Category: Reflection

What if… We Had Graduate Profiles for Elementary and Middle School?

July 10, 2018 by

There is more and more attention to the development of high school graduate profiles at the district and state level, which are providing a much more well-rounded idea of what we want for students upon graduation beyond a number of credits. These profiles, such as the one from South Carolina highlighted here, include academic knowledge and a range of different skills. At CompetencyWorks, we think of them in three buckets: academic knowledge; transferable skills needed to apply academic knowledge; and lifelong learning skills that include those important building blocks of learning such as self-regulation, metacognition, growth mindset, and perseverance. (See Levers and Logic Models page 16.)

But how are those graduate profiles being translated into middle and elementary schools? How do we know that students are progressing in ways and at a pace that results in their meeting career and college ready? (more…)

Progressions? Trajectories? Continuum? Oh My!

February 20, 2018 by

Does anyone else get mixed up by the use of the phrases learning progressions, personalized pathways, learning objectives, trajectories, and learning continuum? I do.

They are all terms that try to convey in one way or another that learning is a continuous process that builds on prior knowledge, skills, and experiences. And they are used in all different ways throughout our field. As best I can tell, there are three concepts at play:

  1. The expectations for learning. (What do we want students to learn, and how are these organized over levels?)
  2. The research on how students move from one concept to another that can inform instruction.
  3. The actual way any one student learns and progresses, which is of course very important when trying to meet students where they are.

(more…)

How Competency-Based Are You?

February 14, 2018 by

A few weeks ago, someone approached me because the schools they were working with wanted to know if they were competency-based or not. This question seems to be popping up more frequently as competency-based education gains popularity. If the question is based on wanting to be part of the latest education innovation, it’s a problem. Simply declaring one’s school as competency-based doesn’t have much to do with anything if we aren’t actually providing a significantly better learning experience for students.

However, if that question is actually trying to ask Am I doing it right? then we really need as a field to be providing resources that allow districts, schools and teachers to self-assess and resources that allow them to see and engage in quality. In the meantime, I think a reframing of the question might be helpful: In what way are you competency-based and which ways aren’t you? To what degree has it been implemented across your school? And are students benefiting? And if not, why not – what’s missing or has to be done with greater quality? (more…)

Navigating the Nuances of Personalized Learning (Part 3)

February 7, 2018 by

This is the third article in my reflection on the nuances of competency education. Read posts one and two.

In this third and final reflection on how we can create deeper understanding of competency-based education and personalization, I dig into the different ways the phrase personalized learning is being used. A developmental orientation, in which we seek to explore the different emphases to create deeper understanding rather than a distinguishing one that sees these nuances as differences that confuse the field, is going to help us immeasurably in merging all of these concepts into the next generation learning system. (more…)

Navigating the Nuances of Competency Education (Part 2)

February 6, 2018 by

In the opening article, I argue that instead of thinking about competing definitions of competency-based education or personalized learning, we should approach them as different emphases. Our job then is to note the different emphasis, understand its core ideas and rationale, and then discover together if there are commonalities or perhaps gaps in understanding. Let’s start with competency-based education.

I’ve encountered four different ways that competency-based education is discussed: (more…)

Navigating the Nuances of Competency Education & Personalized Learning (Part 1)

February 5, 2018 by

For the last four months, I’ve been steeped in the work of shaping an updated understanding of what it means to have a competency-based education system. It ends up that there are in fact multiple demands for different types of communication tools from multiple stakeholders who bring multiple perspectives of what is important to emphasize. Thus, the process is much more complicated than I had originally understood. Not tearing-hair-out complicated, but definitely eye-spinning.

However, listening (does the word listen apply when sometimes the medium is a Google doc?) to people to understand not just their point but their reasoning and perspective has helped me to understand several important nuances that float through our conversations about competency-based education, personalized learning, and even blended learning. (more…)

Ten Cornerstones of Cognitive Learning Sciences

January 18, 2018 by

I’ve read and read. Trying to understand the basics of the research from the sciences of learning. Trying to integrate the research from the cognitive with the emotional domains. Trying to understand the path from research on how children, teens, and adults learn to specific practices and strategies educators can use in school design, instruction, learning activities, and assessing student learning.

One of the best sources I’ve found for understanding the cognitive and motivational domains is the Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice published by OECD. In this article and the next, I’ll walk you through some of the highlights.

I’d probably skip the first chapter – you’ve heard it all before why change is needed. Chapter two offers a helpful review of the historical development of educational theory. For my own learning, the real value of the paper started in chapter three with these ten cornerstone findings of cognitive research:

1. Learning is an activity carried out by the learner. Teachers can’t just deliver curriculum and hope it sinks in. The trick is how to get learners to want to learn, to know how to learn, and to be mentally active. Then when teachers introduce new concepts and processes, the learners are ready to tackle it. Strategies to build make connections, student agency, motivation and engagement are all important.Teachers need to have content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and pedagogical content knowledge based on how students learn. (more…)

Moving Forward with the Science of Learning

January 11, 2018 by

Deadlines do matter. They get us to focus our attention to put in the time and effort to learn something. They help us learn time management because we uncover more about our own patterns of learning, both cognitive and social & emotional.

As you probably know, I’ve been puttering along in my learning about the science of learning (SoL). However, a national meeting on the topic has forced me to actually stop the review process and move into the mode of “What do I Think?” about the SoL and what it means for our schools, educators, and learners.

Here are a few high level thoughts about the SoL:

1. There is an extraordinary amount of agreement about the science of learning. Although I’m sure as you get down into the weeds there are plenty of healthy debates going on, educators should be confident going forward. This isn’t just the newest idea developed by a foundation that will get a lot of attention and then fade away. It is solid research, there is agreement in the field, and it has huge implications. (more…)

Personalized Learning…Is It All a Matter of Time?

December 12, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on October 12, 2017.

Sometimes I worry that the call to personalize learning is actually code for asking leaders and teachers to do more than they’ve ever been asked to do—but without additional resources to do it.

And by resources, I mostly mean time.

This is especially true for traditional systems that may be aiming to adopt new approaches to teaching and learning but less willing to do away with legacy structures. Innovation theory shows us that in industry after industry, existing organizations often default to hybrid innovations that combine new technologies or approaches with old ways of doing business. Put differently, rather than actually making any real tradeoffs, organizations may start doing new things without stopping doing old things.

Noble as these efforts may be, school systems risk layering on more and more responsibilities and processes in the name of personalization, without new resources or more efficient processes to support those additional duties. And although dedicated teachers and staff may be able to carry that load part of the way, the “just do more” approach hardly bodes well for scaling such efforts in the future.

Although schools may manage to add more time on the margins, personalized learning at scale will likely require a massive rethinking of how schools use time, alongside pursuing new efficiencies that can save time. I was reminded of this while reading Silicon Schools’ recent reporton its past five years supporting new and redesigned schools in the California Bay Area. In it, the fund’s leaders share actionable insights about the promise and pitfalls of personalized approaches. Among these takeaways, the word “time” appears a total of 39 times in the report’s 27 pages.

Specifically, the report highlights a vital reality on the ground: how schools use time is a balancing act. The report enumerates tradeoffs schools personalizing learning have had to weigh: how much time students should spend working on their own versus in groups; how much time students should be in front of screens versus offline; how much time students should work on content that is at versus above their current instructional level.

Looking beyond just Silicon Schools’ portfolio, thinking through such tradeoffs extends to the structures of entire school systems aiming to personalize instruction. It’s in making—or failing to make—these tradeoffs, however, that efforts to build a coherent personalized system risk getting stuck.

How can systems tackle time tradeoffs? In some cases this means looking for new instructional approaches that slice and dice time differently; in others this means seeking out automation and efficiencies; and in other this means wholly rethinking the structure of the school day. Here’s three levers schools could leverage to fundamentally rethink time: (more…)

Steps Toward Maturity: Introducing the Concept of Student Autonomy (Part 2)

November 7, 2017 by

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

In the first part of this series, I call for us to be strategic in how we communicate the concepts related to student agency to the general public while also building a more precise understanding of what it means and how to help students develop the mindsets, maturity, and skills to be lifelong learners. In this article, the concept of student autonomy is defined as well as the implications for building a system of assessments.

In the previous article, I suggest that study groups on concepts related to student agency could help the field. I’d start with the newly released paper Principles for Assessment Design and Use to Support Student Autonomy, developed by the Hewlett Assessment for Learning Working Group and available at the CIE website. It is a must read. This paper introduces design principles to help build student agency through assessment for learning practice and is a launching pad for much deeper conversations in our field. Below are a few highlights to consider:

Student Autonomy

The paper uses the term autonomy to refer to two concepts: student agency and self-regulated learning (beware the confusion that could happen with SRL and SEL).

Student Agency: According to a recent report from Harvard University, agency is “the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative—the opposite of helplessness. Young people with high levels of agency “do not respond passively to their circumstances; they tend to seek meaning and act with purpose to achieve the conditions they desire in their own and others’ lives” (Ferguson, Phillips, Rowley & Friedlander 2015, p. 1). Indicators of student agency in school include a sense of efficacy, a growth mindset, a goal-orientation to learning, and higher future aspirations (Ferguson et al., 2015).

Self-Regulated Learning: Self-regulated learning (SRL) is one aspect of the broader skill of self-regulation (NRC, 2012). SRL involves employing strategies such as goal-setting, developing plans to achieve goals, monitoring progress toward goals, and upon reflection adapting learning approaches to move closer to desired goals (e.g., Boekaerts & Cascallar, 2006, Pintrich, 2000, 2004; Zimmerman & Schunk, 2011). SRL applies not only to cognition but also to motivation and overt behavior, for example, removing distractions from a learning situation, effective time-management, and the focused exertion of effort (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2007). (more…)

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