Author: Tom Vander Ark

ACT, Leader in Measurement, Shifts Focus to Student Success

July 3, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on June 19, 2018.

For nearly 60 years, the ACT test has played an essential part in higher education admissions and scholarship decisions. For the last three years, the nonprofit developer of the ACT test has been expanding beyond traditional measurement to new and broader ways to promote education and workplace success. (more…)

9 Lessons from Brain Science from Melina Uncapher

June 5, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on April 13, 2018.

A high school chemistry teacher and a grandmother with Parkinson’s disease spurred Melina Uncapher’s interest in science. She earned her Ph.D. in neurobiology at UC Irvine. Her doctoral work, completed a decade ago at the beginning of the smartphone revolution, was on learning when attention is divided. (more…)

Rethinking the High School Credential

May 25, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on May 4, 2018.

Most American youth don’t get what they need from high school. There are lots of reasons–some economic, some cultural, some educational. Two root problems are how we’ve defined the finish line (graduation requirements) and how we communicate success (transcript). (more…)

School Consortium Proposes a Better Transcript

October 2, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on September 14, 2017.

For 125 years we’ve recorded the high school experience as a series of courses and grades. It’s a record of activity but not a very good measure of knowledge, skills and dispositions; it doesn’t capture experiences or work products that provide evidence of growth and accomplishment.

Scott Looney, head at the Hawken School in Cleveland since 2006, is an advocate for advanced student-centered and authentic learning. He knew there was a better way to signal student success but realized it was both a supply and demand problem–high schools needed to update the transcript and colleges needed to agree to accept the new evidence of learning.

Looney launched the Mastery Transcript Consortium (@MastTranscript) in 2017. The new nonprofit started by defining the problem: current transcripts mark time not learning–they value information regurgitation over making meaning, disciplines over integration, extrinsic over intrinsic rewards, and encourage grade inflation. The whole charade is based on the premise that grades are replicable, validated and meaningful.

Looney quickly assembled 17 co-founding schools excited about building a common transcript and selling the idea to HigherEd. Since its launch, 120 more non-profit independent schools have joined the Consortium. (more…)

15 Dimensions of Personalized Learning

September 29, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on September 12, 2017.

Tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests–including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn–to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.

~ iNACOL definition of personalized learning

As the dominant meme of U.S. education, personalized learning is frequently discussed and debated. We’ve each developed a mental model of what it is aspirationally and how that’s different from what we used to do. While there is value in drilling down on aspects of personalization, it’s also useful to zoom out and consider all the ways we can support personalized learning journeys.

The subject of personalization deserves a preamble of sorts that recognizes what we’re beginning to understand about the art and science of learning and development:

  • Learning begins with the individual learner and their journey; each learner brings their unique history and context to each experience;
  • Learning is frequently motivated by relationship and activated in community;
  • Learning occurs most fully when it engages all of a student’s senses, emotions and intentions; and
  • Learners bring unique interests, motivations and ways of learning.

It is easy to think of personalization simply as differentiated instruction but a full commitment to supporting individual learning journeys has many dimensions. We identified 15: (more…)

How Schools Develop Student Agency

July 12, 2017 by

Alix Horton

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on May 28, 2017.

Through the tenets of agency, we help students see effort and practice in a new light and associate both as growth paths and, ultimately, success. We can provide students with the skills to rebound from setbacks and build confidence as they welcome new challenges. Instilling the principles of agency helps students find personal relevance in their work and motivates them to participate actively, build relationships and understand how they impact themselves and their communities. – New Tech Network

Developing student agency. Given the rate of change in the world, helping young people take charge of their own learning is more important than ever. This post includes an interview with Alix Horton, a School Development and Literacy Coach for the New Tech Network, as well as a few thoughts from Randy Ziegenfuss, a Pennsylvania superintendent.

What is agency? In short, managing your own learning. New Tech schools share rubrics that identify the ability to develop and reflect on growth mindset and demonstrate ownership over one’s learning. Below is the rubric for fifth grade.

How does NTN measure agency? 1) Growth mindset, or the belief that through hard work you can get better, and 2) Learning strategies to gather information, manage stress, and work with other people in order to do the learning you need to do.

What builds agency?  Carnegie Corporation identified culture and authenticity as key:

  • Culture and relationships that make student feel like they matter in the school community, and
  • Authenticity: purposeful work that matters to students. students will have a lot more persistence and agency if the work is purposeful through high quality project-based learning.

We expect elementary students to tackle and monitor learning with a lot of teacher support in terms of what questions to ask, where to look, how to gather information. A high school student has more ability to ask questions, find resources and find answers on their own. There is a handover component where teachers are doing more support at the lower levels and handing the work to students at the upper levels. (more…)

How Schools Improve

March 2, 2017 by

ImproveOne of the concerns I have about how competency education is developing is that I don’t hear many districts or schools talk about continuous improvement that is based on looking at processes, data, and unpacking with the five Ys. (Our low income students aren’t progressing as much as upper income students — Why? They are missing pre-requisite skills? Why? They were passed on from eighth grade without them? Why? The middle school principals don’t have enough control over their budgets to create adequate summer programming? Why? The district has a policy that they manage summer school? So if we allow schools to organize or coordinate among themselves to determine the amount and type of summer school programming, more students will have all their foundational skills by the time we get to high school!  — nothing is ever this simple of course, but you get the drift.) It may be that there is something about education and the learning process that may make some aspects of schools hard to break into processes, but I’m not sure we have tried enough to know that. I’m sharing this piece by Getting Smart’s Tom Vander Ark (February 9, 2017) to open this conversation. If you do use some type of school improvement process to fine tune your competency-based district or school, we’d like to hear about it.

Frustrated by the lack of widely used improvement frameworks in schools, a colleague emailed some questions. Following is a quick attempt to outline approaches to improvement and innovation.

I see teachers sitting around the table with reports and then deciding to do a program or do more PD. How can we develop a more formal improvement framework that would drive effectiveness and efficiency?

There are five important steps to developing or adapting an improvement framework.

1. Prioritize outcomes. Hold community conversations about what graduates should know and be able to do–like those in El PasoHouston, and Marion, Ohio. An updated graduate profile can help create role and goal clarity by identifying priority student learning outcomes and ways of measuring (or estimating) those outcomes.

2. Do the research. Create a shared vision of what good practice looks. Unless you’re inventing a new set of practices, that picture should be research-based. BrightBytes is a decision support tool used by almost 1500 districts that allows teams to compare their outcomes with research recommendations.

3. Build a learning model. A common approach to supporting powerful learner experiences may include shared

  • Content, tasks and assessments (i.e., curriculum);
  • Teacher practices (e.g., Teach Like a Champ);
  • Values and behavioral norms;
  • Guidance and youth and family support services; and
  • Structures, schedules and staffing strategies that support learning.

Voluntary and managed school networks (and districts that act like networks) are disciplined about defining and supporting a learning model including some or all of these factors.

Some districts and networks go a step further and identify core processes and support systems for each (listen to an interview with Colorado’s District 51).

4. Identify metrics and source the data. In the 90s, best practice was a war room of handwritten data that allowed teachers and leaders to visually spot problems. By 2000, Excel spreadsheets were common. Data shops like Schoolzilla, spun out from Aspire Public Schools in 2013, help organize district data. Unfortunately, it’s still challenging to combine all the data schools are receiving.

5. Adopt a shared improvement framework. “School leaders need to focus their attention on creating the conditions where teachers have the resources, courage and support to experiment with improving their practice, and then the space to share what they are learning with other educators,” said Justin Reich, executive director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab.

An improvement framework identifies core processes (e.g., reading instruction), shared practices (e.g., guided reading), quality metrics (e.g., observations, running record), improvement tools, and review cycles.

The improvement framework for the New Tech Network (below) incorporates shared values, process tools and common structures. (more…)

Pacing in Competency-Based Learning

December 7, 2016 by

pacingThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on November 23, 2016.

In a recent school design workshop, a school leader asked, “How do we avoid students racing through the system at the expense of depth?”

To make this more challenging, she added, “How do we avoid encouraging parents to compete/brag on progress (e.g., my son is 1.5 years ahead of his age group)?”

No drag racing. Learning isn’t a drag race, but we may inadvertently set up rules that suggest otherwise. Most of us have seen well-intentioned credit recovery courses that were nothing more than clicking through online content and assessments. It may help students quickly earn credits, but it rewards low-level engagement and recall.

To avoid racing it’s important to measure what matters: if you want depth, assessments should value it. As NGLC MyWays suggests, it is important to measure creativity, critical thinking, entrepreneurship, collaboration and social skills. As Buck suggests, requiring key success skills, sustained inquiry and a public product contributes to deeper learning. The iNACOL definition recommends:

  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

The great “show what you know” school networks (HTH, NTN, EL) have retained an age cohort model and encourage the benefits of peer learning opportunities in a project-based environment. They avoid the free-rider problem by assessing individual work.

We’ve seen schools that encourage peer learning with cool avatars on learning platforms that signify who can help with what. Other schools encourage collaboration with low-cost hacks (need help/can help). (more…)

Get the Culture Right: The Most Important New School Factor

July 27, 2016 by

GS1This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on June 28, 2016.

“Attend to your culture,” said Jim May who supports about 25 new schools each year for New Tech Network. “From certificates of occupancy to emergency plans to hiring, the list of operational realities that must be addressed when starting a new school is immense. Thus, it can be easy to overlook the importance of your staff and student culture during those early days. However, it is imperative that even amidst the swirl of starting the school that you are intentional about establishing a strong set of cultural norms and rituals that can animate your work in the coming year.”

What’s most important when opening a new school? I asked 20 experts who have collectively opened more than a thousand schools. They shared 70 hard-won lessons and it’s clear that getting the culture right is the single most important factor in the long-term success of a school.

Opening a great school is an enormously complicated project. It involves real estate, construction, financing, logistics and marketing, which most educators don’t initially know anything about.

“Most of us who want to start schools because we like instruction, but the one thing no one tells us is that when you start a school, 90% of what who do early on has nothing to do with instruction,” said Dr. Nicole Assisi, Thrive Public Schools, who has opened five southern California schools. (more…)

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