Category: Insights into Implementation

How Competency-Based Are You?

February 14, 2018 by

A few weeks ago, someone approached me because the schools they were working with wanted to know if they were competency-based or not. This question seems to be popping up more frequently as competency-based education gains popularity. If the question is based on wanting to be part of the latest education innovation, it’s a problem. Simply declaring one’s school as competency-based doesn’t have much to do with anything if we aren’t actually providing a significantly better learning experience for students.

However, if that question is actually trying to ask Am I doing it right? then we really need as a field to be providing resources that allow districts, schools and teachers to self-assess and resources that allow them to see and engage in quality. In the meantime, I think a reframing of the question might be helpful: In what way are you competency-based and which ways aren’t you? To what degree has it been implemented across your school? And are students benefiting? And if not, why not – what’s missing or has to be done with greater quality? (more…)

A Big District Strategy for Implementing Competency-Based Education

January 17, 2018 by

Commitment counts. It seems to make a difference when school boards and district/school leadership make a commitment to the vision of a more equitable education system where all students are successfully prepared for their next step (i.e., advancing based on mastery) before they begin the process of piloting or implementation.

However, that’s not always going to be possible especially for larger districts. It is much more difficult to engage the broader community and build the consensus needed for the commitment in larger communities. There are just too many people to bring together into one room or around one table. Furthermore, we don’t believe that competency-based education can be effectively implemented as a top-down, memo-driven approach. It requires building trust and engaging in dialogue for everyone to clarify values, understand how the traditional system reproduces inequity and low achievement, and understand the implications of research in the day to day operations of schools. (more…)

Highlights from the CBE Leadership Forum at iNACOL17

November 17, 2017 by

At iNACOL17, CompetencyWorks organized a Leadership Forum for people with more than one year experience in implementing competency-based education. We organized conversations so that people would have a opportunity to meet each other, exchange ideas, and look both backward and forward. There is no way to capture the lively conversation of 60+ people talking about a topic they care deeply about. However, I will do my best to give you a flavor of those conversations.

Before I highlight a few of the conversations, I feel it is important to share some feedback for our colleagues who work at the national level and in intermediary/technical assistance organizations. I received multiple requests from district and school leaders that the Leadership Forum next year only include people at the state, district, and school levels, and that people from supporting organizations have their own space to talk. The feedback was consistent and from several different tables: The people from field organizations took up too much air time and often spoke from what they think should be happening rather than what is rooted in experience. This is important information for all of us, including myself.

The field is changing, with much more expertise rooted in the districts and schools than ever before. It is worthwhile for us to take a step back and think about what the implications of these changes mean. We certainly need both types of perspective – those with in-depth knowledge developed from implementation and those with broader perspectives who understand differences in how competency-based education is developing, as well as with expertise around the different topics for which we need to build capacity. We also need to honor that district and school people have few opportunities to meet with their colleagues, whereas people in supporting organizations have lots of opportunities for meetings, given that this is how much of our work gets done.

I don’t know what we will do next year – however, my instinct is to honor the requests of district and school leadership. Perhaps those people who want to attend and are not in those positions can participate as note takers and facilitators so that they have opportunity to listen and learn.

Highlights of Conversations:

As you reflect back on your experience in the implementation of CBE, what were the easiest wins or successes?

  • Getting people to see the value of a CBE system.
  • With a clear mission/vision, the work of defining competencies becomes easier.
  • Building on what is already in place so you don’t try to create something completely new, including finding ways to engage people who are already doing some of the practices and building from there.

(more…)

Catalyzing Equity Through Culturally Responsive Education and Competency-Based Education

October 17, 2017 by

Right now race has enormous cultural, social, and economic power. It can shape our families and communities, career trajectories, life experiences and opportunities, and even whether we live past thirty or not. So our job in the field of education is to identify each and every place where race is making a difference in children’s lives because of either systemic policies and patterns or because of implicit and explicit bias. It starts with ensuring that our schools have a culture of belonging. As Joy Nolan from the Mastery Collaborative emphasizes, Every student should walk into school feeling like their school is for them, designed for them, serving them, and for people “like them.”

The team at Mastery Collaborative in NYC have identified that the practices of culturally responsive education go hand-in-hand with the mastery-based learning practices. They have created a very simple resource (see below or click here) to allow educators or, better yet, teams of educators (it is very hard to identify implicit bias if it is just a conversation between you and yourself – you need trusted colleagues to help you see where you might have blinders or filters that are creating trouble) to think about their facilitation, curriculum, and grading practices.

Mastery Collaborative Resources on Culturally Responsive Education

Infusing CRE into Mastery Practices

How Can Mastery Learning be More Culturally Responsive (video)

The more I learn about culturally responsive education, the more I think it is important that the leaders in the world of personalized learning do the crosswalk as well. There are so many practices that are valuable in culturally responsive education that are either the same or similar enough to make personalized learning become a catalyst for racial equity. But that won’t happen unless there is the intention of doing so. Without intention to change, we end up perpetuating inequality.

Do you have tools, resources, or strategies that are helping you and your school to strengthen your culture and practices so that you are truly an equitable school where every student is going to succeed regardless of race? Or a story about how competency-based education and its focus on continuous improvement is helping your school or district improve educational services and outcomes for historically underserved students? Please share.  As a community, I am confident that we can not only commit to equity. We can make a difference in children’s lives for the better.

– – –

Infusing CRE/Mastery practices into our work with young learners

Exploration

  • Please check indicators you feel are your strengths. ✔
  • Use a question mark where you want more information. ?
  • Draw a star to show a possible focus/growth area for you. *

I can point to evidence that shows that . . .

  • All students in my/our classroom feel they are welcomed, they belong here, and
    that their learning has value. facilitation

(more…)

Behavior Management Tools Might Not Be Best for Student-Centered Learning

October 12, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Students at the Center on September 14, 2017. It is the first in a series on the practical side of cultivating student ownership of learning, produced by JFF’s Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative.

High-quality learning is often messy. It can be noisy and nonlinear and full of surprises. That may be why many of us seek to control it. We establish rules, plans, and procedures to contain the unpredictable outcomes of our students’ learning. And we distinguish behavior from academics as if the way learners are expected to accomplish their learning teaches them nothing about how to behave as learners.

The trouble is, many educators were taught to think about classroom management and behavior management as activities of control. Classroom management is seen as organizing and structuring the flow of activities and expectations to maximize efficiency and task accomplishment, while behavior management is framed as the teacher’s efforts to manage and respond to disruptions.

But what if control was the wrong impulse? What if our efforts to control behavior sometimes worked against our loftiest educational goals regarding college/career readiness, critical thinking, social-emotional health, and civic preparedness? What if there was another way to achieve our objectives besides control?

There is! With the explicit goal of fostering learner independence, student-centered learning calls for a different set of approaches, ones that are more akin to learner facilitation than learner control. Rather than prioritizing efficiency, order, and compliance, student-centered approaches draw from a wide variety of educational research (see the Students at the Center Research Portal) to create learning environments that inspire students’ academic, social-emotional, and metacognitive development. Recognizing that emotion is an integral component of all learning, facilitators of student-centered learning seek to personalize an optimal mix of risk-taking, disequilibrium, accomplishment, and confidence in each individual student. By intentionally modeling and coaching empathy, cultivating relationships with and among learners, and establishing a culture of partnership, trust, and support, learner facilitators move past merely controlling behaviors to cultivating motivations and inspiring engagement. And in the busy, messy, nonlinear world of high-quality student-centered learning, these approaches are used to drive the goal setting, self-regulation, and success that lead to social behaviors and mature thinking processes.

Here’s an example for one learner facilitator’s opening activities, well-timed for the beginning of the school year. After introductions, first-year teacher Nate Gray launches his classes by engaging students in collaboratively creating a T-Chart with the headings “Expectations of Me” and “Expectations of Each Other”: (more…)

Redesigning the Syllabus to Reflect the Learning Journey

October 9, 2017 by

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This post originally appeared at EdSurge on September 10, 2017.

Personalized learning is still in its infancy—as are the curricular tools and resources available to support teachers in implementing it.

Currently, there is no shortage of articles offering a high-level look at how and why personalized learning will impact student growth, and conference sessions where teachers are encouraged to change the way they teach, but not given the tools to modify their instructional practices. There are plenty of resources with step-by-step guides and blueprints designed to walk teachers through a process to personalize learning. Additionally, there is a growing number of online platforms and prepackaged curricular products (both free and at cost)—not to mention the new stamp on existing tools—you know, the sticker that says “personalize learning with (insert product name.)”

But, for personalized learning to be personal—it must be less formal and formulaic. We need to design student-centered learning experiences and that takes time, practice and support.

The Syllabus Gets a Facelift

If we think about learning as a journey that gets compartmentalized in formal education, then the first experience for middle and high school students is often the syllabus. In many ways, the traditional syllabus places restrictions on when, what and how students will learn. It sets expectations for how growth will be measured and what penalties will be enforced for late work or missing class. Most syllabi lack flexibility and aren’t very engaging; which contradicts everything we know about high quality teaching and learning.

I currently work at Allen Academy in Bryan, Texas, as the Head of Middle and Upper School and I teach one 8th grade geography class. Back in 2011, I was getting my feet wet with blended learning and experimenting with new pedagogical practices in my geography class. As a result of my recent transition to a blended learning environment and my desire to turn control of learning over to my students, I decided the traditional syllabus needed to be turned on its head.

Redesigning the Syllabus Starting With Student Experience

Conventional syllabi are developed from the perspective of the teacher—designed to present what he or she plans to include in a course. I wanted to develop an alternative version that looked through the lens of the student, and my vision was to tailor each one to reflect what a particular learner would be doing every step of the way throughout the course. This was not simply a more visually appealing version of a classic syllabus, it was a radical overhaul of the student experience with the primary goal of changing their perception of their role as a learner.

This drastic class redesign demanded that I ask myself some big questions: what content was required, what elements of learning could students control and what traditional and new measures I could use to gauge progress? Almost every question led to another. How much control could I give students over their modalities of learning, what would the challenges and successes of self-paced learning be, and if students had more control over how they demonstrated mastery, then what would rubrics look like?

Seven years ago, that first course redesign was a big shift for me. I had been teaching eighth grade geography for four years at that point, and historically, I had used a textbook and pacing chart to cover the curriculum. I used traditional grading practices, assessing student progress through quizzes, tests, project, midterms and finals each year. I was confident that students were learning and their grades supported that. There was little urgency for change—certainly not from my administration or peers. But I had this nagging feeling that my students deserved better. I knew they could make more progress if they had more flexibility to make decisions—but that couldn’t happen within the rigid structure that existed.

The heaviest lift for that first redesign was figuring out how to parcel out the course in a way that would give students more flexibility and choice. Abandoning traditional units and chapters and coming up with new potential segments of learning was a strenuous process. For that first one, I divided my class into three segments: Foundation, Content and Skills, and Assessment. I worked tirelessly to gather old and new resources, align them to each segment, and upload them to a website so that my students could access them at their own pace. (more…)

The Role of Advisory in Personalizing the Secondary Experience

September 13, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on August 24, 2017. 

The goal of an advisory is to help students figure out who they are, where they’re headed and how they’re going to get there. Through an advisory system, each student has an adult who knows them and helps them navigate high school so that they leave with a meaningful, personalized plan and are prepared for post-secondary options.

An advisory is a key component of a distributed student guidance strategy that includes regular meetings at regular intervals between an advisor and a group of students, has a clear focus and is something in which all students and staff participate. Student ownership is key to an advisory process, and there is typically a “gradual release” of responsibility from advisor to advisee. With the support of the advisor, students craft and own outcomes as they pursue postsecondary learning opportunities.

In the paper Core and More: Guiding and Personalizing College and Career Readiness, we assert that the best student guidance systems are blended (leveraging technology and in-person instruction and services), distributed (leveraging staff in addition to school counselors) and scheduled (utilizing an advisory period).

This advisory period is really the glue that holds it all together. The structure of the advisory should reflect the school’s mission, vision and philosophy of learning and should provide additional opportunities for students and staff to personalize their experiences.

High school can be a confusing time with increasing options for students due to the rapid expansion of digital learning. Advisory has to be the spine of the next generation high school. Sustained adult relationships can help students navigate this new digital landscape and maximize tools and systems to enhance their personal learning plan and map their trajectory beyond high school graduation.

Chris Lehmann, Science Leadership Academy (SLA), believes that student-teacher relationships radiate from the advisory period. “Think of advisory as the soul of your school. And in everything you do, remember that you teach students before you teach subjects. Advisory is the place in the schedule where that idea has its core and then it spreads into everything else we do,” Lehmann said.

Beth Brodie of Partnership for Change notes that a key function of the advisor is to ensure that every student has someone, “who knows them well and supports them at school meetings and conferences.”

Five Core Elements

We see five core elements that should be part of every secondary advisory system: (more…)

The How to Your Why

September 11, 2017 by

So much has been said about the importance of an organization having a purpose for the work they do. Schools have crafted purpose statements often containing phrases like “life-long learners,” “productive citizens,” and “successful members of society.” This is best done following a series of meetings with all stakeholders to capture their thoughts on what the experience of school should be for the community. At RSU 2, our purpose statement is “Cultivating Hope in All Learners.” We wanted a lofty commitment that falls just short of saying, “We want to make the world a better place.” All decisions we make, from allocating our resources to scheduling our learners, must be done in a way that shows we support our purpose.

But how do we know we are supporting the purpose? That question has been on my mind lately, causing me to ponder the middle ring in Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, the “How”: how we do the things we do in support of our why. If your actions do not reflect your why, you should either change your actions or change your why. Left as is, people will begin to see hypocrisy in your organization. And once they believe you are not being true to the work, they will find evidence to support their doubt, even if it is falsely interpreted. Leaders will find themselves in a constant mode of management.

What I have come to notice is to get at the “how we will work together to meet our purpose” requires agreement on common language and common approaches. The stakeholders responsible for the implementation of the plan must spend time to truly understand it so the purpose can be realized. These understandings must include agreed upon definitions and tenets.

Recently, I watched a five minute New York Times Magazine interview with comedian Jerry Seinfeld in which he described his process for writing a joke. When you listen, his rules of thumb of joke creating and telling come out loud and clear. They are:

  1. Write about nothing
  2. Think of something you think is funny
  3. Be funny right away
  4. Write on yellow pads with a Bic pen
  5. Look for connective tissue to link the story
  6. Biggest joke at the end
  7. The wronger something feels the righter it is

While some of these might be typical for all comedians, some may be true for Seinfeld alone.

The same can be said for how a school realizes being a personalized, competency-based system of education. Our rules of thumb, lets call them tenets, the principle or belief held as true by the members of a group, will be both similar and special to the district who defines them. Said in another way, what are those things that we agree need to happen to reach our vision? No system is exactly like another. Whether it is demographics, geography, or traditions and superstitions (like writing every episode of Seinfeld with a yellow pad and a Bic pen), schools have personalities. That is what we mean when we talk about school culture.  That is why every school and system needs to invest the time and energy, in productive struggle, to build understanding of how they will put the learners and their learning at the center of everything they do. (more…)

Equity for ELs: Learning English in a Competency-Based System

August 2, 2017 by

Laureen Avery

Across the country, educators and policymakers are coming to the same conclusion: the structure of the traditional system is a barrier. The premise of competency education is that the traditional education structure, which is designed to sort students, can be replaced with one that is designed for every student to succeed. When we design for ensuring mastery, we have to build around equity and draw upon the research that informs us about how students learn best.

Chris Sturgis, 2017. In Pursuit of Equality: A Framework for Equity Strategies in Competency- Based Education.

Public education (and public educators) has made a promise that every student will have the opportunity to learn and develop the skills and competencies needed for success beyond high school. It is clear that traditional, established structures have broken this promise for many students, and it is imperative that the developing models of education address these past inequities as core elements in their fundamental structures and design.

English learners (ELs) are one of the groups that fared poorly under the traditional models. Next generation education models (personalized learning, blended learning, competency-based education, and others) are slowly developing an understanding of how to translate beliefs and values into actual practices that transform the core experience of education for English learners. Creating new models that work for English learners must move beyond the need for cultural awareness and into a deep knowledge of how to nurture proficiency in academic language.

iNACOL recently published the results of a broad-based information collection activity in “Next Generation Learning Models For English Language Learners” (Natalie Truong, June 2017). One of the promising practices highlighted was the use of language progressions to support students in a personalized, competency-based system. (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…)

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