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).
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…)
June 9, 2012 by Chris Sturgis
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…)