Tag: teachers and teaching

Three Big Ah-Ha!s for Teachers New to Learner-Centered Proficiency-Based Education

August 5, 2016 by

BulbThat time of year is getting close! Some of us will be back with our students in a matter of days, some weeks. Without a doubt all of us are thinking about how we want to do things this year and starting to get our plans ready. Here are some of the biggest ideas I support teachers through when it comes to learner-centered proficiency-based education. Whether your district is working toward a vision of personalized learning, or you are a curious educator ready to redesign your class, take a think through:

  1. You Will Not Be Writing 25 Different Lesson Plans For Each Class

When some people hear “personalized learning” they immediately imagine a classroom in which twenty-five students are doing twenty-five different things. Twenty-five learners with different needs. Twenty-five learners with different interests. A teacher popping around from kid to kid and never teaching a whole class at once, ever again.

That will never happen in an effective learner-centered proficiency-based system. The odds of it happening in a lone personalized learning classroom are slim to non-existent. Why? Because they, and we, are humans. It is much more likely that in any given class, for any given set of procedural or declarative knowledge, there will be a small number of core groups with a sprinkling of outliers. Further, a teacher who has been practicing for at least three years likely has a good sense about what those different groups will be, in terms of understandings and skills. The same is true for student interests! We can all think of at least five different interest areas that will hook most of our students. Sports, animals, pets, dance, music, visual arts, video games, outdoors, cars, what else? Teachers knows these things about students, and it doesn’t change too drastically from year to year. I am not saying “you already do this” because there are some important differences between this kind of grouping and tracking. (more…)

Is it a Project or an Activity? Project-Based Learning and its Cousins

July 18, 2016 by

PBL1This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on June 24, 2016. 

A project is a multistep activity undertaken by an individual or group to achieve a particular aim. With that broad definition there’s a lot of project-based learning happening in schools these days. Some is better than others and there are a lot of variations: some thin, some deep; some teacher-led, some student-driven; some with clear deliverables, and some very open-ended.

In an effort to help educators select a strategy appropriate for intended outcomes, this post is an attempt at providing a framework for variations on project-based learning (PBL) and part of our project-based world campaign.

Gold Standard PBL

Buck Institute for Education (BIE) defines project-based learning as “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem or challenge.” Their Gold Standard PBL Essential Project Design Elements include:

  • Key Knowledge, Understanding and Success Skills. The project is focused on student learning goals, including standards-based content and skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration and self-management.
  • Challenging Problem or Question. The project is framed by a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge.
  • Sustained Inquiry. Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources and applying information.
  • Authenticity. The project features real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards or impact. Or it speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests and issues in their lives.
  • Student Voice & Choice. Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create.
  • Reflection. Students and teachers reflect on learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, obstacles and how to overcome them.
  • Critique & Revision. Students give, receive and use feedback to improve their process and products.
  • Public Product. Students make their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to people beyond the classroom.

We think that is a good and useful set of design principles. Most of it applies not only to project-based learning but also to a group of related instructional strategies. We see seven key dimensions (design variables) for projects and related learning activities: (more…)

Three Key Components of School-Community Engagement

July 15, 2016 by

NotebookThis post originally appeared at Students at the Center on June 22, 2106.

In Pittsfield, New Hampshire, community members have been involved in articulating our schools’ values, vision, and mission; in developing our long-term plan for school redesign; in redefining our professional roles; in managing our continuous improvement systems; and more. Still, we’re missing the mark in creating spaces for deep and broad engagement for all our families and community members.

When recently discussing the responses to a district survey of faculty and staff on family engagement practices, our Family Engagement Team, composed of both community members and educators, recognized challenges that lie ahead in taking engagement a step deeper. Comments like “parents get in the way,” “families are not helpful,” and “no confidence in families” were sprinkled among more mostly-positive notions, despite the district’s many years of commitment to community engagement.

Once educators are on the job, they’re up to their ears in what they see as the central function of their work, which can simply reinforce their views of what it’s like to be a teacher in the first place—endless cycles of planning for instructing, assessing student progress, and re-planning based on identified new student needs. These views have been formed over a lifetime of observing their own teachers as well as experiences in their university education and internships/student teaching.

New teachers are often overwhelmed by the magnitude of their job and often struggle to keep up with even their day-to-day work with their students. Their assumptions about being a professional educator change slowly, even in the face of administrative demands to develop and maintain relationships with parents and family members. Even if family engagement makes rational and intuitive sense, it remains where it has always been for most educators: on the fringes. (more…)

Student Ownership of Non-Curricular Cognitive Competencies

July 8, 2016 by

WSP BlogThis is the fourth and final article in a series specific to the developing understanding of skills and dispositions of educators working with students in a competency-based educational system. There has been increased recognition nationally of the importance of skills and dispositions and how these are intertwined within the overall growth and College and Career Readiness of learners. The skills and dispositions are referred to in a number of ways (Non-cognitive skills, Habits of Learners, Work Habits, General Learning Outcomes, “soft skills,” etc.). Our school has been delving into skills and dispositions for the past few years, but we have found that there are limited resources to support our work, and at times, this has caused frustration. We were very excited about the opportunity to work with the recently released Essential Skills and Dispositions Frameworks (Lench, S., Fukuda, E., & Anderson, R. (2015)) this upcoming school year to support our continued learning in this area. For the purposes of this series of articles, we will be using the term the State of New Hampshire recognizes, Work Study Practices for skills and dispositions. Locally, we have aligned the Responsive Classroom’s CARES to our State of New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices, which are referenced in this series of articles.

The previous articles in this series may be accessed below:

Article 1: Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions.

Article 2: Collecting a Body of Evidence.

Article 3: Classroom Instruction of Skills and Dispositions

Memorial School is a Pre-K to Grade 5 elementary school in southeastern New Hampshire, part of the Sanborn Regional School District. As we have made our transition to a competency-based educational model, our recognition of the importance of skills and dispositions has evolved significantly. This evolution in understanding has progressed from our very early days in our journey when we realized that academics and academic behaviors MUST be separated. Today, our teachers recognize the importance of providing time for students to reflect on their own strengths as well as areas for growth within these skills and dispositions. And our growth will continue to evolve, as teachers have begun developing lessons and opportunities for learning for students within their classrooms within these important competencies.

Walking through the classrooms of our teachers this year, there was a palpable difference, but I could not put my finger on precisely what it was until delving deeper into the metacognitive aspect of the Essential Skills and Dispositions frameworks. I realized that it was the students’ self-awareness, their understanding of themselves as learners, that was making a difference in how they approached learning. It truly was reflective of a more learner-centered and personalized approach, and was a powerful catalyst for many of our students.

The insight of two of our teachers below outlines their work with their students specific to developing greater awareness, understanding, and ownership of these invaluable competencies within not only their classrooms but outside of their classrooms and in the greater world itself. Their reflections provide a glimpse into the world of both a first grade classroom and a fifth grade classroom, and describe how students’ increased self-awareness and understanding of how CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-regulation) translate not only within their classroom, but throughout their day as students, friends, and members of their family and greater community. (more…)

Culture and Climate

June 22, 2016 by
Hanna Attafi

Hanna Attafi

/kəlCHər/
:
the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization

When we identify with our culture, of course we think of norms such as clothing, language, food, and education. In addition, we hold certain beliefs and assumptions close as a part of our culture. Even though going to school seems like a natural part of childhood, there is a whole subculture within the education system that plays a huge role in a child’s life.

Students spend most of their lives in our classrooms. It is up to us, as educators, to foster a classroom culture that meets their basic needs, supports their academic learning and growth, and teaches social skills such as empathy, grit, and gratitude.

So how do we do this? We must first understand that students come to us with a concept of their own culture, which we have to acknowledge and respect. Our job is to teach them the basics for them to be successful in the culture of schools for them to be successful in all the ways we hope for them.

Of course we, as teachers, have heard that the first six weeks of school is when to really set the tone for the year and begin to “lay down the law.” In my experience, these first few weeks are very important, but it’s about establishing respect, trust, and relationships. And it starts by showing up…every single day. (more…)

Developing a Competency-Based ELA Classroom

June 8, 2016 by
Stephanie Price

Language Arts Lead Teacher Stephanie Price (right) and Dean of Curriculum and Instruction Lisa Simms (left) collaborate on DSISD’s around competency-based approach.

This post originally appeared at Springpoint on June 1, 2016.

When I started my journey at Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD) in spring 2015, I was excited. After nine years of teaching in a traditional model of education, the new possibilities at my disposal sparked my creativity. Little did I know how much I would feel like a first year educator all over again once school started in the fall. I was embarking on uncharted territory, and no amount of summer planning could have prepared me for what was next. Now, a year in, I’m able to reflect on what I’ve learned, and offer a bit of advice to teachers and school leaders who might be interested in this model.

Discovering Pacing for my Students

As I learned what competency based education meant, it was my understanding that students could and should move through acquiring content and skills asynchronously, or at their own pace. Our learning management system, Summit Public School’s Personalized Learning Platform (PLP), allowed for students to access content, assessments, and projects on their own.

My initial approach prioritized the pace of the learning over the personal needs of each student. Students could move as quickly or slowly as they wished through their work, choosing supports and enrichments as they went along. This student-led approach didn’t account for the fact that students weren’t ready to identify their own needs without my guidance. Many of them lacked the self-directed learning skills and agency. It became messy, and it started to feel like each student was isolated. I missed the collaboration I was so used to in a traditional model. I also realized that about a third of my students were ready for the rigor of Advanced Placement coursework while about one tenth of them were struggling to keep up at an appropriate pace, even with the scaffolds provided for them to choose from. This was all useful learning for me, and at the end of the first trimester, I developed and implemented a differentiated grouping system that I called a “cohort model” in response to these challenges, and influenced heavily by student voice.

Implementing the Cohort Model

The cohort model simply allows students to choose their own adventure in the language arts classroom. Although all students work in small groups at their own levels, they are connected through common themes, tasks, and texts. My class has three cohorts: Introduction to Literature, AP Language Cohort, and AP Language Veterans. An example of a typical day would include the Intro to Lit students reading leveled versions of Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. in preparation for writing a short response on figurative language in the text while the AP Cohort analyzes the whole letter for a rhetorical analysis essay. Meanwhile, the AP Veterans read Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau alongside Letter to Birmingham Jail to write a full compare contrast analysis on the figurative language each author used to support his argument. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

June 7, 2016 by

What's NewTeacher and Ed Leader Insights

Thought Leadership

Assessments for Learning

Movement in the States

(more…)

Moving from Theory to Practice: Designing a New Competency-Based High School

June 6, 2016 by

This post originally appeared at Springpoint on May 31, 2016.Screenshot 2016-06-07 08.53.23

Every school leader wants to create their dream school. They want the kind of opportunity that would allow a passionate team and community of learners to cast a shared vision, to side step the bureaucratic elements of schooling, and to create an atmosphere and experiences that educators and students long for. However, when the opportunity of a blank canvas for school design arrives, there are a number of unspoken challenges in moving from theory to practice. In December of 2014 we embarked on this leadership journey with Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD). As we look back on our first year, there are many lessons that contributed to the success of our first year and our goals moving forward. Most importantly, our strong foundational systems and goals allowed our leadership to steer DSISD through the uncertain waters between theory and practice.

North Star: DSISD Vision

Our theory from the start was that a competency-based approach would make our school truly student-centered from startup to launch. Moving from theory to practice inherently means that an organization will need to navigate uncertainty and change. Many of the daily structures that ensure confidence and coherence in an established school or organization do not exist in a startup situation. What does exist in a startup situation is enthusiasm and excitement about new possibilities. However, enthusiasm is a finite resource that can be whittled away as challenges, which are sure to come, arise. To navigate uncertainty at DSISD, we built a compelling vision to anchor decisions in and test designs against.

The DSISD vision is “To empower ALL students to OWN their learning, SHAPE their dreams, and CREATE a better world.” This simple statement paints the picture of what we hope to instill in all of our students. It is also the first test for all of our decisions and school design elements. From identifying staff dispositions, to curricula choices, to student experiences—if the choice doesn’t align to the vision, then we don’t do it. This simple stake in the ground creates unity and confidence among the staff and provides consistency in the midst of uncertainty and change.

Map and Compass: Year One Goals

But vision alone is not enough—leaders also need to provide concrete criteria to know whether the group is heading in the right direction. Having clear benchmarks and goals helps generate momentum and secure early wins. This positive momentum is critical for counteracting the challenges of change and uncertainty. To secure these wins, the DSISD leadership team set three core goals for a strong first year: (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Constant Feedback

June 3, 2016 by

WalkingThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on May 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When we think about the essential aspects of proficiency-based learning, or how people learn in general, one thing that comes to mind is feedback. We know that regular, meaningful feedback is important to learning. At it’s simplest, feedback is being able to see where you are in relation to a goal of some kind and seeing what comes next in order to get closer to that goal. We can’t get better at something if we don’t know how we are Meaningful feedback can take many forms, and it all has the same characteristics:

  1. It is goal referenced
  2. It is actionable
  3. It is timely
  4. It is ongoing

The last two characteristics, being timely and ongoing, can present challenges in the classroom. They don’t have to, if we shift some of our thinking about how the feedback happens. Before we look at a how to make it work in a classroom, let’s look at a feedback loop many of us have experience with: the Fitbit™. (more…)

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