Category: Insights into Implementation

Preparing Teachers for Personalized Classrooms

December 5, 2016 by

classroomThis is the nineteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

One of the necessary steps to ensure a district is creating a student-centered culture rather than one solely driven by standards is to prepare teachers for managing personalized classrooms. Pittsfield School District provided professional coaching courses for all their teachers. Don Siviski, former Superintendent of RSU2, describes eliminating all travel and non-related professional development in order to stop doing what wasn’t working and marshalling all resources to supporting teachers to prepare for the transition to proficiency-based learning. Maine districts, in partnership with the Reinventing Schools Coalition, offered training on classroom design to help teachers look at their own beliefs about learning, examine tenets of personalizing learning, build student agency by creating classroom codes of collaboration, introduce new operating procedures, enhance formative assessment, develop and take advantage of transparency of learning targets, and plan for a competency-based instructional model that emphasizes higher order skills.

Teachers can begin to use a variety of ways to manage their personalized classroom, including creating a shared purpose with their students, standard operating procedures that emphasize how students can get help (re-read the directions, ask a peer, then ask the teacher), visuals with the standards to indicate how students are progressing, posters that emphasize a culture of learning and the idea that mistakes are simply part of that process, examples of student work that are considered proficient, parking lots, and planning tools to guide students in thinking through what they will need to be successful. (more…)

Rollout Strategies

November 15, 2016 by

rolloutThis is the eighteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

To date, there is no magic formula for how to roll out the conversion to competency education. Districts consider where leadership and enthusiasm is in place, where faculty is ready for the change, and where the most urgent need is based on academic scores. Adams 50 started with elementary schools, Lindsay Unified started with the high school and has now rolled all the way back to elementary school, and Pittsfield School District started with their Middle High School. At Sanborn Regional School District, significant elements of the effort began at the elementary and middle school levels and eventually progressed to the high school level. RSU2 asked faculty to vote whether they wanted to go forward before moving toward the transition after a year of inquiry and research. They then developed a rollout strategy to implement their learner-centered instructional strategies throughout the entire K-12 system.

In Chugach School District, district leadership clearly and publicly announced the direction, then each school developed their individual timeline. Some schools jumped in headfirst, while others phased in the new system over time, content area by content area. Along the way, each school shared successes and challenges, learning from each other, and eventually all realized they successfully achieved the same transition.

Medium and large districts have to think about scaling strategies upfront. Lake County began with eight launch schools that implemented at an accelerate rate with the help of a personalized learning facilitator. Charleston County School District started with three high schools and their feeder schools to serve as the early adopters of the personalized learning framework. Each school created demo classrooms that had full implementation with all other teachers taking advantage of personalized, competency-based professional development to build new practices and strengthen instruction/assessment. Henry County has organized its transition plan around cohorts of schools and a strategy to “pay it forward” so that educators have opportunity to share their learning with each other. (more…)

Preparing for Leadership Lifts

November 14, 2016 by

airplaneThis is the seventeenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

The transition year(s) is the period of time when people use the phrases “building the ship in the water” and “constructing the plane in the air.” Educators are doing double-duty setting up the new system while also educating students within the traditional system, which makes this a time of excitement, nervousness, challenge, and frustration. Below are a few of the major activities that districts undertake during the transition year(s).

The leadership demands are high during the transition years—it is crucial that the culture of learning is reinforced, as teachers may feel that they aren’t succeeding in either the traditional system or the new one being put into place. Moreover, as teachers begin to focus more sharply on helping students learn rather than delivering a curriculum, their own gaps in skills will become evident. Leadership will find that the shared purpose and guiding principles emphasizing learning and collaboration can become a shield to minimize the disruption caused by top-down policies that emphasize evaluations of individual teachers.

Oliver Grenham and Jeni Gotto of Adams 50 in Colorado warn that districts converting to competency education need to be ready for a “bumpy journey,” as it is impossible for everything to be perfectly designed. Their advice is for educators to: (more…)

Empowering Teachers

November 8, 2016 by

glassesThis is the sixteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

In competency-based schools, a collaborative and empowered cadre of teachers is the engine that drives learning. Student learning depends on a strong adaptive instructional cycle that, in turn, depends on skilled teachers using their professional judgment that, also in turn, depends on the structures and cultures of the organization. Missy DeRivera, a homeschool teacher at Chugach School District, explained, “The leadership question is always central to our work. Is this best for kids? That is at the core of our entire district. We identify what is best for kids and then we figure out how to make it happen.”

Strong Professional Learning Communities

It is difficult, if not impossible, to build the calibration mechanism that is essential for competency education to be effectively implemented without strong professional learning communities. It is also an ingredient for an empowered cadre of teachers. Sanborn Regional School District placed PLCs as core to operations right from the start. Their administrative team recognized that reorganizing in the district would require an investment of time, and opted for Professional Learning Community meetings over weekly informational staff meetings. As Ellen Hume-Howard, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, stated, “Doing this has been challenging and the administrators have worked hard at communicating to staff in other ways, but we believe PLC time is important and our calendar reflects this belief.”

Jonathan Vander Els, Principal of Memorial Elementary, emphasized that one of the principal’s most important leadership functions is to support PLCs, making sure they have the time to meet and are staying true to the norms that allow them to be a source of collaborative, professional development. “Principals and district leaders have the power to make sure there is freedom to have hard conversations in safety,” he said. “It starts with distributed leadership models that understand and value teacher leadership in creating a dynamic learning culture within the school.”

Aligned Human Resources System

Soon after converting to competency education, many districts find that they need to modify their human resources operations, including hiring, orientation, professional development, and evaluation.

Hiring and Orientation

Competency education is changing the way districts think about hiring. In the traditional model, they searched for teachers who had experience in teaching the curriculum for a specific grade. “Now we look for teachers who are interested in teaching students and know the discipline so they can help students who are in different places along their learning progressions,” explained Ellen Hume-Howard, Director of Curriculum Development at Sanborn Regional School District. Doug Penn, Districtwide Principal at Chugach, emphasized this with, “We don’t hire teachers, we hire members of a team. We don’t want people to compartmentalize.”

At Lindsay Unified School District, the hiring process is more robust now than it has been in years past. Prospective employees are introduced to the model ahead of time to gauge their interest, and the final step is an in-depth conversation with the principal regarding the district philosophy. “We always empower our staff,” said Jaime Robles, “so we need to make sure we hire individuals who share our belief systems on how students learn and what motivates them.” At Sanborn, much of the orientation takes places within PLCs, while new teachers at Pittsfield School District are assigned a mentor to help them align competencies, rubrics, and assessments, as well as learn how to manage a personalized classroom. (more…)

Policies for Personalization: Levels, Pace, and Progress

November 7, 2016 by

scaffoldThis is the fifteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating the policies that will support greater personalization.

Districts will need to develop a set of policies or guidelines regarding pace. The function of keeping students learning at a meaningful pace (as compared to delivering curriculum) is one of the most important and challenging aspects of the conversion to competency education. As a field, we have yet to create new language, concepts, or metrics that help us understand pace and progress. As you consider the following questions, understand that you are on the edges of the frontier.

What academic level are students? As students enter a competency-based school, teachers will need to know their academic levels. Some schools do formal assessments using an array of formats. Some turn to one assessment system, such as NWEA Map or Scantron. Others have found that this can be off-putting for students, and look to teachers to use their professional judgment in leveling students. Teachers continue seeking understanding of the skills and knowledge students bring into the classroom by using pre-assessments to assess what students know or don’t know so they can respond more quickly to students who need extra help.

What is a meaningful pace? Flexibility in pace and pacing is one of the most important concepts in competency education and also one of the most challenging. Making Community Connections Charter School‘s Kim Carter explains, “One of the most significant distinct aspects of a personalized competency-based system is the ability to adjust pacing to meet every learner’s needs. This shouldn’t be construed to mean that each learner gets to set his or her own pace. At MC² we rely on ‘negotiated pacing with gradual release.’ This is an integral aspect of developing student agency and the central role of managing motivation in an educational system designed to create proficiency not just in facts and skills, but in habits and dispositions to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners. Determining progress is very clear in a competency-based system because of the transparency of the learning objectives. Pace is the progress (amount of learning) divided by an amount of time. Depending how a district has developed their academic levels, competency-based schools can determine the expected annual rate of learning.” (more…)

Policies for Personalization: Student Agency

November 1, 2016 by

booksThis is the fourteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

If a district puts into place all the pieces described earlier, they will be well on their way to creating a strong standards-referenced system—but not a student-centered one. The new value proposition is based on an integration of personalized learning that takes into consideration students’ needs, interests, and aspirations along with a competency-based infrastructure focused on proficiency, pace, and progress.

The following discussion, organized into two articles, is on the policies and procedures that need to be in place to ensure that the system you are implementing has students and their academic success—not the standards themselves—at the center.

Student Agency

Personalization and student agency go hand in hand—it is nearly impossible for teachers to manage a personalized classroom if students are constantly turning to them for direction. Thus, as schools move toward personalized, competency-based education, they will also want to create the conditions for students to take ownership over their education (i.e., student agency). There are a number of essential ingredients required to create an environment and learning experiences that help students build the skills they need to have agency: a school culture that is grounded in a growth mindset, strategies to help build habits of learning, opportunities for choice and co-design, transparency of learning objectives with well-developed assessments, and high levels of teacher autonomy. (more…)

Creating a Common Language of Learning: Habits of Learning

October 31, 2016 by

studyThis is the thirteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

What are the skills students need to manage their own learning, and how are they developed?

Creating empowered students isn’t about moving them through a curriculum. It requires schools to organize their learning experiences to help students build all the skills (referred to by many terms, including habits of learning) to become independent learners ready to pursue college and careers.

In order to separate out academics from behavior in the grading system that indicates how students are progressing in reaching proficiency (i.e., a progress monitoring system), competency-based districts and schools must establish a set of skills or behaviors that are important for learning or are needed for college and career readiness. For example, at the Sanborn Regional School District, teachers have learned that assessing behaviors in elementary school students is an important step in helping students make academic progress. The Responsive Classroom CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-Regulation) project focuses on developing work-study habits early on. (You can read more about this effort here.)

The most advanced competency-based districts have discovered that these skills and behaviors are in fact an essential element of creating student agency and improving academic achievement. They are beginning to think about what the habits should be developmentally and how they interact with efforts to address social-emotional learning and the school culture. (more…)

Creating a Common Language of Learning: Rubrics and Calibration

October 25, 2016 by

booksThis is the twelfth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

How will you know students are learning and what they need to reach proficiency?

As districts are designing the structure of learning, they are also thinking about assessment. Doug Penn, district principal at Chugach School District, points out, “We need to always know the purpose of assessment. It is to help students and the teacher understand what students know and what they don’t know, and to provide insights into the steps that are needed to learn it. Too often, assessment is used as a hammer and a gateway. For us, we see it as a process of helping students get from don’t know to knowing.”

Thus, as teachers develop the learning objectives, they also consider how they will structure rubrics to provide meaningful feedback as well as determine that students have met appropriate levels of knowledge. The process of creating norms about what proficiency means at each unit of learning and determining when students should advance to the next academic level depends on four things: clear criteria or rubrics, calibration, assessment literacy, and quality control mechanisms. In the initial years, the primary focus tends to be on rubrics and calibration. Districts and schools invest in strengthening assessment literacy, specifically building capacity for formative and performance-based assessment, and design quality control mechanisms at a later date.

Rubrics

In the early days of the transition to competency-based education, many schools continue to rely on students taking tests and getting a number of the answers right. Over time, however, they increasingly turn to rubrics that provide more in-depth insight into how students are advancing toward proficiency. There are many ways these are structured—some indicate progress (emerging, proficient, beyond proficiency), while others are highly aligned with the knowledge taxonomy (recall, comprehension, analysis, knowledge utilization). Teachers may also take the language and create their own variations with student-friendly language or engage their students in creatively naming the levels of the rubric. (more…)

Creating a Common Language of Learning: A Continuum of Learning

October 24, 2016 by

blocksThis is the eleventh article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

How will learning targets and curriculum be organized within the structure?

Once a district has established what the structure will be, the next step is to organize the content areas or domains into the structure or a continuum of learning. The task at hand is to create a learning continuum for each domain that has been determined as important to graduation expectations, stretching from K through 12, with a clear indication of what it means to advance upon mastery. In thinking about the definitional elements of competency education, this is where districts create a transparent set of explicit and measurable learning objectives and a system of assessments that are designed to advance student learning.

The process of developing the learning continuum, defined as an aligned set of standards and rubrics, can be designed as embedded professional development. Working in groups, teachers unpack standards, share student work, and write the standards in user-friendly language. While a vital step, this can also become an overly iterative process when the focus turns to getting every word right rather than building a shared understanding, holding deep conversations about learning progressions that describe how students move from one concept to the next, and building assessment literacy. Schools may develop and review rubrics simultaneously or as a subsequent step. (The topic of rubrics and calibrating the determination of proficiency is discussed separately in the next article.)

Something to Think About: Districts should set the goal as creating continuums of learning across elementary and secondary schools, not just as segments for each grade level. It is important to think about vertical alignment. Once teachers have organized the learning continuums, be prepared for frustration that curriculum isn’t designed well for the competency-based classroom. Publishers create curricular resources on specific grade levels, with different products for elementary, middle, and high school. Thus, a teacher in seventh grade trying to teach students with gaps at the fourth- or fifth-grade level may not have any resources within the middle school curriculum or be familiar with the elementary school curriculum. As a partial solution, Adams 50 turned to an open source curriculum, Progressive Math Initiative from the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning.

 

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Constructing a Common Language of Learning

October 18, 2016 by

Art SuppliesThis is the tenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

What are the explicit and measureable learning objectives to describe what students need to learn on their way toward meeting the graduation goals?

Districts and schools start with a different mixture of concepts and create a variety of structures to define the learning continuum. It is important to take your overall pedagogical approach into consideration when shaping the overarching competencies. As Kim Carter, founder of Making Connections Charter School, explains, “Designing competency frameworks is a creative process. We gather together the tools we will need the same way a painter might choose brushes and paints.” For ELA and mathematics, most turn to the well-developed Common Core continuum of learning or their state standards. Others will start or embed the essentials of a discipline, asking, “What does it mean to be a mathematician, a historian, a writer, a scientist?” Still others may be designed around themes or career pathways that rely on a structure that starts with the needs of industry. In some cases, states may have even already set a broad framework within which districts and schools can further structure their learning.

There are five components that guide this work:

  1. Knowledge Taxonomy
  2. Structure and Characteristics
  3. Developing the Continuum of Learning
  4. Rubrics and Calibration
  5. Habits of Learning

(more…)

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