Tag: teachers and teaching

Engagement Templates: 6 Ways to Structure Learning Experiences

October 15, 2015 by

Students in lecture

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on September 11, 2015.

How to engage learners? It’s a perpetual question for teachers and trainers. If it’s human development you’re after, engagement isn’t the goal but it is the engine. You won’t achieve your aims without it, especially if the desired learning requires hard sustained work.

We’ve been studying engagement and cataloging templates drawing from traditional research and new technology-enhanced approaches to user experience (UX) and learner experience (LX).

Many instructional designers use Terry Anderson’s interaction framework: learner to content, learner to instructor, and learner to peer learner interaction. These are important constructs but they don’t tell you how to structure a learning experience.

David Merrill provides a bit more guidance in his five principles of instructional design:

  • learning is promoted when learners are engaged in solving real-world problems;
  • learning is promoted when existing knowledge is activated as a foundation for new knowledge;
  • learning is promoted when new knowledge is demonstrated to the learner;
  • learning is promoted when new knowledge is applied by the learner; and
  • learning is promoted when new knowledge is integrated into the learner’s world.

A designer admitted that “Designing an effective and efficient “instructional transaction” is the great mystery.”

While there are many variations, there appear to be six basic strategies for capturing engagement and initiating a learning cycle: (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

October 8, 2015 by

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMOhio department of education released its application to participate in the state’s new Competency-based education pilot program. It also created self-assessment tools for school districts to determine their readiness to participate in the program.

More Movement in the States


  • Arne Duncan supports Purdue University’s competency-based education program, and he is quoted as supporting competency education and shifting away from time-based systems.
  • An interview with Jennifer Deenik, Living Systems Science Teacher at Souhegan High School, by Jennifer Poon, Innovation Lab Network Director at CCSSO, takes a peek inside New Hampshire’s performance assessment pilot program.
  • Diploma Plus operates small alternative programs for students who have repeatedly failed a grade or are on the verge of dropping out. This interview with William Diehl, chair of the Diploma Plus board, discusses the key components of the schools’ efforts to prepare students who are coming from behind.
  • The Woodrow Wilson Foundation, in partnership with MIT, are creating the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning Sciences, which provides graduate programs in teacher education and school leadership. The Academy will be competency-based with a blended curriculum, and the first class will enroll in 2017.
  • In Giving Students Charge of How They Learn, John McCarthy discusses student-developed products based on learning targets, student-developed rubrics, student-developed conferences, and setting students free to learn with you.

Videos and Films

  • Beyond Measure is a film that challenges the assumptions of our current education system, and paints a positive picture of what’s possible in American education when communities decide they are ready for change. Watch the trailer here.
  • The Illuminating Standards Video Series explore the relationship between meeting demanding state standards and designing powerful learning experiences for all students. The video series are listed by grade level.


Going Deeper with New Resources

September 23, 2015 by

It’s helpful to read all the papers that get released on competency education and other related efforts…but they never totally help you understand how to do something. Thus, I keep my eyes out for resources that allow you to go deeper more easily.

There are two new resources that I think could be helpful to educators – Making Mastery Accessible by reDesign and Illuminating Standards at the Center for Student Work. And if you know of others that you have found helpful to you in your work, please pass them on.

redesignMaking Mastery Accessible was developed in partnership with Springpoint and is supported by Carnegie Corporation as a follow-up to Making Mastery Work. It can help you navigate terminology and there are lots of resources from other schools so you can see how they have organized their schools, what they have developed as overarching competencies, and access lots of teaching resources. There are also tools developed by reDesign to help you think about your process of conversion. For example, there are a number of design tools including readiness, adoption process, and grading policies.

snakes are born this way

From the video Snakes Are Born This Way

Illuminating Standards is a project to help people see how they can use project-based learning and performance tasks to help students meet the standards set out in the Common Core. It’s been developed through a partnership with Expeditionary Learning and the Harvard Graduate School of Education (check out the home page, as there are a lot more resources available there). There are great videos about how to teach standards using project-based learning and student voice/choice. You will also find projects and examples of student work at each grade level.

Both sites have a lot of material, so you might want to dedicate an hour or have a team of people look through to find out what might be most useful in your work right now.

See also:

Learning Progressions: Are Student-Centered State Standards Possible?

July 27, 2015 by

Stepping StonesIt’s interesting – we have this enormous set of academic standards (Common Core, Next Generation Science, and other state standards), but it’s not 100 percent clear if they were designed by backing out of what a group of experts think students need to be “college and career ready,” or to what degree they were established by how students really learn, moving from one concept to the next. If we were really committed to student learning, then we would want to make sure that the way standards are organized is based on the very best of what we know about how students learn and how instruction can help students learn.

There has been substantial research into how students actually learn and the best strategies to help them advance to the next concept. This set of research has produced learning progressions (also called maps or trajectories, but I’ll just use the phrase learning progressions). It’s helpful to think about learning progressions as the stepping stones across a river – there are many ways across, but some are definitely better than others.

Achieve held a meeting in May, gathering the researchers and state leaders to talk about the learning progressions and the potential value to our efforts to establish competency-based pathways. It was a fascinating meeting because of the incredible potential of these powerful instructional approaches and because of the number of remaining issues that need to be resolved.

What are Learning Progressions and How are They Valuable?

One of the big issues (although it should not stop us from moving forward) is that there is no one agreed upon definition of learning progressions among the researchers who have developed them. In fact, their field would be much more influential if they did a bit of field-building among themselves. Examples of the definitions highlighted at the Achieve meeting include:

  • Increasingly sophisticated ways of thinking about or understanding a topic
  • A framework for formative classroom practice that reflects how students learn within a domain
  • Building blocks to mastery of knowledge and skills addressed in college- and career-ready standards


Keeping the Why

July 8, 2015 by

TeacherRecently, I found myself at a conference sponsored by the Maine Curriculum Leaders’ Association. The purpose: to discuss where we are as a state in our ability to award diplomas based on proficiency of concepts and skills. Since each district is tasked with defining their own plan, it was a welcomed opportunity to hear the challenges and successes other districts have been encountering. It was a wonderful day of professional collaboration minus the single moment someone shared that they were excited about the move to proficiency since “students will now be ready when they get to me.” The grade level of the teacher who spoke is not relevant because I saw nodding heads of agreement from teachers of all levels. Is this really why we are doing this? So we know that students are ready for us? My mind took off.

I have heard this phrase uttered before. And, in full disclosure, I would be untruthful if I said those simple words never passed over my lips nor that I gave a head gesture in an attempt to emphasize my point that competency-based learning is worth making a reality. That was before I realized the importance of starting with WHY (thanks Simon Sinek). What was the reason we want this shift in education? In my more recent history of the competency-based movement, I have solidified my deeper understanding of why I want to shift from a system that awards Carnegie Units based on seat time and subject grades to one that asks students to demonstrate competency of skills and knowledge. The truth is, competency-based in not about making sure kids are ready for the next level’s teacher. Maybe that is a good why if you think only of how skills are to be taught. But, by simply adding the words “learner-centered” in front of proficiency-based, we make the reforms in the systems of schooling about what the student needs. In other words, we tag a student’s proficiency not because we want to know they are ready for us. We tag so we know what to prepare so we are ready for them. The difference between the two phrases might seem subtle, and at first glance may even be synonymous, but the effects on the system are not the same. The Why and how we teach and assess shifts when we begin with the learner.

Doug Finn, an educational coach for ReInventing Schools Coalition (RISC), has offered a great explanation of the differences. He shared that the teacher-centered structure, common in most schools, starts with a teacher and then assigns age-appropriate students to build the teacher’s schedule of classes. In contrast, a learner-centered approach starts with identifying what the students’ current needs are, grouping them, and then finding an adult to guide them to the next level of the learning progression. (more…)

Can MOOCs Become System-Builders?

July 1, 2015 by
From Atlantic Article

Image from The Atlantic Website

Something really special happens in the second or third year of implementation in schools that are applying competency education with the spirit of learning and the spirit of empowerment – educators develop a deep sense of urgency to improve their skills so they are in a better position to help students learn.

In the first year or so, there is a shared purpose that the goal is to make sure students learn, not cover the curriculum; educators have figured out the new infrastructure for learning; the understanding of what proficiency means for each academic level has been calibrated; everyone is aware of where as a school they are strong and where they are weak in terms of being able to help students learn; and if a strong information system has been put into place, everyone also knows exactly how students are progressing and which ones need more help. With this transparency about how the school is performing, educators become focused on how improve their instructional tool kits – deepening their knowledge about how to teach their discipline, how to upgrade instruction and assessment to higher order skills, integrating language and literacy practices, how to organize learning opportunities so students are really engaged in robust learning, how to better coach students in building habits of learning….and the list goes on.

It’s a tremendous lift in instruction and assessment led by educators themselves who realize that their own professional skills need to be improved if they are going to help students achieve – I think of this as the transition toward the Finnish model. Teachers have explained that this stage of the transition is both the most challenging and the most rewarding. However, as a country, we are challenged to provide adequate professional development and learning opportunities for teachers that are rooted in the values and practices of competency-based education and are available in just-in-time modules. (more…)

Needed: Partners with Assessment Expertise

June 2, 2015 by

MeasurementI had a sense of dread as I flew to Colorado to join the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment for its annual Colloquim on Assessment and Accountability Implications of Competency and Personalized Learning Systems. A room full of experts on measurement? I was prepared to have any ideas I might have about what assessment looks like in a fully developed competency-based system destroyed in a Terminator-like fashion.

Instead what I found was a room of incredibly thoughtful, creative, forward-thinking people who are willing to explore along with all of us how we might organize a system that keeps the focus on learning while using discrete and meaningful mechanisms to ensure rigor and equity. Along with myself, Ephraim Weisstein, founder of Schools for the Future, Maria Worthen, Vice President for Federal and State Policy at iNACOL, and Laura Hamilton of Rand were invited to the Colloquium to kick off the conversation. My brain started churning as I listened to the presentations from Kate Kazin, Southern New Hampshire University; Samantha Olson, Colorado Education Initiative; Christy Kim Boscardin, University of California, San Francisco; and Eva Baker, CRESST.

And then my brain went into overdrive listening to the insights of the team of assessment experts as they sorted through the conversation, explored different options, and identified where there was opportunity to create a system that generated consistency in determining levels of learning. It would be a system in which credentialing learning generates credibility, a system that allows us to trust when a teacher says a student is proficient, providing us with real confidence that they are, in fact, ready for the next set of challenges.

Some Big Take-Aways

Below are some of the big take-aways that Ephraim, Maria, and I came away with.

1. Get Crystal Clear on the Goal: It’s critical for the field and competency-based districts and schools to be explicit about their learning targets (however they might be defined and organized) so results can be evaluated and measured. There are a variety of ways of structuring competencies and standards, and we need to think about the ways in which we can measure them (or not).

2. Consider Applying Transparency to Designing Assessments: We all operate with the assumption that summative assessment items have to be hidden in a black box. However, we could make test items transparent – not their answers, of course – but the questions themselves. Consider the implications—lower costs, more sharing, more opportunity for the stakeholders to understand the systems of assessments. It’s worth having an open conversation about the trade-offs in introducing transparency as a key design principle in designing the system of assessments to support competency education. (more…)

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