Tag: teachers and teaching

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Measurement Topics, Not Targets

April 29, 2016 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on April 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine. This tip of the week is designed for those schools that are using the measurement topic/learning target model to organize continuum of learning. There are other models being used by schools for which this will not directly apply, although the insights in how we might begin to think about personalizing instruction will be valuable to everyone.

Being a teacher in a learner-centered proficiency based system can mean some big changes. One of the biggest changes in thinking to work through involves taking a step back from working with targets at a particular level, to working with a range of targets within the measurement topic. Remember, a Measurement Topic is a series of related targets arranged in a progression from simple to complex. Measurement Topics do not necessarily have one target, or level, per grade. Nor do Measurement Topics necessarily always make sense to begin when students enter the school system in preK or Kindergarten.

Think about this visual:

CB1

The boxes represent three targets, from three different Measurement Topics. In many places, right now this is how teachers approach their work with learning targets. Only the targets typically associated with a traditional grade level are on the proverbial teaching table. If students happen to be on a different target, they are in a different group or maybe even a different class. Planning of lessons and units revolve around this small set of targets. It is possible that the three Measurement Topics are combined in some way. (more…)

Building a Movement from Within

April 26, 2016 by
Patrice Picture

Patrice Glancey

Within a system of standardized testing and teaching accountability based on student results, it’s understandable that teachers feel like they’re running an obstacle course instead of a classroom. And why wouldn’t they? Federal, state, and local standards are asking them to jump, dodge, and climb all while trying to cram years of content into 180 days. Add to that the paperwork and you get the burnout that we are seeing within our experienced teachers across the country.

It’s no surprise that when competency-education was introduced, veteran teachers rolled their collective eyes, closed the door, and continued on as usual: “This too shall pass.” However, it’s been seven years since New Hampshire included competency education in the Minimum Standards for Public School Approval. This change, which mandates students be evaluated on mastery of competencies, implies that this practice isn’t going away anytime soon. And to be brutally honest, we can’t go back to a one size fits all model; our test scores prove that it doesn’t work.

If I have learned anything about the implementation of competency-based learning over the past few years, it’s that the fire must start from within. Teachers are already feeling overwhelmed by top-down initiatives and they are beyond the point of being able to take in “another great idea.” Derek Sivers (2013) explains during his inspiring Ted Talk How to Start a Movement that every movement needs a leader to get it started. This leader can’t be administration, this leader needs to come from within. Further, Sivers explains that “a leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed,” which not an easy task for most teachers. However, the best schools run on strong teacher leaders who have found success through working in environments that encourage them to take risks and promote “standing out.”

When I arrived at Newport School District this past summer, it resembled what I like to refer to as the “perfect storm”: a new set of administrators, a culture of teachers ready for change, and a budget requiring us to think outside the box. The competency framework had already been developed at various stages K-12 and the previous curriculum director had worked with the teachers to move in that direction. My job was to get the teachers back on track and build off of momentum that had already fizzled out. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Going Back to the Targets

April 22, 2016 by

TargetThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on March 28, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

One of the first things people share with me since coming to RSU2 in September is a frustration with learning targets. This is something I hear in every school, in every grade level, and in every content area. It isn’t that people don’t understand the point of them, quite the contrary. It is that people understand the point of them so well that they now see the need to improve them. Here are the most common points I hear:

  1. The progressions of targets don’t always make sense.
  2. The target itself is really hard to understand.
  3. Foundational pieces are missing.
  4. There is a lack of consistency around how the target is interpreted.
  5. It isn’t always clear how to “exceed” on a target.

Most of the Measurement Topics and Targets we are using were drafted and adopted about six years ago when the district first switched to a proficiency-based system. It was a classic Voltaire moment, not letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Or, if you prefer sports, a Nike “Just Do it” moment.

Now, six years and a whole lot of growth later, we are realizing just how “not perfect” those Measurement Topics and Targets are. In order to make them what we want them to be, we have to take a step back in our understanding of Targets and Measurement Topics. And it is extremely important that we do. Learning Targets and Measurement Topics make personalized learning possible.

Here in RSU 2, we use the following definitions and explanations: (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Connecting Learning Targets

April 15, 2016 by

MosaicThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on March 10, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When we stop thinking about measurement topics and learning targets as isolated boxes, learning becomes much more exciting. Think of targets as mosaic tiles. Think of measurement topics as mosaic tiles of the same color. In a mosaic, there are a variety of tiles and colors working together to make a work of art. We need to do that with our learning targets.

Start by laying out all the targets you typically teach in a year. Take inventory of the mosaic tiles you have to work with. Which ones seem to go together well? Are there any that make an unexpected collection? Just as certain tile colors and shapes compliment one another, different targets can work together in different ways. And just as mosaics incorporate multiple tiles of the same color, engaging learning experiences hold room for multiple targets from the a measurement topic progression. This allows more multiple entry points to the learning experience. Another way to think of this is that it allows students to work at their readiness level while still engaging in the social processing of learning with their peers.

So let’s step out of our mosaic analogy for a moment and see what this could look like. Below are some targets that one might see in the 5th grade:

  • Is skilled at writing narratives that tell the story of an important moment by developing the characters, plot, and setting
  • Is skilled at writing informational pieces that teach about a topic using a variety of information
  • Understands the factors that are used to predict weather
  • Understands purposes and uses of thematic maps
  • Understands the physical features that are common and unique to various parts of the world
  • Is skilled at exploring and inventing art-making techniques and approaches
  • Understands the influence of various nutrients on personal health

(more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Increasing Engagement

April 8, 2016 by

icebergThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on February 23, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Now that we have thought about “pace” differently in a learner-centered proficiency based system, we can start to talk about the rest of the iceberg: engagement.

If a student is not engaged, and therefore running into the “problem of being behind pace,” there are really only two possible explanations for why:

  1. The content is above, or below, a student’s readiness level
  2. The learning environment is not engaging to the student

Humans, of all ages, don’t learn unless we want to and we can. If we are not interested in something or can’t see how it connects to our life in some way, forget it. Likewise if we are trying to do something that is way too hard, or way too easy. I’m talking about motivation theory and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Understanding and applying those ideas are essential to creating a learning environment that is engaging…. to the student.

Let’s start at the beginning of a unit of study. When we approach from the perspective of motivation theory and ZPD we first worry about figuring out what the students already know and are able to do. We also worry about getting them to want to learn the content of our unit. Using a strategy called “The Gapper” will help us get there. (more…)

Classroom Instruction of Skills and Dispositions

April 7, 2016 by

ClassroomThis is the third 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 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 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, 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.

To read the first article in this series, please click on the following link: Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions. The second article may be accessed by clicking here: Collecting a Body of Evidence.

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.

Growth in these areas, for our elementary students, will not happen all by itself. It is imperative that teachers willingly and mindfully plan lessons that will help students to make connections and assist them along in their learning journey. It is also imperative to debrief, reflect, and provide meaningful and timely feedback, just as it is within any type of formative assessment that is happening within a classroom.

The insight of two of our teachers below outlines their work with their students specific to the instruction 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 the CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-regulation) within their own learning are having a tremendous impact on not only the individual learner, but the entire classroom community as a whole. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Pace? Whose Pace?

April 1, 2016 by

PaceThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on February 11, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Pace, as it is commonly understood and applied in education, is at its root a concept that is in conflict with learner-centered proficiency based education. Educators think about pace as the rate at which the curriculum scope and sequence moves. One big problem with pace is that it is usually set by someone other than the one doing the learning. Another big problem is that teachers, schools, and districts use pace as a subjective measure of performance. In both of these cases, the learner is not at the center of the learning and the industrial model of education is perpetuated.

Who decides pace? Who should decide pace? Do we even need to have a pace? If we do, how do we decide what the pace should be? How do we know if it is too fast, or too slow? ​

A logical thinker might attempt to figure this out using something like the oversimplified steps below:

  1. Determine the learning required for a student in public education to graduate.
  2. Complete a statistical analysis of how long it takes a representative sample to complete this learning.
  3. Determine the median length of time to learn.
  4. Recommend that be the pace.

(more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Reining in the Checklist Mindset

March 25, 2016 by

CircleThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 26, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Student autonomy is a philosophical pillar of learner-centered proficiency based learning. Transparency of expectations is another. Learning communities that believe in learner-centered proficiency based learning create tools that are intended to support this transparency and autonomy. Pacing charts, learning maps, capacity matrices and the like are standard in these communities. The intention is to lay out the learning path for students, so that they can progress “at their own pace.”

Unfortunately, many times this intention results in the “checklist mindset.” Students race through activities and targets. ​The goal is completion, a check in the box to show they have finished that target and can move on to the next. ​

Learner tools should, and can, be the heartbeat of learner-centered practices when crafted with the goal of deep learning in mind. Try these suggestions to reign in the checklist mindset: (more…)

Two Teachers’ Perspectives on CBE

March 21, 2016 by

Competency-Based Learning

Vann

Lauren Vann and Students

I had found much success in the traditional learning model and had become weary of the stream of efforts to change my approach. When I came on board at Red Bank Elementary, I immediately recognized that students at RBE were different. They were learners who wanted to take the reins. They were excited and motivated. It was nothing I had ever seen before. Yes, I had been “successful” in producing average/above average test scores, but was that really my agenda? I began to think of all of the students I had previously taught who had gaps in their learning. I questioned whether or not I’d made a real attempt to close those gaps. I thought of the “high flyers” who always wanted more and wondered if I’d taken them as far as I could have in their learning. While I had always been intentional about teaching to all students and accommodating different learning styles, I couldn’t say that I taught specifically to each child’s needs and met them where they were in the learning progression. After researching competency-based education and hearing unbelievable stories about student success, I made the decision to be “all in.” I never knew how competency-based education would completely change the way I think about teaching and learning. –Lauren Vann

Competency-based education is best practice teaching. It is dependent on the teacher’s ability to intentionally meet the needs of the individual student. Recognizing competency-based learning as what is best for students is a paradigm shift for most educators. While it can be challenging and overwhelming to think logistically about how to be effective in meeting each child’s learning modalities, pace, and needs, it is truly the most efficient way to ensure that every child is getting the most out of their time in the classroom.

Similarities and Differences within a Competency-Based Learning Model vs. Traditional Learning Model

Like the traditional learning model, competency-based focuses on standards. The difference comes in that the traditional model teaches all standards at one pace regardless of student outcomes. Groups of standards are assessed on a single test. Students are given a blanket average for those standards that fall under the given topic heading (e.g., numbers and operations). (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Modeling

March 18, 2016 by

LettersThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 19, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Modeling, or making thinking around behavior, concepts, and skills explicit, is one of the most powerful instructional strategies an educator can use. It is also one of the hardest, especially when it comes to those skills and processes we, as adults, have internalized. These three tips are great way to grow your modeling skills:

Plan it Out

First, identify exactly what it is that needs to be modeled. Is it a behavior? Is it a physical skill? Is it a cognitive skill? Whatever it is, be sure to name it. I might decide that my students need to see a model of someone adding to a conversation, so that is what I will call the skill: adding to a conversation. Next, I am going to think about all the times I have done whatever it is I am modeling and break it down into super-obvious steps. This part can be hard, so take all the time you need and don’t be afraid to revise the steps! So for “adding to a conversation” I might come up with these steps: (more…)

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