learning Progression model in middle school. As I teach English-Language Arts, my examples are… well, English-Language Artsy… but I am confident that you may find a thought or two that translates well to your content area. (more…)
February 27, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
(This is the second in a series about Pittsfield. See Part 1, Part 3 and Part 4.)
One of my big takeaways from my visit to New Hampshire is that personalized learning and competency education go hand in hand. When personalizing education, you can’t be sure you are helping kids reach proficiency without the competency-based infrastructure and you can’t help each and every student become proficient without personalization.
Pittsfield School District (PSD) understands this. Building upon their competency education infrastructure, they are personalizing the educational experience for students in at least these four ways:
#1 Taking Student Voice Seriously
PSD focuses on student voice as much as choice. As described in the first post, there is a pervasive belief that engagement is core to academic success and sustainability. Engagement starts with respecting and listening to different perspectives – so much of the engagement is directed at including student voice and investing in their leadership development.
PSD has prepared for student voice in two ways. First, structurally, they are creating formal avenues for youth participation. At the Pittsfield Middle and High School (PMHS), the majority of the School Council members are students. PMHS also has brought in consultants to help the school support students and adults in working collaboratively on the Council. It doesn’t stop there – students have the majority on the school’s Advisory Council, Impact Team, and Justice Committee. These all give students the voice to make changes in the school so that it develops into the school they wish it to be. (more…)
January 9, 2014 by Kaili Phillips
To reach as many students and skills as possible in a given Unit of Study, and to allow kids time to write and practice, Language Arts teachers at MAMS employ a mini-lesson model. By teaching one 10-12 minute mini-lesson each 50-minute block, students are allowed to dedicate much of their block to writing and teachers are able to confer with students individually or in small groups. The topic of the mini-lesson is determined by the needs of the students in the class, and individual work-time helps teachers work with students who may be working on the lesson topic. (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 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…)