Tag: student-centered

What Does It Look Like: Student Ownership, Voice and Choice in a Competency-based School

November 22, 2013 by

belfast1As more districts become curious about competency education, they want to see what it look like in the classroom. Of course competency education doesn’t look one way — it varies based on the degree schools are using blended learning, how they are personalizing education, how student-centered, how project-based the school is, and the design and culture of the school . However, you can certainly get a feel for what is possible by watching videos, listening to students and teachers reflect upon their experiences. So we’ve pulled together a few — most of these schools emphasize student-centeredness or personalization.  You can find other videos and blog posts about competency education In the Classroom on the wiki.


Unpacking the Standards and Learning Targets

Takeaways and New Questions from EAA School Visits

October 31, 2013 by

Lessons Learned pictureIf ten of us went to visit the same school we would come away with 10 different insights. It’s why I believe so strongly in joint site visits as a method of knowledge transfer – you learn together in a way that taps into previous knowledge as well.  So here are my insights, and you can read what  struck Tom VanderArk about EAA in his Ed Week column.  I encourage you to take the time to put a team together or even a cross-district or cross-state team to go visit Nolan Elementary, Phoenix Multicultural, Brenda Scott Academy for Theatre Arts, and Southeastern Technical High School sooner than later. Michigan and Detroit have a lot of volatile political dynamics (i.e things change), and I’d hate for people to miss the chance to see what can happen when you integrate personalized, mastery-based, and blended into a “student-centered” model of learning.


1) Reaching the Outliers: A teacher at Nolan and a teacher at Brenda Scott told me just about the same thing: I can reach many more kids. Before, I had to teach to the middle, but now I can use blended learning so that outliers are fully supported as well. Without blended learning, I don’t know if this would be as possible. I’ve been wracking my brain, have we ever had a reform that was meaningful for students who are way behind, those chugging along at teacher pace, as well as those that get placed in gifted and talented?  Could this actually be a universal reform that works for all children? Seems too easy – I want to dig harder about what the implications are for the students at the margins.

2) We Can’t Have Student Voice Without Having Teacher Voice: Mary Esselman, Deputy Chancellor of EAA, related one of her lessons learned.  They realized they couldn’t expect teachers to create environments for students to have voice if they didn’t have it themselves.  So professional development became an experiential experience with reflection and presentation. Teachers use Buzz — they don’t just learn about Buzz. After they’ve finished the initial stage of professional development, they prepare three minute videos – Who am I as an EAA educator? (more…)

What Happens Once a Student Reaches Proficiency?

January 2, 2013 by
from Making Mastery Work

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).


Spending Time

November 27, 2012 by

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…)

A Powerful Letter of Reflection and Gratitude

June 9, 2012 by

David Theoharides, Superintendent of Sanford Schools in Maine wrote a beautiful reflection in his June 7th op-ed Vision pursues ‘student-centered, proficiency-based learning‘. The piece also brilliantly served to further engage the community in the transformation towards the Sanford Vision: Learning for Life with its focus on student-centered, proficiency-based learning. (more…)

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