Category: How To

5 Trends for Seeding CBE Growth

June 12, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on May 8, 2018.

As more and more school systems across the country explore competency-based education (CBE), we need to be attentive to the processes that will actually allow such innovations to thrive. (more…)

iNACOL Symposium Request for Presentation Proposals for Competency-Based Education

February 21, 2018 by

This year, the iNACOL Symposium will be held on October 21-24, 2018 in Nashville, TN. This year’s theme is “Driving the Transformation of Learning.”

As we prepare for the upcoming Symposium, Chris Sturgis and I are discussing the “must have” workshops and sessions at the iNACOL Symposium for the track focused on competency-based education (CBE) to help advance the field in strategic ways. We’ve asked the CompetencyWorks Advisory Board for the must-have topics for the competency-based education track at the iNACOL Symposium event in October. (Note: please add your “must have” sessions in the comments section, below).

I wanted to share a few “must have” topics generated by the CompetencyWorks Advisory Board and ask if you are an expert on these topics to please submit a proposal to speak: (more…)

Is it a Project or an Activity? Project-Based Learning and its Cousins

July 18, 2016 by

PBL1This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on June 24, 2016. 

A project is a multistep activity undertaken by an individual or group to achieve a particular aim. With that broad definition there’s a lot of project-based learning happening in schools these days. Some is better than others and there are a lot of variations: some thin, some deep; some teacher-led, some student-driven; some with clear deliverables, and some very open-ended.

In an effort to help educators select a strategy appropriate for intended outcomes, this post is an attempt at providing a framework for variations on project-based learning (PBL) and part of our project-based world campaign.

Gold Standard PBL

Buck Institute for Education (BIE) defines project-based learning as “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem or challenge.” Their Gold Standard PBL Essential Project Design Elements include:

  • Key Knowledge, Understanding and Success Skills. The project is focused on student learning goals, including standards-based content and skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration and self-management.
  • Challenging Problem or Question. The project is framed by a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge.
  • Sustained Inquiry. Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources and applying information.
  • Authenticity. The project features real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards or impact. Or it speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests and issues in their lives.
  • Student Voice & Choice. Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create.
  • Reflection. Students and teachers reflect on learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, obstacles and how to overcome them.
  • Critique & Revision. Students give, receive and use feedback to improve their process and products.
  • Public Product. Students make their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to people beyond the classroom.

We think that is a good and useful set of design principles. Most of it applies not only to project-based learning but also to a group of related instructional strategies. We see seven key dimensions (design variables) for projects and related learning activities: (more…)

Keep the Vision in Your Sights

January 6, 2016 by

aloOne cannot deny the energy that has grown in support of competency-based learning. While it is still not the practice of the majority of educators, it increases by more believers every day. At its core, it is a great conversation about how to make the shift from a time-based system to one focused on learners demonstrating understanding of learning competencies. For me, the true power of competency-based education can be actualized when connected with a true learner-centered approach to learning. One that customizes the learning experience and drives our students into the realm of deeper learning. It can be more than a linear checklist for students to complete. The competencies can be used to support learners in becoming critical thinkers and effective communicators. We need to keep both together when visioning with our stakeholders.

I do not mean to say that having a well defined progression of competencies – increasing from the simple to the more complex and making sure students are proficient before moving to the next target – is not an important step forward for learning. Thanks to John Hattie, we know that two of the best strategies a teacher can use to improve learning is to have clear targets and then provide feedback on how students are doing at meeting those targets.

But I believe the competencies can help educators go further. Help us reach the ever-elusive four-leaf clover of education, the deeper learning experience. This is when students are asked to apply their knowledge and not simply be tested for its existence. While it is not a new concept, and is certainly being realized in pockets of classrooms around the world, we can do more to make it common practice.

In order for all students to have the motivation to expend the extra energy required to think deeper and reason with knowledge at a higher cognitive level, a sentiment usually expressed during the visioning phase of system change, the learning opportunities we create need to be more relevant with clear expectations to the students. That is why learner-centered, competency-based systems need to be connected if we are to reach the vision. To stop improving our educational systems once we have the competencies will limit the full potential for all students. (more…)

Engagement Templates: 6 Ways to Structure Learning Experiences

October 15, 2015 by

Students in lecture

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on September 11, 2015.

How to engage learners? It’s a perpetual question for teachers and trainers. If it’s human development you’re after, engagement isn’t the goal but it is the engine. You won’t achieve your aims without it, especially if the desired learning requires hard sustained work.

We’ve been studying engagement and cataloging templates drawing from traditional research and new technology-enhanced approaches to user experience (UX) and learner experience (LX).

Many instructional designers use Terry Anderson’s interaction framework: learner to content, learner to instructor, and learner to peer learner interaction. These are important constructs but they don’t tell you how to structure a learning experience.

David Merrill provides a bit more guidance in his five principles of instructional design:

  • learning is promoted when learners are engaged in solving real-world problems;
  • learning is promoted when existing knowledge is activated as a foundation for new knowledge;
  • learning is promoted when new knowledge is demonstrated to the learner;
  • learning is promoted when new knowledge is applied by the learner; and
  • learning is promoted when new knowledge is integrated into the learner’s world.

A designer admitted that “Designing an effective and efficient “instructional transaction” is the great mystery.”

While there are many variations, there appear to be six basic strategies for capturing engagement and initiating a learning cycle: (more…)

Communicating With Parents on the Transition to Competency Education

April 21, 2015 by
Brian Stack

Brian Stack

I am the Principal at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH. Our district has used a competency education model for the past five years and is one of the districts that is part of the exciting PACE (Performance Assessment of Competency Education) pilot program for school accountability. I am often asked by administrators who are looking to transition their schools to this kind of a model what it is like to communicate it to parents and families. This is something our school tries to do on an ongoing basis. Just this week, my two assistant principals and I held an evening coffee hour sponsored by our Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) to discuss the topic in more detail. It was a very well-attended evening. Below is a summary of how that evening was structure. It was first written and shared on my Principal’s Blog for parents who were unable to attend, but I am also sharing it with all of you on CompetencyWorks in the event that it could help you structure a similar event in your own schools.

Last night’s PTO meeting agenda said that school administrators would be available to lead a discussion on competency-based grading, but really it was all about chocolate chip cookies. What makes for an exemplary cookie, the one that is over-fresh with a sweet, rich, buttery flavor? The one with a real chocolate taste in each bite that complements that rich and flavored dough? You can’t teach someone how to make such a cookie until you take the time to define the criteria that you would use to assess it. It was through the lens of this scenario that Sanborn Regional High School Principal, Brian Stack, and Assistant Principals, Ann Hadwen and Michael Turmelle, helped everyone in the room understand the big picture of competency education, grading, and assessment and how it is working to provide a more rigorous education for all students.

Competency Education – The Big Picture (more…)

3 Ways Parents Can Spot Student-Centered Learning

March 26, 2015 by

Kids ComputerThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on February 26, 2015.

Recently I had the opportunity to learn alongside my seven-year old daughter, as we used the occasion of yet another snowed-in February day to scratch the itch of one of her many curiosities. Driven partly by me and largely by a friend at school, she’s been talking a lot lately about computers and how they work so we sat down together to try the Hour of Code. It was fun for the two of us to share a learning experience that we were both coming to completely new.

So many of our experiences alongside our children often involve us teaching them things that we ourselves have already experienced or mastered. It didn’t take long, however, before I realized the greatest lessons for me in that hour wouldn’t be about coding. What I gained that snowy afternoon was a set of new insights into how my daughter learns, what motivates her, what frustrates her and how my interactions either supported or discouraged her learning. I was floored by how much she was able to learn in just one hour–the same hour that could’ve instead been spent watching half a movie or playing another spirited round of tag with her sister through the house.

So what was it about that learning experience that made it so powerful? (more…)

A Construction Kit for Personalized Assessment of Competency-Based Learning

December 18, 2014 by
mc2

From the MC2 Charter School Website

This post originally appeared December 15, 2014 at Q.E.D. Foundation.

“What Changes in the Learner Are You Trying to Cause?”

Our perspective at QED is that competency based learning is first and foremost performance based, which means assessments – and assessment literacy – are essential, even more essential than the curriculum. Years ago, (1990, long before it became a rallying cry for Common Core opponents), Grant Wiggins identified assessment as “the Trojan horse” of education restructuring, or the means to “adapt schools to meet the needs of learning.” (Ed Week, 10/10/90)

Citing Ralph Tyler’s Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction at a much more recent training (July, 2014, Lambertville, NJ), Wiggins exhorted educators to “honor the Ralph Tyler idea that you don’t design backward from the curriculum, but from the learner being different: what changes in the learner are you trying to cause?” (more…)

ReInventing Schools at the District Level

November 10, 2014 by
Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 9.00.58 AM

Bill Zima

In 2012, Maine established policy for schools to award proficiency-based diplomas starting in 2018. As the years passed, it became clear that some districts, including mine, needed more time to get all the pieces in place. In April of 2014, The Maine Department of Education agreed to allow extensions for districts as long as they met specific criteria demonstrating the district was moving forward. There were six options ranging from no extension to taking a full three years.

My district chose option five, which required us to partner with a coach to help with the transition to a learner-centered, proficiency-based system. We decided to partner with the ReInventing Schools Coalition. This decision was made based on their affiliation with Marzano Research Labs and their proven record of supporting schools through the transition. Also, the middle school, of which I am the principal, already had a working relationship with them. We have found them to be tireless in their commitment to support us through the process of meeting our vision.

With our limited funds, the decision was made to begin the district work with leadership teams from each of the schools in the district. The groups met for a single day over the summer to talk about the ReInventing Schools framework. While it was nice to only spend a single day on this topic, I would not recommend it as the norm for the introduction. Since the ReInventing Schools Coalition is well-known in Maine, having worked with many school districts in the past six years, their framework is familiar to many educators. Add to this the catalyst of the proficiency-based diploma law, and it gave our coach the ability to move quickly, leaving only a few of the school leaders needing support in the days that followed. (more…)

The Role of Assessment Instruments in a Competency-Based System

November 5, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 7.01.11 AMNo matter how you approach it, you cannot mitigate the massive change agent that is competency-based education. It does not leave much room for “old school” notions of teaching and learning. It does not tolerate anything less than a committed belief that all students can achieve at high levels.

It certainly demands a philosophical and ideological shift in thinking about “best practice” in education.

When I had first embarked on this journey, I had prepared myself for these shifts as they pertained to my practice. How can I become more student-centered? What does that look like? How will I know if my students are ready?

The question I never asked: How will I assess it and grade it? (more…)

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