May 19, 2014 by Courtney Belolan
Consider this moment:
I’m sitting in a summer planning session with a team of teachers from different grade levels and contents. We’re talking through a vision of student-centered, proficiency-based learning, and our goal is to have some plans in place for the start of the school year. As we’re discussing student engagement and motivation, a teacher chimes in with:
“Let’s just make sure we are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
I hear this phrase whenever talking through change, especially change related to instructional practices. I agree completely, although I’ve never been a fan of the phrase (there is just something about the imagery). We do need to make sure we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; there are many things we already do as educators that support a student-centered, proficiency-based philosophy, regardless of how we design and run our classes. The hard part is getting into that bathtub and making sure we know what really is the baby and what is bathwater. (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…)
April 3, 2014 by Caroline Messenger
I had asked my ninth grade students to write a “last” chapter to the novel Seedfolks by Paul Fleischmann we had finished reading as a class. I knew they had read the entire novel and even annotated it because we did all of our reading in this room. Sometimes we did it in a literature circle. Sometimes we did it by ourselves. Sometimes we used a form of Socratic Seminar to ask questions of each other and dig deeper into the author’s intended meaning.
But I knew all my students had read the novel and understood its metaphors, allusions and themes because we did the work together. And because of that, I knew they would be able to creatively adapt what they knew and believed.
I knew they’d be able to do it because I would be there to help them, guide them and monitor their progress because their work would be completed in class and during after school workshop sessions.
I knew their levels of competency because I assessed it every single day.
The pattern here isn’t new. Rick Wormeli suggests rethinking how we assign work to students and how we penalize them for not doing it. Both Wormeli and Doug Reeves make powerful arguments against “the zero” in the teacher grade book. (more…)
April 2, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
This is the second of a two-part series on Making Community Connections Charter School. Click here for Part 1.
In our traditional system, students progress in age-based cohorts, with most students progressing regardless of what they know and some being retained to repeat a year. Competency education expects students to get the support they need so that they are proficient, offering flexibility as needed, such as allowing students to continue to focus on gaps or areas where they are not yet proficient (i.e. competency recovery) in the summer or the coming school year. The challenge for the school is to keep students on track AND provide flexibility to ensure they become proficient, which means rapid response when students struggle and more intensive interventions as needed.
Making Community Connections Charter School (MC2) has a different understanding of what it means to be on track. It’s not just an arrow, angling up at 45 degrees. It’s the J curve, which predicts that as students become more mature, with the habits to be successful learners, they will take off and learn on a much steeper trajectory. Under this theory of learning, how does MC2 make sure students are on track and progressing? (more…)
February 5, 2014 by Caroline Messenger
Sometimes in teaching we deal in “revelations:” big ideas that students are supposed to get at the end of a unit or learning progression. They are supposed attain these foundational concepts and understandings after progressing through a sequence that is designed to end at a particular point – a point we as educators decide upon when we create a unit of study or a curriculum.
According to Wiggins and McTeague, we are supposed to plan for the big ideas before we even start teaching. We are supposed to plan for where we end up before we even begin. And there’s a lot of good reasoning why. If we know where we’re going, then we can ultimately plan for how to best get there. But there’s a troublesome piece to that. Sometimes our “best” way to get there doesn’t suit some of the students in the room. And sometimes our endpoint is too fixed. Sometimes we create a round hole while students craft a square peg.
Are we right? Are they wrong?
A straightforward definition of a learning progression is to examine it as a “sequenced set of building blocks that students must master en route to mastering a more distant curricular aim.” (Popham, 2007)
Currently, the Common Core has replaced the teacher and the school as the determinant of when students should master concepts and skills. It is our learning progression and it has already determined our “distant curricular aims.” I know students should be reading at particular levels at particular times. I know students should have mastered persuasive writing by the time they come to ninth grade, so that my objective is to continue the work associated with argumentative writing. And educators involved with mathematics have their own timing issues as the Common Core has redirected particular math skills to brand-new points in time.
To say the path to knowledge and skills has changed would be a tremendous understatement. (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 14, 2013 by Caroline Messenger
At 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…)
November 1, 2013 by Caroline Messenger
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?
October 15, 2013 by Courtney Belolan
One 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…)
August 27, 2013 by Runjini Raman
Competency 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.