Category: How To

Step Two: Picture It

June 3, 2014 by
Artist_at_Work

From Wikicommons

One of the first things teachers and teams ask for when we begin talking about student-centered proficiency-based learning is an example of what it looks like. I tend to go here with teams and teachers after learning targets are in place; I think having something in place makes it easier to build the rest of the vision. (See Step One: Separate the Baby from the Bathwater.) To help people picture what a student’s day might look like in a competency-based system, I share this narrative with them:

Bobby walks into his team wing ready for the day to begin. It is early October and he has settled into his team and schedule. They spent the last few weeks building a team culture and working to understand where they are in their learning. At this point, Bobby feels like he knows where he belongs and is ready to jump in to his learning.

At the end of advisory, Bobby heads over to his numeracy workshop class. When he walks into the room his teachers, Ms. Brown and Ms. Green, have posted a problem on the whiteboard. He and his classmates work on it independently for a few minutes, then they are told to get into groups and share their answers and how they solved it. Ms. Brown and Ms. Green walk around and check in with each group. (more…)

Thoughts on Grain Size

May 27, 2014 by
david ruff

David Ruff

As schools across the country engage with and implement proficiency-based learning, one of the first steps educators are taking is to

identify the skills, knowledge, and dispositions students should know and be able to demonstrate in order to either progress in their learning or graduate from the K-12 system. Certainly, there are significant resources for this, including state standards, the Common Core, and various other national sets of standards. However, few of these resources are shaped to best support instructional and organizational implementation of proficiency-based learning.

First off, we need to clarify the different uses of standards within curriculum, assessment, and student level accountability.  There are many standards that can help teachers shape the learning experience in the classroom—the actual curriculum that is enacted. Many of these standards are worthy of being assessed, formatively and/or summatively. However, only a handful are worth using for student-level accountability. Essentially, what standards will we require students to demonstrate in order to graduate? (more…)

Three Steps for Personalizing Assessment

May 26, 2014 by

Why do we always assess students at the same time and let that be the governing factor for student achievement?timing

Andrew Miller, a faculty member at Buck Institute and ASCD, explores this issue in  Personalizing Assessment with Time in Mind:

 We know that students each learn at their own pace. Some take longer; some take a shorter amount of time. We have the same high expectations for our students, but we also know students take different amounts of time to get to those high expectations. One critical element of personalization is that time is no longer the driving factor. Instead of relying on the Carnegie unit, students show mastery and are assessed when they are ready. Granted, so many outside forces are demanding our time, but how might we move past them to meet students were they are in the assessment process?

Here are Andrew’s three steps for how you can start to create systems of assessments that enable you to further personalize the learning experience for students: (more…)

Threads of Implementation — Lessons Learned from Maine

May 21, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 12.13.09 PMThe Maine Department of Education has condensed their six case studies on districts that have embraced proficiency-based education into one article. Threads of Implementation: A Thematic Review of Six Case Studies of Maine School Districts Implementing Proficiency-Based/Learner-Centered Systems looks at nine issues:  vision and framework; policy; leadership; teacher engagement; finance and professional development; technology; communications; pace of implementation; and cultural change. Given that it’s a concise summary, we’ve reposted it below.

Beginning in February 2012, the Maine Department of Education through its Center for Best Practice (Center) began publishing a series of in-depth case studies of school districts who were implementing proficiency-based/learner-centered systems.  These districts were in very different stages of their implementation journeys.  For example, the member districts of the Western Maine Education Collaborative (WMEC) were just beginning implementation while Poland Regional High School (of RSU 16) had been completely proficiency-based since it opened in 1999.  Though each of the districts featured in the Center over the last two years took decidedly different paths on their way to change, there were common themes that emerged throughout the case studies.  Their experiences serve as lessons for other Maine districts just beginning this transition in preparation for all schools in the state issuing diplomas starting in 2018 to students based on demonstrated proficiency.

Vision and Framework
All districts involved in making this change considered it vitally important to engage in a vision-setting process that made explicit certain assumptions.  This visioning process came at different times for each district.  For RSU 18, the visioning process – a Future Search – happened early.  The school board invited 80 stakeholders to participate in a process that would answer the question: “What do great schools look like?  And what should kids learn in great schools?”  RSU 2 went through a similar process, but engaged in it after individual schools had been working on proficiency-based issues for years – in fact, their visioning process came only after a significant pushback from parents.  The individual schools of RSU 20 had clear visions of their own, but the district as a whole did not.  When the individual schools came together to form RSU 20, one of the early acts of the new school board was to approve a proficiency-based vision for the district (though individual schools were free to choose their own way to approach this vision). (more…)

Performance-Based Assessment in Action

May 20, 2014 by

Originally posted May 16, 2014 at gettingsmart.com.  For more on Danville’s overall approach see District Transformation in Danville.Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 7.09.43 AM

Close your eyes and imagine an innovative school, a next-generation school that excels at preparing students to thrive in college and career. Picture a school that engages students in rigorous and authentic project-based learning opportunities, a school that has developed ways to get technology into the hands of students in a way that connects to its goals around next-gen teaching and learning. You’re probably imagining a flashy high-tech building situated in well-resourced district with dollars to spare. You’re probably thinking “Sounds good, but my district can’t do this because of [insert your reason here].”

My guess is that you’re not picturing a traditional school district in the middle of Kentucky. My guess is you’re probably not picturing a building that was built in 1912. My guess is you’re probably not picturing Bate Middle School in Danville; but you should be. (more…)

Step 1: Separate The Baby From the Bathwater

May 19, 2014 by
courtney  belolan

Courtney Belolan

Consider this moment:

I’m sitting in a summer planning session with a team of teachers from different grade levels and contents. We’re talking through a vision of student-centered, proficiency-based learning, and our goal is to have some plans in place for the start of the school year.  As we’re discussing student engagement and motivation, a teacher chimes in with:

Let’s just make sure we are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

I hear this phrase whenever talking through change, especially change related to instructional practices. I agree completely, although I’ve never been a fan of the phrase (there is just something about the imagery). We do need to make sure we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; there are many things we already do as educators that support a student-centered, proficiency-based philosophy, regardless of how we design and run our classes. The hard part is getting into that bathtub and making sure we know what really is the baby and what is bathwater. (more…)

The Questions I Ask

May 13, 2014 by
Chris Sturgis

Chris Sturgis

What is competency education and what isn’t it? It’s a question that is being asked a lot these days, especially as people try to sort through what it means to design for a school to emphasize personal mastery or student ownership of their learning, competency-based progression, issues of pacing, and how to respond to students that enter a classroom more than two grade levels behind.

Some folks have gotten caught up in the concept of “time is a variable” and talk about competency education as self-paced, forgetting that another variable is how we use instruction and supports to help students stay on pace. First and foremost, competency education is about designing schools and learning environments so that every student reaches proficiency, step by step, standard by standard. (Wait that sounds too linear — learning progressions don’t always have to be perfectly linear. We just don’t want to leave kids with gaps that are going to cause them to stumble on more advanced work!)

Today I was asked what types of questions I ask and what I look for when I do site visits, as a way of trying to better understand competency education.  So I jotted down the primary questions that help me filter quickly what is happening in a school. The questions aren’t usually asked in this sequence, as I think one way of learning about a school is listening to what they think is important.

1.     What is your overarching philosophy of education or theory of action?  

 I listen for:

  • Examples of a growth mindset;
  • A culture of learning that sees mistakes as part of learning and that adults are learning, too;
  • Starting where kids are, i.e. teaching kids, not curriculum;
  • Inclusiveness of students rather than segmenting. An example is honors level coursework rather than a class or track;
  • Asset-based;
  • Student agency and the importance of transparency;
  • Motivation and engagement strategies;
  • Focus on getting kids to proficiency and higher levels of depth of knowledge;
  • Flexibility in responding to kids – calendars, schedules, instruction, support;
  • Holistic approach to learning, such as emphasis on social-emotional learning , habits or lifelong learning competencies, or trauma-informed care. (more…)

The Advantage of Separating Behaviors and Academics Through a Competency-Based Grading System

May 5, 2014 by

If we were to return to giving grades that are a combination of academics, behaviors, and anything else a teacher decides to include, we, as educators would be remiss in our responsibilities.

As I watched one of our teacher’s training sessions this past Wednesday, I considered how far we had come in grading practices in a fairly short period of time.  Our school made the transition to competency-based grading four years ago, and despite some of “bumps in the road”, we really have never looked back.

Terry Bolduc, a fifth grade teacher at our school, is also one of our training team members for our staff.  Terry was sharing with other classroom teachers at our Wednesday afternoon training session how her grading practices have continued to evolve.  This particular session was related to how Terry continuously assesses students on their behaviors or dispositions, both through daily assignments, and weekly formative assessments.  Terry was explaining that by doing this, there are a number of points of data that can support where a student is in each particular area.

These dispositions, or 21st Century Learning Skills, we assess our students on are based off of the Responsive Classroom’s CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-regulation).  Each of these has indicators that teachers use to assess student growth.  What has typically happened over the past few years is that teachers have had minimal data in their gradebook related to CARES behaviors.  Academic areas had multiple assignments attached to standards, but the data related to our CARES was somewhat limited.  Most teachers were continuing to input a CARES assessment grade just prior to the distribution of progress reports and trimester report cards.  We have worked very hard to get away from “subjective” grading in academic areas, so why should work habits be any different? (more…)

Working in a Competency Education School: Hiring Tips for Potential Teacher Candidates

April 28, 2014 by

job_interviewWelcome to May, the month when most school administrators begin the process of filling open positions in their schools for the upcoming school year. Maybe my administrative team and I are getting picky as we mature as a team, or maybe we are just getting wiser, but we honestly believe that our hiring practices have changed dramatically since our school made the shift to competency education four years ago. For those of you who are thinking about applying to work in a school like ours, we would like to offer you some words of advice before you get your résumés and cover letters together for us.

 1. We need team players. In our school, very few big curriculum, instruction, and assessment decisions are left to teachers to make on their own. Most are made by teams of teachers as part of their Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). If you join our school, be prepared to share and collaborate with your PLC on just about everything you do. With your PLC team, you will build common performance assessments, you will administer them to your shared students, and you will analyze the data with your team. We strongly believe that PLC teams work far more efficiently than individuals ever could towards advancing our vision of learning for all. Our PLC teams are organized by grade level, not by subject area. This allows them to share kids and focus their work on student learning. At our school, there is no such thing as a traditional department meeting. (more…)

The Paradox of Right the First Time: Transform Assessment Practices to Reflect Growth

April 16, 2014 by

examThose of us experimenting with how we accurately measure student skills and abilities hit a wonderful fork in the road the first time we experience the unintended consequences of change. The story goes something like this.

A cool Friday morning as school begins, Mr. Brock is welcoming his 11th-grade psychology class with a casual hello and a smile. As the bell rings, Mr. Brock proceeds through the daily business of taking attendance and fielding quick questions. Prior to that day’s summative assessment, he overhears two students casually conversing.

John, sitting at his desk with his materials strewn in a form best described as controlled chaos is combing through past formative work, open responses, and segments of the textbook he has identified as areas of focus. Diligently checking components off of his preparation list, you can see the hard work and time he put in to preparing for the day’s activities.

Strolling in about four minutes after the bell had rung, Timmy sits down, drops his backpack on the floor, and waits quietly. Noticing the laissez-faire demeanor of his classmate, John leans over and asks a question…. (more…)

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