Category: Classroom Practice

10 Simple Lesson Plans for Scaffolding Student-Led Projects

March 10, 2016 by

laptop-studentsThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on January 17, 2016. 

When working with my high school students on implementing their own student-led projects, I adapted much of my project-based learning (PBL) curriculum from a guide titled Youth Engaged in Leadership in Learning (YELL), created by Stanford University’s John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Families.

Adapted from the YELL Curriculum Guide (I specifically used Unit 3; Unit 1 is on Communication and Unit 2 is on Leadership- both have great ideas), this was my (shortened) version of my 10 lesson plan for scaffolding student-led projects in my classroom.

Getting Started with Student-Led Projects

  • Assess. Decide how you will access the project and student grade(s) ahead of time and communicate that at the start. I suggest some sort of electronic portfolio (I used Google Docs) where assignments and formative assessments exist at the end of each lesson. At the end, there I had a performance-based assessment with a rubric. There was also a final reflection paper due at the end of the project.
  • Adapt. Flex this up or down according to grade level and skills.
  • Relate to Content. This will work in middle and/or high school advisory, social studies, language arts, or other project-based block.
  • Plan. This can happen in 2 weeks or 6 weeks (or longer). You could also massively extend lessons, especially lessons 6, 7 and 8 and this could become a 6+ week unit. Use your creativity and know what will work best for your students. You are on your way to building successful student-led projects.
  • Involve. Involve other adults in the building, and let parents know this is happening. Line up adult mentors who could come in to the building and help students on particular projects that line up with their expertise, or use online tools to connect students to mentors/adult experts.

Lesson 1 – The World is Ours. What Do You Care About?

Have students brainstorm ideas, problems and concerns. In my classroom, we did this in groups and the list was LONG. It filled two butcher paper sheets long. Students can brainstorm. There are no wrong answers. Examples include: drug abuse, lack of internet at home, more access to video games (this will get listed as an injustice), too many stray dogs in your neighborhood, alcoholism, homelessness. Debrief. (more…)

Reflections on Learning

February 11, 2016 by

Marie Watson, principal of Red Bank Elementary School in Lexington, South Carolina just sent me a photo of a student’s reflection on her learning in preparation for sending our report cards. (To learn more about Red Bank, click here.)

reflections 1                   reflections 2

Victoria writes on her second nine week reflection:

In Reading I learned, how to apply strategies for passages. I can site evidence to support my answers. I quote text accurately to make inferences. I can also use key details to make strong sumaries. I feel good about making summaries and applying my strategies. I need work on finding evidence in the text. (more…)

Collecting a “Body of Evidence”

January 28, 2016 by

StudyThis is the second in a series of articles specific to the developing understanding of skills and dispositions of educators working with students in a competency-based educational system. There has been increased recognition nationally of the importance of skills and dispositions and how these are entwined within the overall growth and College and Career Readiness of learners. The skills and dispositions are referred to in a number of ways (Non-cognitive skills, Habits of Learners, Work Habits, General Learning Outcomes, “soft skills,” etc.). Our school has been delving into skills and dispositions for the past few years, but we have found that there are limited resources to support our work, and at times, this has caused frustration. We are very excited about the opportunity to work with the recently released Essential Skills and Dispositions Frameworks (Lench, S., Fukuda, E., & Anderson, R. (2015)) this upcoming school year to support our continued learning in this area. For the purposes of this series of articles, we will be using the term the State of New Hampshire recognizes, Work Study Practices. Locally, we have aligned the Responsive Classroom’s CARES to our State of New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices, which are referenced in this series of articles.

The first article in this series, Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions, may be found here.

During our school’s transition to a competency-based educational system, our understanding of the importance of Work Study Practices has evolved significantly. One of the major shifts in our understanding has been relative to the importance of building a body of evidence specific to a child’s demonstration of Work Study Practices. During the initial stages of this transition, teachers may have only put one grade per marking period related to skills and dispositions. This began to change as teachers began to question why we wouldn’t be assessing work study practices on a more formative, ongoing basis as we did with our academic competencies. The resulting grade would be far less subjective than a “one-time” assessment at the end of the marking period.

Teachers also began to question how the resulting information was reported. Traditionally, it had not mattered that there was only one grade in a system because that was all that would be reported anyway. But now, with a body of evidence for each child, the information was averaging. We knew from our experience that this wasn’t a fair or accurate indicator of reporting either. We had moved away from “averaging” as part of our transition to a competency-based system. We knew that the most recent, consistent data was most relevant. It gave us information on where a student was on that DAY, not a compilation of the data over the course of six, ten, or even twelve weeks. This resulted in our district turning on the “trend-line” to report Work Study Practices, as we were doing for our academic competencies.

Building a body of evidence for our students’ CARES (Work Study Practices) has allowed us to truly follow a child’s growth, help them progress in specific areas, and provide the child and his/her parents with relevant and timely information related to where he/she currently is in his/her progression.

The insight of two of our teachers below describes their growth in understanding as we began the shift to a competency-based educational system. Their reflections within this particular article are specific to their developing understanding of the importance of Work Study Practices within their classrooms, and how the assessment of Work Study Practices is no longer considered just once at the end of a marking period. This change in mindset has proven to have an impact on not only how we assess WSP, but how integral it is to the learning process itself. (more…)

The Overwhelming Act of Assessing Writing in a CBE School

January 22, 2016 by

CB1If you’ve ever been an English teacher, you know what it’s like to teach writing to 95 students who all hold different skill sets in writing.

You know what it’s like to helplessly stare at a pile of 95 essays, knowing that your students need immediate, detailed feedback to guide their revision process.

You also know the frustration of grading those 95 essays, feeling hopeless and disappointed when students are still making the same mistakes as they were on the last essay, even though you went over it hundreds of times during class.

And then revision, arguably the most important piece of the writing process, never happens, because you ran out of time and they had to do it on their own.

And the cycle repeats on the next essay. You cry. You emotionally eat lots of cheese and chocolate.

But because you believe in a competency-based system, and you know that students need to continually practice their writing skills to get better at it, you figure out a better way to teach it. (more…)

The Power of Choice: Increasing Novel Reading From 21 Percent to 87 Percent

December 16, 2015 by
Crystal Francis

Crystal Bonin

For those of us who have always taught with an end-goal in mind, competency-based education isn’t that big of a shift. We’ve always thought about assessment and the way we’d bring our students to success. In my opinion, the biggest difference between competency-based education and traditional education is that our focus is less on content and recall, and more on differentiation and application.

As an eleventh-grade English teacher at Sanborn Regional High School in New Hampshire, I have three major competencies: reading, writing, and communications. My students don’t earn one grade for the course; they have to pass all of their competencies in order to pass the course.

Traditionally, students in English classes have always practiced these skills. English teachers have always used literature as a vehicle of instruction, have instructed writing, and have encouraged discussion.

Traditionally, students in English classes have also habitually fake-read novels, plagiarized writing, and sat silently during class discussions. (I know that I did.)

In my competency-based classroom, that kind of fake-reading just doesn’t happen anymore. How do we get there? It’s all about student choice. (more…)

Student Agency is What Counts

December 15, 2015 by
Keara Duggan

Keara Duggan

This post originally appeared in the Next Generation Learning Challenges Friday Focus Newsletter.

Over the past few months, NGLC has been pushing the field of next gen learning on questions of how we measure success. As Andy Calkins asked a few weeks ago in this column: How do we gauge students’ progress in developing those competencies required for the 21st century? This question resonated with me. I believe that without students understanding how they’re learning, what they’re learning, and how they’re progressing, it’s impossible to empower students to truly own their learning.

As a Senior Consultant at Education Elements, I have the opportunity to work with hundreds of schools and districts around the country to design and implement blended and personalized learning models. Three years ago when I started in this role, the national focus was on blended learning and the integration of digital content and tools. I’ve seen a dramatic shift over the past eighteen months as teachers and leaders think more deeply about how to develop student agency and student reflection as a core part of redesigning their classroom and school models. Student ownership, agency, and choice are all critical to the personalization process. (more…)

Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions

November 4, 2015 by

Work Study Practices PictureThis is the first in a series of articles specific to the developing understanding of skills and dispositions of educators working with students in a competency-based educational system. There has been increased recognition nationally of the importance of skills and dispositions and how these are entwined within the overall growth and College and Career Readiness of learners. The skills and dispositions are referred to in a number of ways (Non-cognitive skills, Habits of Learners, Work Habits, General Learning Outcomes, “soft skills,” etc.) Our school has been delving into skills and dispositions for the past few years, but we have found that there are limited resources to support our work. We are very excited about the opportunity to work with the recently released Essential Skills and Dispositions Frameworks (Lench, S., Fukuda, E., & Anderson, R. (2015)) this upcoming school year to support our continued learning in this area. For the purposes of this series of articles, we will be using the term the State of New Hampshire recognizes, Work Study Practices. Locally, we have aligned the Responsive Classroom’s CARES to our State of New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices, which are referenced in the following article.

Article 1: Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions.

Article 2: Collecting a Body of Evidence.

Article 3: Classroom Instruction of Skills and Dispositions

Article 4: Student Ownership of Non-Curricular Cognitive Competencies

 Jonathan G. Vander Els, Principal; Jill Lizier, 1st Grade Teacher; and Terry Bolduc, 5th Grade Teacher are all veteran educators at Memorial School, a Pre-K to 5 elementary school within the Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire.

Last year, I wrote an article discussing the importance of separating academics from behaviors in a competency-based educational system. Our experience, understanding, and knowledge related to Work Study Practices continue to evolve. We recognize as a system that these skills and dispositions are crucial to the continued progression, increased readiness, and overall success of our learners. Our teachers have worked to refine their practice within the classroom, both instructionally, how skills and dispositions are assessed, and by providing opportunities for increased ownership and engagement with for students as self-directed learners.

As I circulated throughout our building at the very beginning of this school year, I was struck by the depth and deliberate focus on WSP by our teachers. I observed the level of engagement of students within these discussions and activities, and the connections many of our students were making to their own learning. It was incredibly powerful to begin to see the impact and connection that students were making to their own learning needs and how this increased self-awareness was allowing them to better engage in their academics.

The insight of two of our teachers describes their growth in understanding as we began the shift to a competency-based educational system, and how this developed understanding informs their practice in the classroom to this day. Their reflections within this particular article are specific to the beginning stages of our work, and how they began to realize that the Work Study Practices needed to become an integral component of the learning process within their respective learning environments. (more…)

Teaching: The Most Intellectual Job in the World

August 24, 2015 by

IntellectualRecently I received the question below. It starts with a concern about choice and agency and then expands to a number of questions about teaching and learning. Although I certainly don’t know the answer to all these questions, I have had several conversations with educators in competency-based schools that might provide some insight. As always, we’d love to have others share their thoughts on these questions.

My concern is that the practical implementation of personalized learning in classrooms can and in many cases, will lead paradoxically and tragically to the diminution of choice and agency for students. An example of this might sound like: Sorry John, but you can’t go on to multiplication until you have demonstrated mastery of two digit addition.

This begs some other questions: Who decides what skills are essential to be granted access to the next series of content/instruction? On what basis (cognitive, research-based) is that determination of sequencing made? Under what circumstances is it helpful for students to have exposure to topics that are beyond their independent or even instructional level? What are the grouping (tracking) implications of the way competency-based learning is, or may be rolled out?

Agency and Choice: Let’s tackle the question about student agency and choice: If we are comparing a personalized classroom to a traditional chalk and talk/pacing guided classroom, I can’t imagine how student agency and choice can be much less. However, I do think as a field we need to be much more clear about what it means to be personalized, the techniques for helping students to build agency, and the different ways to structure learning experiences to enable the three concepts of agency, voice and choice.

Certainly, there are schools that have chosen to use adaptive software programs that provide little personalization other than pace, with students plodding through a pretty boring curriculum, answering questions at the level of recall and comprehension. I’ve seen this most often in credit recovery programs and mediocre alternative schools. However, I’ve also seen it in a school that is touted as an innovative school, described as personalized because of the flexibility in pacing.

However, the example above about John who hasn’t learned two-digit addition isn’t as much about choice (assuming that we don’t consider choosing not to learn something as an option) as it is about teaching and learning. (more…)

When Schools Design Their Own EdTech Platform

May 28, 2015 by
Al Motley

Al Motley

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on May 12, 2015.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series where Matchbook Learning’s Chief Technology Officer Al Motley examines the process his team is using to design, develop, and launch Spark 2.0, a technology platform that integrates multiple tools to create an ecosystem for students, teachers, parents, and administrators that supports student learning. In this interview with NGLC staffer Kristen Vogt, Motley talks about involving the organization’s executive team, the school’s leadership team, and teachers and students in designing Spark 2.0.

How did you launch the design of Spark 2.0 with your team?

We started with a kickoff meeting. It was a really important step for us. We used it to make sure that key stakeholders were aligned on the purpose and goals of Spark, that the groups involved knew each other’s roles on the team, and that everyone understood the steps of the project. The meeting helped us create excitement about this project, and we wanted to make sure to get into classrooms to see how teachers and students are using the tools we have now.

The success of a tech development project like this is often all about process. We are building buzz each step of the way, making it a big deal. We want everyone at the school to know that, “This is for you, to solve your problems.” During the meeting, our CEO, Sajan George, and I both tried to frame the project around what it means to Matchbook, to the education community, and to future students and schools that will use the tool. We set the tone for urgency and what it means for the organization.

“I think the key in framing was to appeal how Spark could and would further each strategic partner’s respective mission. Too often customers with an IT project appeal to vendors in how they can better fulfill a customer’s mission. The relationship can become transactional and cost driven very quickly. Two different missions with two different partners leads to a more strategic relationship that supports and drives Matchbook Learning’s vision for Spark.”  –Sajan George, CEO, Matchbook Learning

Who is part of the team?

(more…)

Choosing and Organizing Content in the SBSC Environment

May 12, 2015 by

CalendarIn a traditional classroom, the calendar and the teacher’s planbook are essential tools. They drive the pace, the resources, the instruction, and the assessment in a classroom on a day to day basis.

With small adjustments for snow days, these planbooks become archives of the curriculum and pace of instruction within a particular classroom. They can be used year in and year out. For some, this means that instruction doesn’t change unless the curriculum does.

In the SBSC (Standards Based, Student Centered) environment, students aren’t held hostage to the planbook. They can move ahead when content comes easily or take the time necessary to master more difficult tasks. This means teachers have to have larger amounts of content and resources available from the beginning.

At first glance, this seems like it requires more work from teachers. Truthfully, it does. The payoff comes in that it provides a way for teachers to better see the big picture of the connections between standards in their class and what they need to provide for each student. It also showcases the necessity to provide sound foundational skills in order to help students reach proficiency on more complex goals.

The process of designing proficiency-based learning begins with a focus on a broad learning goal. This goal, the standard, needs to be “unpacked” in order to determine two things: (more…)

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