Tag: teachers and teaching

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Questions to Help Build Transparency

February 5, 2016 by

TransparencyThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 30, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Transparency is a key component of a learner-centered classroom. Being completely clear and open about what students are learning, what they have to do to show they have learned it, and where they are in their learning gives them the map and builds the capacity to direct their own learning.

These are questions I use to reflect on and build transparency of learning in a classroom:

  1. What learning targets are we working on?
  2. How does this task relate to the learning targets?
  3. How will I know when I have met this target?
  4. What comes next in my learning? Within the target or after the target?
  5. How does this learning connect to other learning?

(more…)

Collecting a “Body of Evidence”

January 28, 2016 by

StudyThis is the second in a series of articles 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 entwined 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 are 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. 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 first article in this series, Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions, may be found here.

During our school’s transition to a competency-based educational system, our understanding of the importance of Work Study Practices has evolved significantly. One of the major shifts in our understanding has been relative to the importance of building a body of evidence specific to a child’s demonstration of Work Study Practices. During the initial stages of this transition, teachers may have only put one grade per marking period related to skills and dispositions. This began to change as teachers began to question why we wouldn’t be assessing work study practices on a more formative, ongoing basis as we did with our academic competencies. The resulting grade would be far less subjective than a “one-time” assessment at the end of the marking period.

Teachers also began to question how the resulting information was reported. Traditionally, it had not mattered that there was only one grade in a system because that was all that would be reported anyway. But now, with a body of evidence for each child, the information was averaging. We knew from our experience that this wasn’t a fair or accurate indicator of reporting either. We had moved away from “averaging” as part of our transition to a competency-based system. We knew that the most recent, consistent data was most relevant. It gave us information on where a student was on that DAY, not a compilation of the data over the course of six, ten, or even twelve weeks. This resulted in our district turning on the “trend-line” to report Work Study Practices, as we were doing for our academic competencies.

Building a body of evidence for our students’ CARES (Work Study Practices) has allowed us to truly follow a child’s growth, help them progress in specific areas, and provide the child and his/her parents with relevant and timely information related to where he/she currently is in his/her progression.

The insight of two of our teachers below describes their growth in understanding as we began the shift to a competency-based educational system. Their reflections within this particular article are specific to their developing understanding of the importance of Work Study Practices within their classrooms, and how the assessment of Work Study Practices is no longer considered just once at the end of a marking period. This change in mindset has proven to have an impact on not only how we assess WSP, but how integral it is to the learning process itself. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Common Assessment

January 15, 2016 by

CellThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 16, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

What do all of these student products have in common?

  • A children’s book page showing an animal cell, with labels and simple explanations of how the major organelles work.
  • A Prezi showing an animal cell. The presentation zooms in on different parts of the cell with a narrator explaining their functions.
  • A pop song about the animal cell. Each verse focuses on a different organelle.
  • A multi-paragraph essay describing the key parts of an animal cell.
  • ​A hand-sewn felt animal cell doll with all the major parts labeled and a display box with descriptions each major part.

These example products are all exactly the same, but different. While each product clearly connects to different skills sets or interests, each addresses the same learning target and level of rigor: (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Learners in the Center

December 18, 2015 by

DartboardThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 10, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

The goal of learner-centered education is to create the conditions so that students can be self-motivated to engage in learning. When we rely too heavily on any of the other terms and ideas associated with the idea of putting students at the center of education, the intention behind an incredibly powerful philosophy of education gets watered down. Schools and classrooms can end up in a place where too much responsibility for directing and managing learning is left to the students, and people start wondering if learner-centered education is worth it.

Learner-centered education is challenging for all learning community members, in different ways. Some have to figure out how to take on different responsibilities. Some have to figure out how to let go of some control. Some have to figure out how to fail. Some have to figure out how to rely on others. The key is to focus on setting up a learning environment in which students can’t help but get engaged in learning, and in which they learn the skills and habits needed to take meaningful ownership of their learning.

Put learners at the center by making learning engaging. Connect groups of learning targets together with bigger topics, or broad essential questions. Challenge them to wrestle with problems and dilemmas that have no clear answer. Combine disciplines together in realistic ways. Incorporate group projects and challenges.

Put learners at the center by making learning visible. Provide ways for students to track their own progress. Teach them ways to do this on their own. Be honest with students about where they are in their learning, and let them know what they have to do to move forward. Make clear connections between learning experiences and learning targets. (more…)

The Power of Choice: Increasing Novel Reading From 21 Percent to 87 Percent

December 16, 2015 by
Crystal Francis

Crystal Bonin

For those of us who have always taught with an end-goal in mind, competency-based education isn’t that big of a shift. We’ve always thought about assessment and the way we’d bring our students to success. In my opinion, the biggest difference between competency-based education and traditional education is that our focus is less on content and recall, and more on differentiation and application.

As an eleventh-grade English teacher at Sanborn Regional High School in New Hampshire, I have three major competencies: reading, writing, and communications. My students don’t earn one grade for the course; they have to pass all of their competencies in order to pass the course.

Traditionally, students in English classes have always practiced these skills. English teachers have always used literature as a vehicle of instruction, have instructed writing, and have encouraged discussion.

Traditionally, students in English classes have also habitually fake-read novels, plagiarized writing, and sat silently during class discussions. (I know that I did.)

In my competency-based classroom, that kind of fake-reading just doesn’t happen anymore. How do we get there? It’s all about student choice. (more…)

Student Agency is What Counts

December 15, 2015 by
Keara Duggan

Keara Duggan

This post originally appeared in the Next Generation Learning Challenges Friday Focus Newsletter.

Over the past few months, NGLC has been pushing the field of next gen learning on questions of how we measure success. As Andy Calkins asked a few weeks ago in this column: How do we gauge students’ progress in developing those competencies required for the 21st century? This question resonated with me. I believe that without students understanding how they’re learning, what they’re learning, and how they’re progressing, it’s impossible to empower students to truly own their learning.

As a Senior Consultant at Education Elements, I have the opportunity to work with hundreds of schools and districts around the country to design and implement blended and personalized learning models. Three years ago when I started in this role, the national focus was on blended learning and the integration of digital content and tools. I’ve seen a dramatic shift over the past eighteen months as teachers and leaders think more deeply about how to develop student agency and student reflection as a core part of redesigning their classroom and school models. Student ownership, agency, and choice are all critical to the personalization process. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Simple Moves to Increase Engagement

December 11, 2015 by

HandsThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 2, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Student engagement involves more than connecting learning to student interests or authentic purposes. Engaging students means creating the environment for all students to be successful with learning and tackling new skills and ideas. So having a “highly engaged” learning environment is as much about the number of students involved in learning as it is the ways in which they are engaged. One area of instruction to pay close attention to when creating an environment in which as many students as possible engage in learning is the class discussion. (more…)

How My Understanding of Competency-Based Education Has Changed Over the Years

December 8, 2015 by

StairsNext week, I am excited to be sharing the work that my team and I have done in New Hampshire on competency-based education with a group of South Carolina educators as part of the Transform SC institute on Meeting the Needs of Every Student With Competency Based Progression. My preparation for this institute has been an opportunity for me to reflect on what has now been a six-year journey with competency education with Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH. This past week, our school district was recognized for the second year in a row as a “leader in competency education” by Tom Vander Ark’s organization Getting Smart, noting that Sanborn was one of 30 School Districts Worth Visiting in 2015. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Homework Tips for Parents

December 4, 2015 by

Pencil ShavingsThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on October 26, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

This week… a special request: specifics on appropriate parental involvement in homework.

In The Art and Science of Teaching, Marzano lays out some action steps around using homework as a strategy for helping students to practice and deepen knowledge. One of the listed strategies is to give homework that involves participation from the home. This can be a tricky. (more…)

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