Category: Professional Development

Building 21’s Open Competencies, Rubrics, and Professional Development Activities

December 23, 2019 by
Building 21 Symposium Session

Building 21’s annual workshop at the Symposium. 100+ participants show the growing demand for CBE!

At Building 21, we have created an open resource called Learning What Matters (LWM) Competency Framework which includes all of our competencies and corresponding rubrics, which we call “continua.” Every year at the Aurora Institute Symposium, we facilitate a workshop introducing participants to our competency-based model. This workshop is great for folks new to competency-based education (CBE) but it’s also valuable for experienced CBE practitioners who want to learn more about our approach.

A common question we get from beginners is, “but what does it look like?” One of the ways to begin to answer this question is to show participants what grading looks like in a competency-based model and how it is different from traditional grading.

In our workshop, participants assume the role of a teacher, as we challenge traditional grading practices, followed by a demonstration of how Building 21 uses the LWM Competency Framework to change instruction and assessment in its schools. This workshop features the same activities we use with new teachers at our schools. We encourage all schools to facilitate these activities with their teachers even if they are not using the LWM competency framework.

Activity #1 – What Are My Assumptions About Grading?

We start the workshop by asking for volunteers for a mystery activity. Once secured and without telling them what they are volunteering for, we send them out of the room. The remaining participants are given the following set of instructions:

“Each volunteer will come into the room and dribble the ball for 15 seconds. When they are done, you will grade their dribbling on an online form.”

Similarly, in the hallway, volunteers are told:

“You will enter the room and dribble the ball for 15 seconds. When you are finished, the  participants, who remain in the room, will grade your dribbling.”

You can imagine that those instructions are inadequate for many people. We almost always get followup questions from both groups about grading criteria, grading scale, or location of the dribbling. And we purposefully do not answer those questions.

Coincidently, we usually have a basketball coach in the grading group. Also, the volunteers typically have a novice dribbler and a former/current basketball player. Upon completion of the dribbling and online grading, as a group, we scroll through a spreadsheet of the grading form responses while participants look for patterns in the data.

Grades from Dribbling ActivityThe table to the right shows a typical result for a single dribbler:

We ask, “When you look at this data, what do you wonder?”

In the discussion that follows, the group considers the following issues:

  • The incredible variability between graders, who are all viewing the same performance
  • The diverse grading methods
  • The lack of feedback to help the dribbler improve

Additionally, graders share feedback such as noticing that their “standards” changed as they saw more dribblers, and they wanted to go back and re-grade dribblers.

  • Sometimes dribblers share that as they saw their grade, they had an emotional response to the low grades.
  • There is usually a comment that goes something like this: “The dribbler was told to dribble for 15 seconds, and they all did that, so how can I give them anything less than an A?”
  • Graders wanted standardized rubrics shared across graders to limit variability.

This raises some really important questions for the group. What is the purpose of grading? Who is the grade for? What SHOULD be the purpose of grading. What is the value of an F? Is a D good enough for credit? Are low grades motivating?

As facilitators, we close this activity by posing a question to the group that guides our own professional work: “What if you can create a framework for student assessment where the purpose of any grade or rating is to give specific feedback to help the student improve and to measure their growth over time?” (more…)

Improving School Equity Through A Student-Led PD Activity and an Equity Summit at Casco Bay

May 28, 2019 by

This post originally appeared as “Letter from the Principal Derek Pierce” in the January 2019 newsletter of the Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine.

Casco Bay High School StudentsDear CBHS Families and Friends,

Happy New Year! The CBHS faculty is always looking to create meaningful opportunities for student leadership, but last month was the first time we ever offered an entirely student-planned and facilitated professional development session.

The goal was to help faculty better understand the lives our students live, especially our immigrant students and students of color. It began with a student fishbowl. A cross-section of about twenty CBHS students, many members of our Student Union, answered questions posed by senior Imti Hassan. Faculty sat around in a larger circle and just listened, for thirty minutes, as students spoke candidly on questions that ranged from “What do you love about CBHS?” to “Where and when have you experienced injustice or inequities at school?” Faculty received lots of kudos, but also heard some hard truths (delivered with remarkable maturity and civility); they ranged from student frustration at having their names or pronouns continually botched by staff, to a request that our curriculum include more uplifting and nuanced tales of oppressed or marginalized people. Afterwards, small groups of students and staff discussed what they had just heard and went deeper into questions about what teachers and students may not yet see or fully understand about each other’s lives.

Students and Staff at Fish Bowl Professional Development ActivityThe insights shared during our closing circle from both faculty and staff made clear the profound impact of the experience. This December professional development session was one action step in response to the Equity Summit held on October 30th. During the Summit, the CBHS faculty leadership team met with members of the Student Cabinet to review feedback generated earlier in the fall by the faculty’s equity self-assessment and the student’s courageous conversation on equity. We also used a set of rubrics on school equity developed by the “Schools of Opportunity” program as another tool to reflect on our strengths and areas in need of improvement. (more…)

Webinar: Envisioning the Future of Educator Learning

April 4, 2019 by

iNACOL WebinarFor students to experience the future of learning, we need to transform educator learning. This iNACOL webinar is the first in a three-part series focused on envisioning and realizing the future of educator learning. Participants are invited to attend all or part of this series.

Presenters Adam Rubin and Katherine Casey will investigate the current state of educator professional learning and unpack why professional learning needs to change. They will examine trends shaping the future of educator learning and envision what a next generation professional learning model could look like. Participants will then apply their learning by designing the Future of Educator Learning experience.


You can register for the webinar here.

An Update on D51: The Teaching & Learning Framework

December 6, 2017 by

When I visited D51 a year ago, they were in the midst of developing a teaching and learning framework. I was inspired by the participatory process and intrigued with the way the framework was being developed to spark dialogue rather than simply check the boxes.

At iNACOL17, I reconnected with Rebecca Midles, Director of Performance-Based Learning, and was thrilled to meet Leigh Grasso, Executive Director of Academic Achievement & Growth. They mentioned they had completed the Teaching & Learning Framework (T&L) and were willing to share it with CompetencyWorks readers.  

The purpose of the T&L Framework is to guide professional dialogue and reflection on how educators engage with students and with each other. If you remember from the D51 strategy, they are using an intentional process to support adult learning and avoid creating any high-stakes situations until teachers have been fully supported in developing their knowledge and skills in the Framework.

The Framework is organized around four interrelated dimensions: Professional Engagement,  Design for Learning, Learner-Centered Environment, and Monitoring Learning. Each dimension has three sub-dimensions with several purpose statements and the powerful guiding questions.

Dimension: Professional Engagement

Click Image to Enlarge

Professional engagement is organized around three roles of educators as learners: as a reflective practitioner, as a member of a learning communities, and as a learning system practitioner. This strikes me as an enormous step away from traditional ways of thinking about professional development and toward the type of professional learning that we hear about in Finland and New Zealand. When we talk about competency-based education, we try to emphasize that it requires establishing a culture, structure, and practices that contribute to a learning organization. This is very, very, very different from an organization based on top-down management and compliance. (more…)

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