Tag: teacher

Climate Change

November 14, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 1.56.38 PMAt the close of classes last June, summer vacation hung on the horizon like the grand prize at a carnival. I expected the mass euphoria, but not the concern about their academic lives in September.  As one student said, “I just started to get things and understand. I don’t know what to expect next year, and I’m a little scared.”

His fear wasn’t being unprepared for the academic rigor of the next grade level. His fear was about the climate of the classrooms he would enter. Would he be allowed to redo assignments? Have flexible due dates? Get one-on-one help? Would other classrooms reflect the same philosophy he experienced in mine?

“I love that almost everybody gets along with each other. I feel like I am always being pushed to do new things.”

Exploring standards-based practice is a leap of instructional faith. Moving toward personalized instruction and grading means building a different climate and culture. Students need to be guided in self-regulating behaviors and shown – through their own work and by example – how to self-monitor, self-correct and self-direct their own behavior. Self-regulation becomes the cornerstone of a personalized classroom.

To truly embrace personalized learning means fostering a culture of experimentation, support, tolerance, and trust. Teachers and students become partners in learning opportunities. (more…)

Making the Grade Count

November 1, 2013 by
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Caroline Gordon Messenger

As a teacher of high school English, the Common Core State Standards are a blessing and a curse.

And assessing a student’s competence in the standards? That can be difficult and frustrating as well. Especially when Robert Marzano has concluded in his research that teaching each Common Core State Standard to mastery would take 22 years of educational instruction to accomplish.

As our high school begins to explore standards-based instruction and curriculum revision to align with CCSS, more questions emerge for educators about not only how to create quality assessment instruments, but also how to create quality measures for assessment. In my past, every assessment had its own rubric, stating what criteria would be measured and how many points it would be worth, so that every grade would represent a number of out 100%.

It took several years and the work of Doug Reeves to make me question just what I had been doing for 10 years. So what changed?

Everything. (more…)

Giving Students The Map

October 15, 2013 by

photoOne of the reflection questions I routinely present to teachers to use as they develop their customized classrooms is the following:

How am I making learning targets as transparent as possible in my classroom, instruction, and assessment? 

When I visit classes I routinely ask students the following questions:

1.  What is your target?

2.  How do you know when you reach that target?

3.  How do you know what to do next?

These questions get at one of the essential elements of competency-based learning: the transparency of learning.  In a successful customized classroom, everybody has the map.  The destination — a learning target — is clear to all.  The route to the destination, the foundational knowledge and expected reasoning level, is given to everyone.  Everybody has a map, and uses it.

Getting to the point where everybody in your class has the map can be a bit of a journey in itself.  Change takes time, especially the change from a traditional classroom to a customized classroom. Take small steps.  Here are some tools that you can use: (more…)

Summertime Reading Part 4: Perspective for Teachers

August 27, 2013 by

IMG_0767Competency education is only as effective as the leaders and districts that implement it. The following are posts by incredible educators who offer insight into CBE for any teacher wanting to understand more about how to implement it in their classroom:

The Project IS the Learning! by Rose Colby and Andrew Miller

Competency-Based Instruction & Assessment: Building the Framework by Erica Stofanak

Dancing Out Front, Be Reasonable!, and Exceeding Is More Complicated Than Adding Glitter and Flash by Courtney Belolan

The Offal Lesson by Shawn Cornally

A Classroom Teacher’s Approach to Competency-Based Education , A Shift to Competencies: A Practical Approach, and Validating Competency with Wild Pigs in the Woods… by Justin Ballou

Check out the Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the Summertime Reading series.

Pace Yourself: Restructuring Content In A Competency-based Classroom

August 26, 2013 by


This post was first published by Blend My Learning on July 30, 2013. It has been reposted here with permission.

Nico scrunched up his face. He was working on standard twenty: solving free-fall problems. Math is tricky for him, so I anticipated that he might have questions. He sighed, put his pen down and asked me, “Mr. D., why did you become a teacher?” I did a small double-take, blinked a few times, and said I could give him the short answer now and the long answer after class.

“The short answer, Nico, is that our country is a place where certain people’s voices aren’t heard enough, and I thought that education might do something about that.” Nico smiled and turned back to finishing his calculations; about fifteen minutes later he had mastered the lab and the quiz for that standard.  After class, he and I spoke about the George Zimmerman trial and what it meant to him as a black boy in DC. It was a fascinating conversation that I wish I had recorded.



I include this exchange because I have come to realize that one advantage of my summer pilot is that ninety-five percent of my interactions with students these past three weeks have been productive and directly related to learning. There have been only three occasions in the past forty-five hours in my classroom where a student was doing something that was distracting enough to a peer that I had to address it. This is not because I built phenomenal classroom culture in three weeks; it is because a competency-based curriculum values mastery over time. I don’t feel that terror that all teachers feel when a student misbehaves in a traditional classroom, that fear that if we don’t all get through this material, right now, we’re going to lose time. I don’t feel the need to have eleven arms dragging each of my eleven students through the same content at the same time for fear that they will drown. Instead of talking about how students are or aren’t “using their time well,” I get to discuss with them what they do or don’t understand right now. (more…)

Not ‘Til the Dishes are Done: Childhood, Chores, and Constant Expectations

August 19, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 12.07.57 PMAs with many children growing up in America, we had certain things we were expected to complete. Being young, it seemed as if most days were just a stringing together of different activities:

Some preferable like playing outside or having friends over…

While some, like the dishes, taking out the trash, swapping the wash, or cleaning up the room that my brother and I just destroyed…well…Not so much.

As I aged and took on more responsibility, my parents reinforced the fact that members of the house helped by getting things done. Simply stated, if I wanted to have a friend over or go out and play, I needed to get things done. No “ifs, ands, or buts” about it.

Through the process of completing chores, if I didn’t get one of the chores done, I didn’t get the reward. Even worse, if I didn’t do the chore right and it wasn’t done to my parent’s satisfaction, I had to go back and do it again. And again. And sometimes, again.

Sound familiar? Ever hear of any similar family systems? Live through something similar yourself? (more…)

Retake Policy: Lessons Learned from Pat Benatar

July 29, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 3.08.52 PMAs an Eighties baby and a fan of sample based music, I have spent a great deal of time surrounded by crates of vinyl. The history educator in me sees these as cultural artifacts: moments frozen in time that convey the values and feelings of people willing to put themselves out to the masses.

This same act is one we see in our students every day. In their attempts to be competent, they put out their best work for all to see. Depending upon a number of factors, that work hits or misses the mark. In the competency-based classroom environment though, the expectation is that education is not a “one-and-done” event, but rather a “move on when ready” model.

So the question is posed: How do we juggle the ideal with the real in the realm of retake policy? Below is a plan that I put into place with my classes and has seen some great successes. (I would love to hear your feedback and personal ideas/experiences in the comments!)


1. For the summative assessment, require a minimum to show best effort:

By clearly stating what the expectations are when introducing the summative, we can better communicate where the line of rigor is to allow a student to show that they put their best effort forward. When used in my classroom, some of the minimums that have seen success are a minimum grade on the original summative, and the summative needing to be submitted on time. In the traditional setting, I have also seen this bar move according to the expectations of the classroom teacher—for example, the beginning of the semester may require a certain grade for the opportunity to retake and as the semester progresses, that minimum grade might be increased.



A Learning Progression To Support Teachers

July 23, 2013 by

photoAll twelve of us sit around the table in our workroom, pouring through the Customized Classroom Facilitator Continuum.  I half skim the paper in front of me, half scan the faces of my colleagues.  On one of my scans I catch my principal’s eye.  He’s scanning too. We finished our first draft of the progression yesterday, and this is the moment when we find out if our work makes sense.  I’m a little nervous.

The teachers in the room with us, the Phase 1 teams, are all taking the first steps towards our vision of customized learning.  It is now April and all of us are tired, a little ragged, from stretching into this first year.  These people are the best people to look at this progression and give us honest, brutal feedback.  And they will.

The Customized Classroom Facilitator Continuum is a learning progression, just like any other learning progression, but for teachers.  A learning progression takes a skill or concept, breaks out the different aspects of that skill or concept, and arranges learning targets from simple to complex.  There are different kinds of learning progressions depending on content and skill, as Fritz Mosher touches on in his CPRE policy brief “The Role of Learning Progressions in Standards-Based Education Reform,” as well as different formats for organizing them.  The Customized Classroom Facilitator Continuum takes the skills and understandings needed to create and support a personalized learning environment and arranges them by the following philosophical lenses: (more…)

Validating Competence with Wild Pigs in the Woods…

July 3, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 10.19.09 AMWith the school year coming to an end, I have begun the yearly practice of reflecting upon all that has occurred in and out of the classroom. This past week, I have been following along with the conversation around Iowa’s Competency-based workshop through Twitter. Although I was not able to attend, it was great to see the conversations as well as the feedback on the presentations helping to push competency-based education further in active environments.

As I continue to see this grow in both my home state of New Hampshire as well as other forward thinking states, I have begun to think more about the structures of these systems and how we can show student competence. If the ultimate goal is to have our students both college and career ready, then how is it we can validate that student learning has occurred?

In the process of reflection, I was brought back to a statement that my high school math teacher, Mr. Restuccia, used to consistently say. When confronted with a problem, and we could spit out the answer, he would state the claim, “Even a wild pig will find strawberries in the woods sometimes.” Although frustrating as a student, his statement was true to the fact that, just because we had the answer, didn’t mean that we truly understood the concepts or how to use the information. (more…)

Summertime is Writing Time

June 3, 2013 by

Go swimming or write a post for CWorks!

It’s getting warmer, and it’s time to think about what we want to accomplish this summer.  For principals and teachers who don’t have a moment to themselves during the school year, we hope that you will put aside a little time to write a post for CompetencyWorks about what you learned about competency education this year so your colleagues can learn from your experiences.  As always, if you have examples and resources, we can put them on the wiki.

We want you to write about what is important to you. But if you need a few ideas to get you thinking, below are some of the questions for educators and principals that have been raised during the year.

Add your questions in the comments section; maybe we can find just the right person to answer them.

For educators:

  • How do you manage a personalized, proficiency-based classroom? How is it different in comparison to a traditional classroom?
  • How do you give students voice and choice?  What do you need to do to make that happen? What is a capacity matrix?
  • What do you do when a student doesn’t have the prerequisite knowledge for your class? What happens if a student just doesn’t seem to be reaching proficiency?
  • What do you do when a student isn’t keeping up with the “teacher pace”?
  • How do you determine if a student is proficient in a learning target? Isn’t there a lot of testing in competency-based education?
  • Do you have to focus on one learning target at a time? Is there enough time to do that in a class?
  • Is there anything different in how you support ELL and special education students in proficiency-based classrooms?


For principals:

  • How do you keep grouping from becoming tracking?
  • What type of supports do educators need to succeed in a competency-based environment?
  • I keep hearing about a “growth mindset.” How does this change the job of the principal and the operation of a school?
  • How have you changed your operations (scheduling, budgeting, metrics, etc.) to support competency-based learning?
  • Have you been seeing results? What might we expect to see in terms of student achievement and other indicators if we start using competency-based approaches?
  • What are parents’ greatest concerns and how do you respond to them?


Thanks to everyone who contributes a post. You are making a huge difference by sharing your knowledge.   We know transparency is one of the core values of  the competency-based approached. We need to bring more and more transparency to our learning of how to implement competency-based education as well.


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