Tag: school design and models

Red Bank Elementary School: Teaching Students, Not Standards

February 3, 2016 by

This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the second in the series on Red Bank Elementary in Lexington School District. See the first on five big takeaways.

Red Bank Elementary offers a great example of how districts can take a big step toward high quality competency education by allowing schools to move ahead when ready. It’s also an example that schools can go far down the path when districts don’t hold them back from innovating.

It says a lot about the leadership at Lexington School District that they have been supportive of Principal Marie Watson and the team at Red Bank as they took the enormous step five years ago to work with the Reinventing Schools Coalition to transform their school into a personalized, competency-based school. Susan Patrick and I had just completed the scan of competency education five years ago and hadn’t even started imagining CompetencyWorks at that time. It’s this kind of district leadership, to support innovation wherever it develops, that is needed to transform medium and large districts.

Red Bank Elementary is in the Lexington, South Carolina district a bit outside of Columbia. The school serves a socioeconomic mix of 580 students with about 56 percent FRL. The school has a bilingual Spanish Immersion program serving 30 percent of the students. Many of the families were hard hit by the flooding in the fall of 2015. Another thing you should know – South Carolina has its own set of standards, called the College and Career Ready standards, that have been described to me by one educator in my travels in the state as a “tweaked version of the Common Core.”

What’s Happening in Red Bank Classrooms

Red Bank is entirely organized around learning and leadership (leadership is a district initiative). It starts before you even walk in the door of the school with a sign for students coming in late: “Parents please check in at the office, learning has begun.”

The dominant feeling is of a quiet joy mixed with a good dose of respect, hope, and aspirations. There are lots of hugs, constant reminders of the qualities of leadership that everyone is aspiring to, and clear, clear, clear focus on learning. Staff are unified by a commitment to do better for kids and to intentionally improve their school based on a clear set of values and understanding of learning and teaching. After spending a few hours at Red Bank, I just wanted to do my personal best (it may have been the sign that says Everything you need is already inside you that gave me that lift).

Red Bank has taken many of the rituals of personalized learning that I’ve seen in other schools, mixed it with the The Leader in Me program, and then lifted it up into almost every aspect of the school. For example, two students, Hunter and Reilly, gave me a tour of the school, guiding me through hallways named Kindness Avenue, Creativity Lane, Perseverance Path, and Compassionate Way. Hunter and Reilly talked to me about what they like to study, when they like to do their work on a computer and when they like to work in a group, and how they get to make things, “really make things, like windmills” in STEM class. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

February 2, 2016 by

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMBelow is the latest news from across the field in K-12 competency education.

Student Agency

  • A new Harvard study exploring the influence of teaching on emotions, motivations, mindsets and behaviors suggests the development of agency may be as important an outcome of schooling as the skills we measure with standardized testing.
  • Teacher Angela Watson highlights six ways to support kids who don’t take ownership of their learning.
  • Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey created a continuum of voice and what it means for the learner, including three stages of personalized learning environments.

School Models

  • The Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS), an online charter school in New Hampshire, introduced a set of five pathways to guide students through multiple routes for demonstrating mastery of competencies: courses, projects, experience, college and teams.
  • RSU2 moves beyond grade-driven learning to teach students where they are in their zone of proximal development by designing for deep holes in learning.
  • Tom Rooney, Superintendent of California’s Lindsay Unified School District, presented on competency education and shared Lindsay’s story at FEE’s 2015 National Summit on Education Reform.

State Education Policy

  • The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents unveiled its policy goals for 2016 and called for a shift to personalized, competency-based education.
  • A Florida bill, if enacted, would establish a competency-based pilot program which would allow students in certain counties to advance to higher levels of learning after demonstrating mastery of a concept, instead of advancing based on seat time.

Thought Leadership

  • Founding editor of Education Week Ron Wolk wrote a piece arguing for the transformation toward personalized, competency-based education.
  • Bob Crumley, the 2016 Alaska Superintendent of the Year, wrote this leadership piece on advice for superintendents and leading a district.

Resources

  • A new study sought to understand how individual learning plans (ILPs) are operationalized in high schools, how ILPs are implemented and assessed, and the extent to which ILPs contribute to students’ college and career readiness.
  • The Center for Collaborative Education is launching the Massachusetts Personalized Learning Network, where CCE will partner with schools and districts throughout the state to place students at the center of their own education, creating personalized and engaging learning experiences for all students.
  • This resource highlights 10 expectations all students should have of their schools.
  • The Nellie Mae Education Foundation released a new report on understanding the landscape of technology for student-centered learning.
  • The Foundation for Excellence in Education created a new web resource on competency education.

Follow us on twitter (@CompetencyWorks) and sign up for our monthly newsletter for more information and updates in K-12 competency education.

Kids in the Pipeline During Transition to Proficiency-Based Systems

January 12, 2016 by

PipelineI have made the case for “turning the switch” to a proficiency-based model versus “phasing in” a new approach to educating our youth. I have discussed the preparations that I believe are necessary to successfully implement a proficiency-based system. How could I have missed this!? I expected our proficiency-based model to be so much better for our students than the traditional approach, yet many of our learners are struggling. What’s going on and why? What can be done? With hindsight being 20/20, what should we have done differently with our implementation?

What’s Going On and Why?

The jump to expecting students to demonstrate proficiency on clearly identified targets based on national standards is a step up for all, perhaps a bigger step for others. The expectation that students demonstrate proficiency on all standards assigned to a course is a significant change from a traditional system where a student need only score 70 percent (or less) to achieve credit and move on. Of course, we can look at this issue from a different view and state that students have been allowed to move on without 30 to 40 percent of the knowledge, concepts, and skills necessary for success at the next level. Many of us refer to this as the “Swiss Cheese Effect” of what our traditional high school model has allowed for…generations.

Now that we have made the transition to our proficiency-based model, we have students in high school whose clock is ticking toward graduating with their class. They are the kids in the pipeline without the foundational skills required to be able to demonstrate proficiency in required topics. We need to remember that students come to the system with eight to eleven years of “Swiss cheese.” The pressure on learners and our learning facilitators to fill holes in learning and complete graduation requirements is extraordinary. This, to use Chris Sturgis’ analogy, is one of the “elephants in the room” that needs our attention…in a hurry.

What Can be Done?

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Deer Island-Stonington High School: Breathing Life into the Standards

December 9, 2015 by
DISHS2

Image from the DISHS Website

This post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine. This is the second of a three-part look at Deer Isle-Stonington High School. Start with the first post on Turning Around the Culture.

West led the high school in a process that began to reorganize the school around four themes: multiple pathways, personalization, proficiency-based learning, and community-based education. He explained, “We didn’t want to be a diploma factory to just pass out diplomas. We wanted kids to be prepared. The biggest obstacle was lack of student engagement. Kids often go through the motion of doing what is expected but they aren’t invested in their own learning. If we could engage students, they would be more open to meeting the higher academic expectations.” (more…)

How My Understanding of Competency-Based Education Has Changed Over the Years

December 8, 2015 by

StairsNext week, I am excited to be sharing the work that my team and I have done in New Hampshire on competency-based education with a group of South Carolina educators as part of the Transform SC institute on Meeting the Needs of Every Student With Competency Based Progression. My preparation for this institute has been an opportunity for me to reflect on what has now been a six-year journey with competency education with Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH. This past week, our school district was recognized for the second year in a row as a “leader in competency education” by Tom Vander Ark’s organization Getting Smart, noting that Sanborn was one of 30 School Districts Worth Visiting in 2015. (more…)

What I’m Learning About Student Agency

December 2, 2015 by

for agency postOn Thursday, December 3 at 7 pm ET the topic of the #NGLCchat series will be on student agency. Guests include Andrew K. Miller, who serves on the National Faculty for the Buck Institute and ASCD; Principal Michele Savage and teacher Casey Montigney from Shue-Medill Middle School in Newark, DE; and Dave Lash and Dr. Grace Belfiore, developers of the MyWays project.

In preparation for the discussion, I’ve pulled a number of blogs together that touch on student agency. These include blogs written on the topic, how schools are structuring and supporting students to have agency, classroom practices, and my personal reflections as I learn more about it. (more…)

Noble High School: Creating Timely, Differentiated Supports

by

NobleThis post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine. You can also learn about Biddeford School District and Casco Bay High School.

If we gave out awards at CompetencyWorks, I’d give Noble High School an award for the fourth element of the CompetencyWorks definition of competency education: Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

December 1, 2015 by

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMDiane Ravitch critiques competency education in her blog. In an email, Chris Sturgis notes, “Ravitch clearly is one of the people who is using the phrase competency-based education to refer to adaptive software.  I’ve just finished a tour of six school districts in Maine to learn about their progress in making the transition to competency-based education and their focus is on ensuring that students are successful in learning skills and being able to apply them. These schools are focusing on providing supports to students, improving instruction and building their assessment literacy. Their focus is on building the capacity of the instructional team to meet the needs of students. Adaptive software is just one of the many tools they can use as a supplemental resource for students that can benefit from differentiated instruction, rapid feedback and may need more time to build their skills. Ravitch has enormous knowledge of the education system and has the courage to admit mistakes. However, in this case Ravitch seems to be confused about the different strands of next generation learning. Perhaps we should invite her to do a site visit with CompetencyWorks?” See Ravitch’s blog here.

Movement in the States

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Casco Bay High School: Learning as Exploration

November 18, 2015 by

MapThis post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine. This is the second of a four-part look at Casco Bay High School. Read Part One for Tips and Takeaways. You can also read about Casco in Making Mastery Work and Inside Mastery Based High Schools: Profiles and Conversations.

FUN!

From start to finish of my day at Casco Bay High School, the overwhelming feeling was one of fun. Or perhaps it is really an all-out pervasive joy of learning. I saw it in the students gathering together in the Great Space before the start of the school day, the group conversations among students, the discussions with teachers, and the knock-me-over-I-was-laughing-so-hard game of Your Greatest Fan with the staff and visiting educators from Chicago at the end of the day. (You can get a taste of FUN at the video Movin’ On Up – the celebration when students get accepted to their first college.)

Before I dive into describing the proficiency-based system (remember Maine uses the term proficiency-based), it is important to understand the overarching design of Casco. It’s not easy, as Casco is what I described as an integrated model. The pieces all work together – take away one element and it will have direct implications on the rest of the model.

1. Size and Student Population

Sharing space with the Portland Arts and Technology High Schools, Casco serves, at its maximum capacity, 400 students with about 50 percent FRL. It is one of three public high schools in Portland and has a large number English Language Learners, many of whom are from the over ten African countries for which Portland serves as a refugee settlement city. With a waiting list, students are admitted to Casco based on a lottery weighted for Free and Reduced Lunch, special education, and ELL. Given that refugee families are in the midst of many changes as they create new lives, mobility is an issue. In addition, Casco accepts students in all grades throughout high school.

2. Expedition, Community, and Adolescent Development

Casco is an Expeditionary Learning school with an emphasis on achievement, character, and meaningful work. (If you haven’t visited it yet, check out the Illuminating Standards that has been developed by a partnership between Expeditionary Learning and Harvard Ed School.) Again, Casco is so integrated that any activity is designed to build on all three components.

Expedition: The concept of expeditions, or learning as an exploration, is constantly drawn upon throughout the school. Expeditions, all of which are interdisciplinary, can take place within the school, on Cow Island for outdoor learning, or in the community to look at topics such as sustainable foods. Each class has a major question guiding their year. This year, sophomores are exploring Africa Rising, juniors are looking at income equality, and seniors are learning about the Arab world with a final project of turning the school into a museum so others can learn as well. Freshmen and seniors have Quests, and the Junior Journey is a week of investigation, community service, oral histories, and video production on inequity in an American city such as New Orleans, NYC, or Biloxi. Here is a video about expeditions created by Edutopia in the Schools That Work series.

Another form for students to explore their passions, the world, and their own perspective on the world is through intensives. These week-long opportunities may include learning to swim, learning conflict resolutions skills, or embarking on career exploration. (more…)

Casco Bay High School: Tips and Takeaways

November 16, 2015 by

Casco Bay HSThis post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine. This is the first of a four-part look at Casco Bay High School.

I am so glad I had a chance to visit Casco Bay High School. I learned so much, and there is so much more to be learned from the incredible set of educators. I know the visit will continue to influence my thinking and understanding of proficiency-based learning along the way. Thanks to all the staff and students for sharing their stories and insights.

Two Big Takeaways

1. Putting it All Together: One of the things you can’t help asking yourself while visiting this school is, “How do they do all of this?”

I think the answer can be found in a few things. First, they are very clear about what they want for students and the strategies that will work best to get them there. Everything feels intentional and driven by clear principles. Second, there is a strong culture of learning. As one staff person said, “We are always under construction. We are always trying new things.” Third, there are strong rituals. Those rituals reinforce the culture, reinforce values, and often contain a number of activities wrapped together. Fourth, principal Derek Pierce uses a distributed leadership model. He is very comfortable engaging others in decision-making. A teacher remarked that few decisions are made by Pierce without substantial input. In fact, when they started the transition to proficiency-based learning, all the teachers were part of the leadership team. Now that they are operational, the leadership team is smaller, with one representative from each of the teams and one at-large representative. However, they still use protocols to make decisions that ensure input and participation. Finally, they all share in the joy of learning.

2. The Power of the HOW: Casco has created a balance of a number of principles that have contributed to a sophisticated use of HOW (habits of work). Just think about it – Habits of Work are HOW we learn. First, they are dedicated to making sure students can participate (a good principle for anyone interested in creating an equitable culture). Second, they want to make sure students have ownership over their learning and have the skills to succeed. Third, they want to make sure everyone succeeds.

In ensuring students can participate and get more time for learning, they each have to demonstrate a 3 on the Big 3. The focus is on making sure students are putting in the effort, not whether they have mastered every skill or standard.

This got me to thinking: The GPA is supposed to be a powerful predictor of college success because it indicates that students put in the effort. It’s not much of an indicator of what you know, as schools have offered such a wide variety of content in their courses. Couldn’t we replace the GPA with the HOW? Couldn’t a 3 or more indicate that you have built the necessary skills to be an independent learner? (more…)

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