Donna Harvey-Moseley (Photo by Mark Giullucci)
The traditional social studies classroom that I participated in as a student has experienced a steady evolution thanks to the introduction of competency-based education. Gone are the days of teachers dispensing knowledge from behind a podium at the front of the room while students memorize dates and names to pass the next test. Indeed it was a big change that was intimidating; it was a learning experience and I didn’t always get it right the first time. I had to be flexible and forgiving but the rewards are great and I have learned many lessons along the way.
Lesson #1: Competency work can not be done in isolation.
You must collaborate with other teachers to identify the knowledge and skills you want your graduates to have after they have completed the program. For us, this meant meeting K-12 and deciding what content students needed to have in order to successfully complete an International Relations course as seniors and which grade levels would be responsible for the individual pieces. Further, you need to evaluate and re-evaluate how your school and district are going to define competency in the social studies, and that means you need to research. I have spent years working with my colleagues and administrators to set competencies, continually looking at what other schools and districts were using and what national options were out there. We are now using the C3 Frameworks at all grade levels, K-12, which I love! Among the greatest benefits of the C3 Frameworks is that in addition to history, civics, geography, and economics, it also includes Dimensions 3 & 4, which are skills-based and linked to the Common Core. One adjustment that we did make was to create language that is student-friendly and to make sure that what we expect of our students and the material that is delivered is specific and developmentally appropriate.
Lesson #2: Focus on the big ideas and the big picture.
The beautiful thing about competencies is they offer targets to aim for but do not prescribe the path to take to get there. As a teacher, I have the freedom to be creative and selective when I am designing lessons, activities, and assessments. I am no longer bound by the textbook. Instead, I can let student choice drive the class or focus on problem-based tasks that allow students to demonstrate competency. I can also relinquish some control over what is happening in the classroom and allow students to take on more leadership roles. For instance, I have a project that I am planning to do with my psychology students called “The Psychology of…” that will allow each student to finish the thought with a topic of their choosing. We will work together on a rubric, and I will provide them with benchmark assignments along the way to make sure they are on the right track and moving forward, but what they do and how they do it will be up to them. It’s an exciting opportunity and a little bit intimidating. As I tell my students, it is either going to be awesome or awful, but either way, we will all learn from the experience.
Lesson #3: It’s not all academic but it’s all important.
Competency-based assessment forced me to take Work Study Practices (behavior) out of the academic grade and challenged me to assess them in new and objective ways by collecting data throughout the quarters, semesters, and year. I am no longer sitting when grades close guessing at scores for work study practices because I have been paying attention to them and recording data all along. Most importantly, I am working with my students to define what they mean, practice what they look like, and improve how they apply those skills. It can be as simple as talking to students about collaboration when it is time to start a group project or activity. Take five or ten minutes to make sure everyone has the same understanding of what it means to work collaboratively and identify the types of behaviors students should be demonstrating, clearly define what you are looking to see but give them input as well. Finally, give them the opportunity, again five to ten minutes, to reflect on their performance providing examples of how they demonstrated collaboration and how it helped the group to be successful. It will be time well spent as your students become more efficient and effective collaborators. (more…)