CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K-12 education system. Drawing on lessons learned by innovators and early adopters, CompetencyWorks shares original research, knowledge and a variety of perspectives through an informative blog with practitioner knowledge, policy advancements, papers on emerging issues and a wiki with resources curated from across the field. CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K-12, higher education and the workplace.

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CompetencyWorks Meetup at iNACOL17

October 17, 2017 by

For all of you heading to Orlando, from 6-7 on Monday 23rd, look for the CompetencyWorks Lounge as you enter the Exhibit Hall for the President’s Reception. I’ll be there to say HI! and introduce you to your colleagues around the country. Or better yet, just introduce yourself. I promise you that you’ll quickly find something of interest to you.

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Quality and Equity by Design

October 20, 2017 by

Today, iNACOL and CompetencyWorks released the paper Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education. This paper is the culminating product and set of ideas from the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. In this paper, four key issues – equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy – are explored and guidance is offered on how to engage more deeply in each. There is also a set of recommended actions for the field as a whole to consider. This paper will be followed by a revised paper on each of the key issues based on the feedback and insights from the Summit participants. (You can find the four draft papers on each of the key issues here.)

In writing this paper, I became more and more appreciative that each of the four key issues is actually a lens into the issues challenging our field. By looking at elements of competency-based education through the different lenses, it becomes possible to have much more depth of understanding. It is as if the paper brings a multi-dimensional understanding to bear. Certainly, the overlap between quality and equity is profound and requires more thought and study as we go forward. It’s important to consider the ideas and frameworks in this paper as ways to open discussion. I am sure there will be other convenings, papers, and resources that will help to further our work together.

My recommendation is to read the paper in bite-sized pieces – one issue area at a time. Then come back and read the next, reflecting on the capacity and strategies used by your organization, district, and school. We welcome contributions to CompetencyWorks that highlight your understanding and efforts related to these key issues and we doubly welcome challenges to these ideas. It is only by strengthening our capacity to be critical friends to each other that we can truly find our way to implementing high quality, equitable competency-based systems in schools across our nation.

For those of you who are interested, a webinar, Charting the Course for the Next Phase of K-12 Competency-Based Education, is scheduled for November 8, 2017, 2-3 PM ET. Register here. Susan Patrick, Nina Lopez, and I will share highlights from the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, walk through the four key issues, and review the recommendations for what is most important to move competency education forward.

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Personalized PD and Collaborative Teams: A Symbiotic Approach to Professional Learning, Part 1

October 19, 2017 by

Diana Lebeaux, Senior Associate, Personalized Learning Network

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on September 5, 2017.

Those of us who consider ourselves progressive and who regularly coach schools tend to focus our support on either collaboration or personalization. Schools that worry about the isolation of the traditional teacher, and teachers who yearn to share ideas, tend to focus on establishing Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), also known as Critical Friends Groups (CFGs). These groups become the mechanism of choice for propagating best practices, distributing leadership, and building collective buy-in for school reform or redesign initiatives. On the other hand, schools that fear teacher disengagement or who weary of professional development that never gains traction with teachers to foster improved student results tend to experiment with the newer approach, personalized professional development. This offshoot of personalized learning provides a structured way for teachers to share—or own—decision-making about the professional development with which they will engage, granted that it aligns with the school’s overall goals and the district’s other logistical parameters.

Both practices have promise individually, and because both represent a significant shift away from typical “sit and get” district- or school-wide professional development (PD), school leaders tend to invest their reform efforts around one or the other. After all, both approaches are ambitious and require capacity building, effective systems, and buy-in, which require time and effort. Both can result in improved teacher empowerment and even save districts money. However, unless these reforms are strategically bundled in tandem, I would argue that neither can meet its full potential to open up, and dramatically improve, classroom practice.

I have seen schools that institute PLCs begin to encounter a dreaded implementation gap when teachers mistrust (sometimes with good reason) the intention of the initiative, viewing the PLCs as a top-down, forced experience, or an attempt to further standardize practice to the detriment of teachers’ individual agency. At times, there are situations in which the PLCs are an overt means of prescribing professional development, in which principals mask top-down mandates under the guise of collaborative teamwork: arguably, these instances are poor or inauthentic implementation of PLCs. However, there are also many instances in which PLCs themselves are created with the authentic intention to build a safe community in which teachers can de-privatize practice, but the PLCs do not meet their potential to be revolutionary because they occur in isolation, providing a single outlet for teacher voice in a school that otherwise silences it.

Similarly, otherwise traditionally-structured schools that make a foray into the realm of personalized professional learning find a number of logistical hurdles that can hamper implementation. While personalized professional development plans and teacher micro-credentials, two means of personalizing PD, can provide incentives and structures that will inspire and guide teachers to learn, neither is a panacea. When poorly instituted—or done in isolation—these innovations can overly rely on educators’ knowledge of their own skills and their inevitably limited awareness of the opportunities for PD available to them. Schools may include data analysis, self-assessments and selected catalogues to mitigate some of these problems—or principals may build learning plans in tandem with their staff—but these can still result in ad hoc, sporadic instances of professional learning that may not align with the school’s overall goals or plans.  (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency-Based Education?

October 18, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicNew Books in Competency Education

Grant Opportunities

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation released three new requests for proposals:

Social Emotional Learning

Equity

Food for Thought

(more…)

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Catalyzing Equity Through Culturally Responsive Education and Competency-Based Education

October 17, 2017 by

Right now race has enormous cultural, social, and economic power. It can shape our families and communities, career trajectories, life experiences and opportunities, and even whether we live past thirty or not. So our job in the field of education is to identify each and every place where race is making a difference in children’s lives because of either systemic policies and patterns or because of implicit and explicit bias. It starts with ensuring that our schools have a culture of belonging. As Joy Nolan from the Mastery Collaborative emphasizes, Every student should walk into school feeling like their school is for them, designed for them, serving them, and for people “like them.”

The team at Mastery Collaborative in NYC have identified that the practices of culturally responsive education go hand-in-hand with the mastery-based learning practices. They have created a very simple resource (see below or click here) to allow educators or, better yet, teams of educators (it is very hard to identify implicit bias if it is just a conversation between you and yourself – you need trusted colleagues to help you see where you might have blinders or filters that are creating trouble) to think about their facilitation, curriculum, and grading practices.

Mastery Collaborative Resources on Culturally Responsive Education

Infusing CRE into Mastery Practices

How Can Mastery Learning be More Culturally Responsive (video)

The more I learn about culturally responsive education, the more I think it is important that the leaders in the world of personalized learning do the crosswalk as well. There are so many practices that are valuable in culturally responsive education that are either the same or similar enough to make personalized learning become a catalyst for racial equity. But that won’t happen unless there is the intention of doing so. Without intention to change, we end up perpetuating inequality.

Do you have tools, resources, or strategies that are helping you and your school to strengthen your culture and practices so that you are truly an equitable school where every student is going to succeed regardless of race? Or a story about how competency-based education and its focus on continuous improvement is helping your school or district improve educational services and outcomes for historically underserved students? Please share.  As a community, I am confident that we can not only commit to equity. We can make a difference in children’s lives for the better.

– – –

Infusing CRE/Mastery practices into our work with young learners

Exploration

  • Please check indicators you feel are your strengths. ✔
  • Use a question mark where you want more information. ?
  • Draw a star to show a possible focus/growth area for you. *

I can point to evidence that shows that . . .

  • All students in my/our classroom feel they are welcomed, they belong here, and
    that their learning has value. facilitation

(more…)

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Building Field Readiness & Capacity to Personalize

October 16, 2017 by

One of the recommendations that came forth from the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education (the paper with all the recommendations is forthcoming) is that field organizations begin to collaborate at higher levels. There is so much knowledge being produced by schools and districts — we need to create mechanisms to make it easier for educators to access and make meaning of it for their own work. Bravo to 2 Revolutions and their partners in doing exactly what the field needs, exactly at the right time. You can read the original blog at 2 Revs website.

— Chris Sturgis

We are excited to announce that 2Rev — with generous support from a national funder, and through deep collaboration with a range of leading organizations — is spearheading a large-scale effort to make available free, high-quality learning content to help educators gain the knowledge and skills they need to personalize learning for students.

The move toward more personalized, learner-centered approaches is part of the solution we’re all striving toward for kids and families. Unfortunately, most of the field currently lacks readiness and capacity to do the complex work of transformation needed to realize these personalized learning models and systems. The absence of consistent, high-quality content and engagement strategies makes it more difficult and inefficient for states, districts and providers to support efforts to increase field readiness and capacity. Working together with partners, we can help address this gap.

Key Partners & the Content We Are Building Together

(more…)

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Behavior Management Tools Might Not Be Best for Student-Centered Learning

October 12, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Students at the Center on September 14, 2017. It is the first in a series on the practical side of cultivating student ownership of learning, produced by JFF’s Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative.

High-quality learning is often messy. It can be noisy and nonlinear and full of surprises. That may be why many of us seek to control it. We establish rules, plans, and procedures to contain the unpredictable outcomes of our students’ learning. And we distinguish behavior from academics as if the way learners are expected to accomplish their learning teaches them nothing about how to behave as learners.

The trouble is, many educators were taught to think about classroom management and behavior management as activities of control. Classroom management is seen as organizing and structuring the flow of activities and expectations to maximize efficiency and task accomplishment, while behavior management is framed as the teacher’s efforts to manage and respond to disruptions.

But what if control was the wrong impulse? What if our efforts to control behavior sometimes worked against our loftiest educational goals regarding college/career readiness, critical thinking, social-emotional health, and civic preparedness? What if there was another way to achieve our objectives besides control?

There is! With the explicit goal of fostering learner independence, student-centered learning calls for a different set of approaches, ones that are more akin to learner facilitation than learner control. Rather than prioritizing efficiency, order, and compliance, student-centered approaches draw from a wide variety of educational research (see the Students at the Center Research Portal) to create learning environments that inspire students’ academic, social-emotional, and metacognitive development. Recognizing that emotion is an integral component of all learning, facilitators of student-centered learning seek to personalize an optimal mix of risk-taking, disequilibrium, accomplishment, and confidence in each individual student. By intentionally modeling and coaching empathy, cultivating relationships with and among learners, and establishing a culture of partnership, trust, and support, learner facilitators move past merely controlling behaviors to cultivating motivations and inspiring engagement. And in the busy, messy, nonlinear world of high-quality student-centered learning, these approaches are used to drive the goal setting, self-regulation, and success that lead to social behaviors and mature thinking processes.

Here’s an example for one learner facilitator’s opening activities, well-timed for the beginning of the school year. After introductions, first-year teacher Nate Gray launches his classes by engaging students in collaboratively creating a T-Chart with the headings “Expectations of Me” and “Expectations of Each Other”: (more…)

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What if We Started Looking at STEM-Education Differently?

October 10, 2017 by

STEM is all the rage these days, and with an ever-growing gap in filling jobs that are tied to science, technology, engineering, and math, employers are at a loss with finding well-rounded, educated, and professional employees to hire. What if STEM-Education began to be viewed as more than just science, technology, engineering, and math, though? What if the STEM programs which are slowly emerging in schools across our country started working with our youth at a young age and became something greater, something that helped develop successful, collaborative, creative, and innovative thinkers who could actually apply their knowledge? What could this possibly look like, and what might the benefits be for our workforce and, more importantly, our future?

A concept that has resonated with me for years has been one of students wanting to advance through “curriculum” as quickly as possible. Mastery never seemed to be the goal for these students and sometimes parents, but really, how fast the student could advance through a program, or ace a test… just to show that they knew how to solve the problems and get some high school credits. The issue, however, was when you asked them what the answers actually meant… as in, “What are you actually telling me?” Blank stares and a response of, “Well, the answer is 22.5432432….” were quite often the conversations hastily exchanged across the table. Were we really helping our students grow as learners and, more importantly, as college and career citizens who were ready to be sprung out into our ever-changing world? It was at this point that the shift from masters of content began to transition into helping to foster experts in context.

What if we flipped the script and started to look at STEM differently? What if instead of simply thinking that students needed to master concepts, they became experts in context in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math, and actually began to embrace STEM as “Strategies That Engage Minds” or even better yet “Solving Today’s Everyday Mysteries.” Students were now becoming real-life, rational problem-solvers instead of solving a problem solely to show the answer. When asked how something worked or why it didn’t work, a student could now articulate the Why, instead of just defend the What.   (more…)

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Redesigning the Syllabus to Reflect the Learning Journey

October 9, 2017 by

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This post originally appeared at EdSurge on September 10, 2017.

Personalized learning is still in its infancy—as are the curricular tools and resources available to support teachers in implementing it.

Currently, there is no shortage of articles offering a high-level look at how and why personalized learning will impact student growth, and conference sessions where teachers are encouraged to change the way they teach, but not given the tools to modify their instructional practices. There are plenty of resources with step-by-step guides and blueprints designed to walk teachers through a process to personalize learning. Additionally, there is a growing number of online platforms and prepackaged curricular products (both free and at cost)—not to mention the new stamp on existing tools—you know, the sticker that says “personalize learning with (insert product name.)”

But, for personalized learning to be personal—it must be less formal and formulaic. We need to design student-centered learning experiences and that takes time, practice and support.

The Syllabus Gets a Facelift

If we think about learning as a journey that gets compartmentalized in formal education, then the first experience for middle and high school students is often the syllabus. In many ways, the traditional syllabus places restrictions on when, what and how students will learn. It sets expectations for how growth will be measured and what penalties will be enforced for late work or missing class. Most syllabi lack flexibility and aren’t very engaging; which contradicts everything we know about high quality teaching and learning.

I currently work at Allen Academy in Bryan, Texas, as the Head of Middle and Upper School and I teach one 8th grade geography class. Back in 2011, I was getting my feet wet with blended learning and experimenting with new pedagogical practices in my geography class. As a result of my recent transition to a blended learning environment and my desire to turn control of learning over to my students, I decided the traditional syllabus needed to be turned on its head.

Redesigning the Syllabus Starting With Student Experience

Conventional syllabi are developed from the perspective of the teacher—designed to present what he or she plans to include in a course. I wanted to develop an alternative version that looked through the lens of the student, and my vision was to tailor each one to reflect what a particular learner would be doing every step of the way throughout the course. This was not simply a more visually appealing version of a classic syllabus, it was a radical overhaul of the student experience with the primary goal of changing their perception of their role as a learner.

This drastic class redesign demanded that I ask myself some big questions: what content was required, what elements of learning could students control and what traditional and new measures I could use to gauge progress? Almost every question led to another. How much control could I give students over their modalities of learning, what would the challenges and successes of self-paced learning be, and if students had more control over how they demonstrated mastery, then what would rubrics look like?

Seven years ago, that first course redesign was a big shift for me. I had been teaching eighth grade geography for four years at that point, and historically, I had used a textbook and pacing chart to cover the curriculum. I used traditional grading practices, assessing student progress through quizzes, tests, project, midterms and finals each year. I was confident that students were learning and their grades supported that. There was little urgency for change—certainly not from my administration or peers. But I had this nagging feeling that my students deserved better. I knew they could make more progress if they had more flexibility to make decisions—but that couldn’t happen within the rigid structure that existed.

The heaviest lift for that first redesign was figuring out how to parcel out the course in a way that would give students more flexibility and choice. Abandoning traditional units and chapters and coming up with new potential segments of learning was a strenuous process. For that first one, I divided my class into three segments: Foundation, Content and Skills, and Assessment. I worked tirelessly to gather old and new resources, align them to each segment, and upload them to a website so that my students could access them at their own pace. (more…)

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