Category: How To

Assessment at the Center

July 9, 2012 by

Student-centered instruction must be built around the feedback and assessments that are given to students while they are learning. Unfortunately, almost all of us have been raised in learning models that focus exclusively on what students do while they are in the classroom and fail to incorporate effective feedback and measurement. We’ve experienced this model as students, and in our teacher training.

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The vast majority of teachers spent years being taught how to write lessons. Single content lessons were at the heart of what we were expected to produce for most of our education courses. Assessments and tests that were to be delivered at the end of a unit of study were usually included in our lesson plans, but learning to write lessons was the core of our training. The result is that we are comfortable with lessons. We even feel a sense of ownership and personal identity about the lessons that we write. Our misplaced attention means that we don’t learn how to develop routine, formative assessments that provide students with feedback, and that provide us with the information we need to provide targeted instruction. Instead, we stick with what’s comfortable, and our colleagues, who have been trained just like us, reinforce the focus on lesson plans. (more…)

Boston Day and Evening Academy: A Learning Organization

June 22, 2012 by

This is the third post in the Boston Day and Evening Academy series. Continue reading the first and second posts.

This final post on Boston Day and Evening Academy(BDEA) offers some of the big takeaways and lessons learned from my site visit.

Beatriz Zapater & BDEA student

Process for Designing Competencies: Beatriz Zapater, Head of BDEA, explained that “We always start with the curriculum frameworks. In Massachusetts, the standards feel like a telephone book with long lists of what we expect students to know. We can’t teach a phone book—we don’t have time. So we go in search of the most important ones. Common Core offers anchor standards so that makes it easier.” Alison Hramiec, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, continued by saying, “We ask ourselves three questions: 1) What is essential for all students to know and be able to do in each section of the Common Core?  2) What are the essential components of those skills and knowledge we are asking students to demonstrate?, and, 3) How can we scaffold this learning through the scope and sequence?

Zapater further suggested that “Schools develop a framework of common language around the language used in rubrics (BDEA uses not yet competent, competent, and highly competent), scope and sequence, and extra support. Otherwise it becomes a Tower of Babel, and you risk focusing on things other than student learning.” (See definitions used at BDEA on the wiki.)


Boston Day and Evening Academy: Where Competency Education is Good Teaching Practice

June 21, 2012 by

This is the second post in the Boston Day and Evening Academy series. Continue reading the first and third posts.

During my site visit to BDEA, Alison Hramiec, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, explained that at BDEA “competency is synonymous with good teaching practice, with clear rubrics and discussion around student work. Competency education instills a sense of ownership in the learning process for teachers and for students. Learning comes alive.” Below are a few highlights of the BDEA competency education model.

Competencies, Benchmarks, and Assessments: BDEA defines competency as “able to demonstrate understanding and application of specific skills and content independently, multiple times, and using the correct vocabulary.” BDEA uses three levels: basic competent, competent, and highly competent.

BDEA uses benchmarks to organize learning and monitor progress. They do not use traditional grades or traditional grade levels. Their students earn benchmarks; each benchmark has a rubric. The Individual Learning Plans with the benchmarks for math, science, and humanities can be found on the wiki. (more…)

Reading the Pulse of Students at Boston Day and Evening Academy

June 20, 2012 by

This is the first post in the Boston Day and Evening Academy series. Continue reading the second and third posts.

Reading the pulse of students. That’s what Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) does exceptionally well—read the pulse of their students. They know them, they respect them, and they’ve got their backs. That’s where personalization always starts—by having respectful relationships between educators and students.

BDEA has been fine-tuning competency education for fifteen years, and they have a lot of insights to offer to schools that are transforming from a time-based system to a learning-based system. They now offer a Responsive Education Alternatives Lab (REAL) summer institute for interested educators. (more…)

Visit to Yewlands School in U.K. Highlights Focus on Daily Learning Objectives

June 19, 2012 by

During my recent visit to Europe, I was able to tour Yewlands Technology College, a STEM Academy, located in an underserved neighborhood of Sheffield. It was one of the “Building Schools of the Future” new academy schools, opened in September 2011. Yewlands was fantastic. (more…)

Five Ideas for Building a System of Support

June 18, 2012 by

Over the last few weeks, I have been conducting interviews with national experts who are working to implement competency-based learning in districts across the country.  We have focused in particular on the topic of supportive services in a competency-based environment.  A few common themes have begun to emerge:

  1. Personalized learning requires a deep understanding of each individual learner.  By definition, this will require an assessment of learning styles, strengths and weaknesses, etc.  Every learner’s plan therefore builds in the support that is needed. (more…)

An Engineering Kind of Mind

June 14, 2012 by

It was during my five-year-old’s visit to pre-calculus class in my second year out of college and teaching “back home” that I realized: My baby was a more confident thinker than the “big babies” who sat in silence before me. They stared at me as if frozen by the question I’d just posed about the dimensions of those dreaded fractions. What was it that I had intentionally taught my five-year-old daughter that made her so eager where my students were hesitant? It couldn’t have been a hard question; I’d modeled it first, and my daughter even answered correctly! My students had fallen victim to simply doing math over the years and not learning math.

At that moment, I too was paralyzed as I flashed back to days as an undergraduate, emotionally drained and nearly stripped of my confidence. High school in my neighborhood rarely required critical thinking skills, but (more…)

Gathering the Tools for Designing Competencies

June 13, 2012 by

In our research for the paper “The Art and Science of Designing Competencies” to be released later this summer, it is becoming clear that there is some variation in how schools develop competencies. I’m sharing this now because we’d like to know if there are other possible starting points.

We appear to be in agreement that competencies are more encompassing than standards. Therefore, it is important for everyone to first become comfortable with the standards—really get to know them. Start by “unpacking” the standards to determine which ones are the most meaningful. Then reorganize the remaining standards to fall under one (or more) of the larger ideas. (more…)

Making the Transition: 150 Years in the Making

June 11, 2012 by

Prior to moving into the nitty-gritty of competency writing, I would like to preface with a couple of statements. First off, before we can build competencies, we need to, as a group, identify what a competency really is. The dirty little secret of education, is at the heart of what I am about to tell you. So strap on your seatbelts…..make sure your tray tables are in their upright and stored position, and get ready to embark on a journey of educational intricacy…. (more…)

A Powerful Letter of Reflection and Gratitude

June 9, 2012 by

David Theoharides, Superintendent of Sanford Schools in Maine wrote a beautiful reflection in his June 7th op-ed Vision pursues ‘student-centered, proficiency-based learning‘. The piece also brilliantly served to further engage the community in the transformation towards the Sanford Vision: Learning for Life with its focus on student-centered, proficiency-based learning. (more…)

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