Author: Rose Colby

What is the Story that You Will Tell of Your Journey?

November 7, 2014 by

Business man showing superhero suit“Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound……”

….Superman? No, not really. Looking back over the past several years in competency education, perhaps SuperPioneer is a more apt superhero symbol. In the early days of competency education, the road ahead of us was somewhat unchartered, with unknown hazards and delays along the way. The early pioneers were a bit lonely without the familiar guideposts and waypoints that normally give direction. GPS? No such thing. But one thing could be counted on—with each rising of the sun, we were that much closer to journey’s end.

What is the story that you will tell of your journey down the road to competency education? What legacy will you leave to those who follow in your district after you step off the path? These may seem like silly questions, but I do believe they are important ones. You see, we are at a unique time in the history of education. In leaving behind what some people are already calling the “dark era in education,” we find ourselves at that fork in the road where we can either forge new experiences unleashed from the past, or we can choose the path that guarantees the journey ahead will repeat the last hundred miles. (more…)

Audacious Thinking

March 28, 2014 by

audiaciousI was recently reading about Google X.  We often think of the Google workplace as the sandbox of Millennials.  It is filled with spaces for work and play and sets the pace for work-space design that challenges the thinking of educators who are working in spaces that are far different. Google X is the Google work environment on steroids.  It is the think tank of Google, where the only expectation of the employees is audacious thinking.

This has really jarred my thinking.  As we look at this new entity called competency education, we could really use a good dose of audacious thinking.  The No Child Left Behind era, which I hope is firmly ensconced in our rear view mirror, has trapped our thinking and caused a great deal of reactionary behavior in our ranks. Have you heard the following:  “Our kids haven’t done well on the state test for the past few years; we must need a new literacy program.”  “We don’t have enough supports in math, we’ll just have to build an RTI system for that, also.” (more…)

Competency Education: The Solution to Retention

December 30, 2013 by

ColbyRecently a group of teachers was working on performance tasks and assessments. They were aligning their units of study to competencies based on the Common Core State Standards. An interesting conversation erupted in the group.   It was clear that the performance indicators they were designing within their performance tasks represented a more rigorous approach than in the past. One teacher wondered what will happen to students who, by the end of the school year, do not demonstrate mastery of the literacy competencies. When I asked what happened in the past when students failed at the end of the school year, the teacher answered: “ Well, we retain them.”

As a former middle school principal, I know that decisions about retention are difficult.  In spite of knowing the adverse effects of retention on future success, educators and parents generally spend many hours considering interventions and social emotional issues before arriving at the decision to retain a child.

As we turn the corner in designing new learning systems, the notion of considering retention can now be safely set aside.  In a competency based learning system, no child is retained.  It is as simple as that.  Why?  Because with the design of learning progressions, mastery is also progressive.  Our students will move through our learning systems with forward progress at all times.  Some students will need more support, customization, and time to do so.  Educational leaders will have the ability to use resources within their organizations very differently. (more…)

Framing the Learning in the Blended Learning Environment

October 17, 2013 by

ColbyAs more models for blended and online learning emerge into the mainstream of educational design, there is still some undercurrent of thought that these models have emerged because students are not successful in the traditional classroom-learning environment.  In addressing recovery for such lack of success, it may happen that students are more successful in a blended or online learning opportunity.

This has given rise to the misconception that both blended and online learning may in fact not have the degree of rigor that is thought to be present in the traditional classroom environment.

Let’s be clear about the framework for a high quality competency-based learning environment, be it in the brick and mortar classroom environment, blended or online learning opportunity, or the community based extended learning opportunity.  (more…)

To Dream the Impossible Dream?

May 8, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 1.33.30 PMIn the NCLB era of disaggregated student achievement data, we have zoomed in on our population of struggling learners, grouped into their age appropriate cohort.  That up close and personal view of our students has unleashed a demand on our educators to differentiate instruction in order for our struggling students to meet the bar. Differentiation is as much a philosophy and a belief in teaching and learning as it is a set of orientations to the process, product, content, and environment. But is it really possible for teachers to fully differentiate learning in order to meet these student needs?

Prior to working in the world of competency education, I provided many professional development opportunities from courses, workshops, and small group and individual coaching for teachers and school leaders to learn more about this practice we call differentiation.  I know I became a better teacher myself the more my thinking opened up to planning student choice, voice, and readiness in a variety of learning settings for my students.  However, I have some deep-seated doubts about how differentiation has been fully embraced by most educators.  Differentiation is a set of practices in response to teacher reflection.  Yet, many educators are faced with having to teach to specific time-based curricular objectives demanded by programs or local requirements for fidelity to programs that do little to differentiate needs. Many educators are faced with such a wide range of student readiness that it is incredibly challenging to plan for and meet these needs with limited resources.  When asked, many educators say that differentiation is too overwhelming.  They may embrace a particular aspect of differentiation that works for them.  One teacher I know excels in differentiating homework based on formative assessment daily.  Another teacher excels at offering student choice in product.  Yet, many teachers readily admit they know about differentiation, want to differentiate, but don’t have the planning time either alone or collaboratively to pull it off every day. (more…)

Launching School Boards into the 21st Century

March 19, 2013 by
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From Making Mastery Work

Several weeks ago, I attended the CCSSO Innovation Lab Network meeting as a member of the New Hampshire team.  At that meeting, Nick Donahue of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation spoke about how we must effectively message our work.  After researching several of the resources he outlined (see wiki for the Frameworks Institute report Preparing America for the 21st Century: Values that Work in Promoting Education Reform), one important thought emerged and resonated with me as I prepared for a retreat with a school board and Principal of a traditional high school who wanted to know more about competency education.

I followed Nick’s advice as I designed the three hour work session with the first third of the meeting based on why we must prepare our students for the future.  After doing a visioning exercise for the board to imagine what learning will look like on the campus in ten years, the members engaged and voiced many futuristic thoughts and ideas.  It laid the groundwork for the discussion on college and career ready skills, competency frameworks, rich performance assessment and grade system reform.

At one point in the presentation, the board members became my ‘students’ and I launched them into a rich performance task (see below), having them unpack what they would have to do to tackle the problem, and then showed them how this work fit the competencies and the assessment plan I would use as a teacher.  All of a sudden this school board was launched into 21st century learning using a competency based learning design.  They got it!   (more…)

Is a Standard a Competency? (Part 2)

May 13, 2012 by

Read Part 1 or take a look at New Hampshire’s ELA and Math Competencies

Following up on the first post on this topic, I go deeper in looking at the relationship between standards and competencies. I facilitated work for the NH DoE whereby groups of  Math and ELA teachers wrote competencies to the Common Core, so I will use it as an example:

Competency:  Students will demonstrate the ability to analyze structure in expressions.  (note that the ‘verb’ is at Level 3 in the DOK.)

The performance indicators that would be used as formative or summative tasks in the demonstration of mastery of this competency are the CC standards.  So, as students move through these ‘I can” performance indicators, it should build understanding for the bigger concept of structure in expression. (more…)

Is a Standard a Competency? (Part 1)

May 9, 2012 by

Read Part 2.

Here are links to NH math competencies and ELA competencies

The answer simply is ‘no’.  Standards represent the ‘what’ of school—what we need to know, and what we need to be able to do.  These standards may be identified as essential or important and may be mapped using local, state, or national frameworks.

When New Hampshire mandated that a high school student could only gain credit for a course when mastery of the course competency was demonstrated, teachers had to write course competencies. It forced the question: What is a competency? (more…)

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