Category: Classroom Practice

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

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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