Category: Classroom Practice

When Teachers are Experts

September 8, 2014 by

QPA Presentation-TeachersThis past August I had the opportunity to participate in an incredibly effective model of professional development hosted by our school district.  It consisted of workshops and presentations from national, state, and local experts focused on various topics related to assessment, including competency education, building Quality Performance Assessments, and the development of high-quality rubrics.

The varied roles, responsibilities, and experiences of the many presenters added to the uniqueness of our “Assessment Summit.”  Participants and presenters included Rose Colby, Competency Education Specialist, Rob Lukasiak, mathematics and assessment specialist, district and building-level administrators, and teachers from grades K-12.  This allowed for differentiated PD for the 100-plus participants, while supporting the professional development needs identified in our district related to competencies and Quality Performance Assessments.

Our district, the Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire, has continued to push forward in the world of competency education.  Despite the bumps we have experienced, we fully realize that this is an educational practice that truly captures each student’s ongoing growth and progression within their learning.  Teamed with instruction that is differentiated, personalized and based upon a solid understanding of the Core standards, students are engaged in learning that is focused, are provided with opportunities for support or extension as needed, and understand their role and responsibility in their learning. (more…)

Learners Rule

June 25, 2014 by

cover, learners ruleI took a few hours out from gardening yesterday to dive into Learners Rule by Bill Zima, principal at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham, Maine. Described as a work of tactical fiction, it’s a book about the power of personalized, proficiency-based systems (Bill is from Maine, so we’ll use the term proficiency-based in this blog).  What’s fascinating is that the term proficiency-based learning is not mentioned once in this book. It’s about learning and nurturing learners.

For educators who want to know what proficiency-based learning looks like and how to do it, I don’t think there is any better resource available than Learners Rule.  It is also probably the best resource we have right now available to help teachers identify the shift in thinking and practice that happens when we move from batch to personalized learning. There are even pictures of the different tools at the end.

I finished the book hungry for more, as it doesn’t touch on the school-wide changes that have to happen, nor on the way teachers begin to collaborate around students and their learning. We’ll just have to be patient – hopefully, Bill will write a sequel.

Below are three connections and insights that popped out for me (and there were many more) while reading Learners Rule. (more…)

Tying It Together with Performance Assessments

June 17, 2014 by
Jonathan Vander Els

Jonathan Vander Els

During the past year, Memorial Elementary School staff has focused our learning on how to develop high quality performance assessments. Along with colleagues from other schools in our districts, we have participated in the Center for Collaborative Education’s Quality Performance Assessments training, as well as focused our professional development throughout the year. As we built our capacity over the year, it became clear that performance assessments have tied together the significant amount of work we have been engaged in over the past five years in implementing competency education.

Background

Our district, Sanborn Regional School District in southern New Hampshire, has admittedly taken the plunge with a number of best practices designed to increase our understanding of curriculum and our ability to most effectively instruct students. This work included teachers developing “crosswalks” between the New Hampshire Grade Level Expectations and the Common Core about three years ago. This was done through professional release days and was led by our Director of Curriculum, Ellen Hume-Howard. We made the switch to assessing students’ performance only through the Common Core over the past two years. Teachers’ transition to these standards was seamless because of the support provided during the transition and the teachers’ understanding that the work we were engaged in together was helping them help our students. In fact, teachers requested that all other standards be dropped from their grade book because they understood the Core standards and the others weren’t needed for guidance any longer. (more…)

Addressing Root Causes at Memorial Elementary School

March 18, 2014 by
Writing Continuum, 2012-2013-Tri. 1

The Wall at Memorial Elementary School

This is the second of three blogs about Sanborn Regional School District. See Part 1 here and Part 3 here.

Sanborn Regional School District had already embraced standards in their elementary, middle and high schools before the state policies calling for competency-based high school credits were introduced. Now that Sanborn Regional High School is well on its way to converting to competency education, other schools in SRSD are exploring what it means to take the step from standards-referenced to competency-based.

Creating a competency-based culture has already brought about changes, Memorial Elementary School Principal Jon Vander Els said, including ensuring that teachers have adequate time together for planning, a greater emphasis on differentiation in all grades, and the introduction of the concept of re-teaching when students don’t master the material in the first learning cycle.

Charting Student Progress on ‘The Wall’

If schools are going to ensure that all students become proficient in the standards, teachers have to share an understanding of what proficiency looks like. This is often referred to as calibration or tuning. Memorial has created two techniques to support this in writing. First is the Writing Continuum, which breaks down by developmental level the expectations for the types of texts, content and traits, process, mechanics and conventions, and attitudes. (more…)

What’s Homework Got to Do with It?

March 11, 2014 by
hramiec headshot

Alison Hramiec

At Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA), a student-centered, competency-based high school, we host as many as 20 educators every month who want to see for themselves how competency-based education (CBE) works in the classroom. After a few years of working with schools transitioning from traditional (Carnegie units and grade levels based on age) to competency-based education, what strikes me is the assumption by educators in both systems that CBE is radically different from traditional teaching. It’s not.

At the beginning of this school year, I sat in the back of a new BDEA teacher’s humanities class. As he reviewed with students the previous night’s homework, he explained, “If you complete the first two questions correctly you will be competent in this assignment; if you complete three questions you will be highly competent.” I looked through the series of papers he collected and discovered that very few students had even tried the third question, some had not done the assignment at all, and others had answered with very short responses.

A question that invariably is asked of us when we present our CB system to educators is “How do you get students to complete homework and classwork in a competency-based system, if those elements are no longer part of your grading equation?” BDEA’s “grading” system asks students to show competence in specific benchmarks, which are created in alignment to the Common Core to measure skill. Using rubrics, teachers set clear expectations about what it means to demonstrate competence according to our school’s definition: demonstrating a skill multiple times, independently and using the correct vocabulary. (more…)

Practitioner Implications in Competency Education: An Interview with Rose Colby

January 8, 2014 by
Colby

Rose Colby

This interview originally appeared in the CSSR October 2014 Newsletter.

Rose Colby is a career educator who has worked for the last eight years as a competency-based learning and assessment specialist. She works extensively in New Hampshire schools, as well as more broadly in schools across the country as the competency education movement expands. Colby recently began working with a number of CSSR schools on the development of competencies and the review of grading and assessment practices. We sat down with her recently to discuss the practitioner implications of competency education.

For Colby, competency education (CE) boils down to honoring “wherever and whenever kids do learning based on their personal learning plan.” Through the use of high quality assessment methods, i.e. performance tasks, kids move forward based on demonstrated mastery of course competencies. She is quick to cite the abundance of research: CE is aligned with what cognitive science tells us about how we learn-not the current silo-ing of standards. The following are three areas of focus that Colby suggests for practitioners moving towards these transformational practices: core beliefs; writing competencies; and grading & scheduling. She also shared tips on how to get started exploring this work.

Core Beliefs

For Colby, the traditional instructional model includes: curriculum, instruction, assessment, and grading. A transformational instructional model includes: high quality competencies, performance assessment, personalized learning pathways and dynamic grading. In the traditional model educators approach the educational setting as “here’s what you need to know, and how I’m going to teach it.” In CE, educators consider the experience and mastery that individual students bring to the learning environment to determine a personalized learning progression. Colby believes that what’s best for all kids are practices that are offered to all kids and not particular groups. She worries that too often schools offer these highly differentiated, personalized pathways for kids who are in danger of not graduating, when in fact they better engage all students in their own education. (more…)

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