Category: Insights into Implementation

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…)

The Four Biggest Challenges to Implementing Maine’s Proficiency-Based Diploma

June 28, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at EdSurge on May 30, 2017.

Maine has long been an innovator in education, stemming back to the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. Now all eyes are on our corner of the country as we transition from a traditional seat-time high school diploma to a proficiency-based diploma.

Historically, Maine has spurred national, paradigm-shifting discussions about how we “do school.” We have pushed many state districts to make significant policy changes that align with instructional and educational best practices, and have encouraged teachers, administrators, and districts to innovate educational systems design. I believe the new proficiency-based diploma requirements are yet another beacon of educational leadership and innovation, one that will alter our education system in meaningful and lasting ways.

But what exactly are these new kinds of diplomas, and just how difficult a transition do they pose to educators?

First, the basics. In 2012, Maine passed a law requiring that by 2018 all students would graduate with a proficiency-based diploma; the law then went through a major update in 2015-2016. The Maine DOE defines proficiency-based education as an academic assessment approach that requires students to demonstrate mastery of certain skills before they progress to the next lesson, get promoted to the next grade level, or receive a diploma. You can find the official definition here.

To me, proficiency-based education is about drawing lines in the sand of learning. It’s about recognizing that, if traveling to Boston, you don’t say you’re in Boston until you’re in Boston. It’s about knowing who you are, what you know, and what you can do. And, most importantly, where to go next.

There are many challenges facing districts, schools, teachers, students, and communities in this shift to a proficiency-based system of learning. Below are the four I believe loom largest: (more…)

Lessons from a Social Studies Teacher: Work Study Practices Matter in a Competency-Based High School

May 22, 2017 by

Competency-based schools work to separate the reporting of academic performance and behavior into separate categories as a part of their effort to move from compliance to competency. For many teachers and students, this is a very difficult transition. What we all recognize is that behaviors that lead to learning are still important and can not simply vanish from the school entirely. Instead we need to continue to address them and instruct them so our students are competent academically and possess well-developed employable skills. There are many names for these types of skills; our district uses Work Study Practices, developed by the state, and is working to improve how we instruct and assess them in our schools. It is a work in progress but essential to student success at all levels.

Lesson #1: All students at all levels benefit from instruction in work study practices.

Nothing drives me more crazy than when teachers talk about how students should already know how to do things, and this type of conversation happens a lot when talking about work study practices. We wouldn’t assess students on academic material we haven’t taught them, but teachers do that with work study practices. Teachers expect students to be mindreaders and know what they are looking for in terms of creativity, collaboration, self-direction, and communication even though it may look different with any given assignment. The simple truth of the matter is that students need developmentally appropriate instruction in order to understand the expectations for collaboration on a group project so that they can work to meet them, just like they need to know how communication might be different on a digital assignment versus an oral task. Just like with academic competencies, they need a target so they can navigate their path to success.

Lesson #2: Reflection is an important key to success for students who are practicing work study practices.

Providing students with the opportunity to reflect on work study practices is the key to them internalizing them and applying what they have learned outside of the classroom. Students have the opportunity to identify how their behaviors have impacted their success on a given task: are they contributing to or detracting from the results? I have found that asking students to write about how they have demonstrated one or more of the practices by providing examples of positive behaviors has led to increased success, and it doesn’t take very long to see changes. Another important factor when talking about collaboration is to allow for student groups to reflect together on what they are doing well and what they can improve on the next time they are together. Reflection may look different depending on the age of the students in class, but it needs to be present so students can take ownership of their progress and internalize the experience for future tasks, whether they are in school or in the workplace. (more…)

Lessons from a Social Studies Teacher: The Power of Interdisciplinary Work in a Competency-Based School

May 4, 2017 by

Interdisciplinary projects in a high school provide students with amazing opportunities to learn and grow. Though they can be incredibly valuable experiences, many teachers may face some pretty significant challenges depending on the structure of your school. So I will preface my observations by saying: We can do this in our school because it is valued by the administrators who have helped put people together who believe in it and created a schedule with the flexibility we need to make it work. Similarly, our school has developed small learning communities of teachers in different content areas who share the same students, thereby making interdisciplinary work possible. Finally, our schedule allows for teachers who share students to have common planning time to develop and implement interdisciplinary assignments and common assessments during the year. I recognize that not all schools have these structures in place, which might make this kind of work more challenging but does nothing to diminish its value.

Lesson #1: Two (or three) heads are better than one.

Working with competencies gives me the flexibility to choose a path for my students to demonstrate competency, which means I can select the content, resources, and experiences I want my students to explore. It also means that I can sit down with the biology and/or English teacher and we can look for places in our courses where we can find opportunities to create something together. Each of us can identify what we need our students to demonstrate on a particular performance task, and we can build on each other’s ideas in a way that textbook teaching doesn’t allow. As a result, our students have a richer, more diverse experience and we become better teachers. My favorite example of this is the emergency response plan we have our students write for all three of our classes. In English, they read The Hot Zone by Richard Preston about ebola in the United States; in Your Government, Your Money (a social studies class), we look at government agencies that are tasked with protecting the public from emergencies; and in Biology, they study how viruses and bacteria can be dangerous. This work is all happening at the same time in our classes, and students are totally immersed in the project.

Lesson #2: Get students excited about their learning.

Student engagement is one of our school district’s three pillars, something we are all focusing on and working to improve. This pillar is one of the reasons for doing this type of interdisciplinary work. They are more invested in what they are doing in each class because it is relevant to what they are learning in other classes and it’s not just another assignment done in isolation. Students have the opportunity to make connections between their classroom experiences and apply what they are learning in biology to what they are reading in English and what they are studying in Your Government, Your Money. Educational research tells us that making connections is a fundamental piece of learning for the long term, not just for now, and this is a natural way to help students connect to what they are learning and to increase their curiosity. For example, during our interdisciplinary units, it is not uncommon to overhear students in the hallway talking about the gross new information they learned about their contagion or the new facts about discrimination (the focus of another project we do) that have them outraged. (more…)

What Does Personalized Learning Mean for Teachers?

April 28, 2017 by

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

As families, communities, parents, teachers and students around the country have deep conversations around how to transform schools to better prepare each student for future success, many schools are implementing personalized learning models to best meet the unique needs of each student and prepare all students for a lifetime of success (simultaneously).

Good teachers have always sought to match their teaching to the unique needs of each student – by offering options to dig deeper into an assignment for advanced learners or by offering additional support or a modified assignment to struggling learners.

Yet, doing so for a class of 20 to 30 students has been simply impossible for every student, in every lesson, every day with a single teacher and a single textbook.

It’s time for empowering educators to personalize learning. Now, thanks to new designs, tools and approaches, teachers can provide every student with powerful, personalized learning experiences. Teachers find this empowering and motivating.

In personalized learning models, educators’ roles are more important than ever as they design customized approaches, their professional expertise is valued and respected. In fact, many teachers explain that one of the biggest benefits of personalized learning is that they can “get back to the reason I became a teacher.”

Teachers prefer personalized learning for these reasons: (more…)

The Illinois CBE Initiative: Overview and Reflections

April 17, 2017 by

The Illinois State Board of Education has announced the districts that will be participating in the 2017 Competency-Based Learning Pilot for high schools: Chicago, East St. Louis School District, Huntley Community School District, Kankakee School District, Peoria Public Schools, Proviso Township, Rantoul Township High School, Ridgewood High School District, Round Lake Area School, and Williamsfield Schools. A quick overview of the pilots are below.

This is an exciting initiative although I do have a few concerns:

  • Some (but not all) of the pilots seem too small. At CompetencyWorks we recommend school-wide strategies. There will always be roll-out strategies, of course, but the goal is to have school-wide as quickly as possible. Some of these pilots look more like exploration than transition strategies.
  • I hope that the IL districts will take the time to learn from others around the country. There is a lot known already about how to design high quality competency-based alternative schools and how to help students build the skills for becoming independent learners (such as starting with a growth mindset). Based on the descriptions, there is a lot of emphasis on clarifying the standards (not sure if the focus is still on delivering grade level standards or meeting students where they are), creating flexible learning environments, and expanding formal pathways rather than on building strong cultures of learning, helping students build skills for owning and managing their learning, and supporting teachers in building their skills to personalize instruction.
  • It’s not clear that these districts or their school boards have actually made a commitment to competency-based education or have engaged their communities in defining what they want for their students. We’ve learned that any district taking CBE seriously is going to want to roll back to feeder schools pretty quickly. Once districts shed a light on the number of students coming into high school with gaps both big and small in their foundational skills and take the responsibility to actually help them build those skills and not pass students on, they are going to go downriver to created competency-based middle and elementary schools.

Reviewing these schools got me to thinking: Given that competency education is expanding, and possibly expanding in more programmatic ways, it may be time for us to create a way to categorize CBE in terms of scope; robustness implementation (clear pedagogy, CBE structure, personalized approach, strong culture of learning, etc); and fidelity of implementation. I don’t think we can expect that a CBE initiative aimed at helping students be better prepared for specific career pathways is going to produce the same types of outcomes as a district-wide commitment to a proficiency-based diploma and personalized learning approaches.

Illinois CBE Pilot Participating Districts

(more…)

Why Teachers Should Free Up Their Time

April 10, 2017 by

Kelly helps a student with an online lesson.

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on February 8, 2017.

I am concerned when I see a classroom that is locked in teacher-led instruction. Of course, some good can come from an interesting lecture, demonstration, or lesson. If it is part of a Station Rotation blended-learning model, then teacher-led instruction can be a good opportunity for teachers to enhance the content their students learn online. So, the problem is not that teacher-led instruction is necessarily bad. The problem is that delivering instruction limits teachers from having time to do something even better.

Kelly Kosuga felt this limitation firsthand. Kelly teaches 9th-grade Algebra I at Cindy Avitia High School, part of the Alpha Public Schools network in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the start of the 2015–16 school year, Kelly implemented a Station Rotation that consisted of three stations: Solo Station (independent work), Peer-to-Peer (pair work), and Guided Group (teacher-led instruction). Each student spent 25 minutes in each station before rotating—a classic Station Rotation model.

Kelly gave most of her attention to whichever students were in Guided Group at the time. As the semester progressed, however, she became increasingly frustrated that she could not clone herself so that there could be someone to monitor and help students at the other two stations. Plus, she didn’t like that the structure made it hard for her to differentiate instruction to a smaller size than three groups. She wanted to be able to meet with one or two students at a time. She felt stuck. (more…)

Guiding Students in Reflection: The Gateway Process at Parker

February 28, 2017 by

notesThis post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on November 30, 2016.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

― Søren Kierkegaard

When we take the time to reflect, we take a moment to stop and critically think about what has come to pass. Without an understanding of why things unfolded the way they did, we rarely feel empowered to change the status quo. However, we often focus on the “living forwards” instead of “understanding backwards” – reflection.

Quite often, the time for reflection is the first agenda item to be compromised in a course or meeting. After powering through a class, educators often leave reflection as an afterthought, a final half-hearted question. After a couple students share out their brief, underdeveloped thoughts, educators often consider the subject complete and ready for assessment. Eventually the student receives a grade and moves on to the next task.

I recently sat in on a conversation between my cousin and my aunt about a low test grade. My aunt attempted to guide my cousin in reflecting about why he received his grade, her final statement being:

 “At the end of the day, I don’t care about your score as long as you understand what you got wrong and go back and learn those concepts well.” 

His response:

 “Are you kidding me?! You don’t care about the score?! That’s all that matters!” 

There are many reasons for my cousin’s response, but I would argue that one is that his learning does not intentionally incorporate reflection; he hasn’t discovered who he is as a learner.
(more…)

Proficiency is for Hope

February 3, 2017 by

PathwayI recently found myself discussing the latest round of State test scores with a group of Maine superintendents. There was concern that we are not realizing the overwhelming success we had wished for when we began the march to proficiency-based education. As a result, they want to leave proficiency-based grading and return to traditional grading and reporting. I wonder, does how we report student progress truly have an impact on Standardized test scores?

What we are trying to create in a true learner-centered or personalized school is not improvement on a snapshot of academic achievement. We want young people to see a future they desire and persevere to make it real regardless of the obstacles that lay ahead of them. We want a world of thinkers and not simply knowers. Learners who know life’s pathways all have struggles, but see them as mounds to get over or go around. We want students to have hope. The research is clear, the level of hope a student has is a far better predictor of future success in college and life than aptitude or achievement scores. I argue that you cannot get there unless you have clear learning expectations and success criteria. Those bones come from being proficiency-based.

How can schools have a positive impact on a student’s perception of what lies ahead? The answer might be found in a definition created using the brilliant work of Shane Lopez in Making Hope Happen. Shane reports that hope has three core competencies: goals, pathways, and agency. Hopeful people believe the future will be better than the present and they have the power to make it so. Also, people with hope are aware that there are many pathways to their goals and none of them is free of obstacles. A school system that is truly learner-centered, competency-based can help create the goals, agency, and pathways that build students’ hope. (more…)

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