Category: Reflection

What’s College Like for Students from Mastery-Based High Schools?

April 10, 2019 by

This is the fourth post in a series about the Mastery Collaborative in New York City. This post originally appeared on the Mastery Collaborative’s website on December 19, 2018.

Photos of four graduates of the Urban Assembly Maker Academy

Four college freshmen who are alums from UA Maker’s first graduating class of 2018 shared about their experience of college so far. From left: Richard attends NYC College of Technology; Jazlyn attends City College; Milam attends Dennison College; Ash attends Allegheny College.

Is mastery learning effective at preparing students for life beyond high school?

What happens when students from a mastery-based high school go to a traditional college?

Students, parents, and educators regularly ask these questions. Four alums from the first graduating class at Urban Assembly Maker Academy gave us their take on all this. They are all currently freshman at different colleges. Jazlyn and Richard are attending school in NYC. Ash attends a school in Pennsylvania, and Milam goes to college in Ohio. Here’s what they told us in a conversation over Thanksgiving break.

Understanding college work:

Ash: “We don’t get rubrics in college, but I have mental rubrics—I break it down in my head: This is what a 1 or a 5 would look like. I’m able to break down assignments into the pieces I need to get done. Having used mastery learning at UA Maker makes it a lot easier to determine what I want out of an assignment, and what the assignment entails—because we don’t get rubrics. A minus for me about attending a traditional college is that the first thing you turn in is the final. You don’t get to redo anything.

“In a mastery school it’s easy to know: This is what I’ve mastered, this is what I’m trying to get out of this assignment, because of rubrics. In college it’s: Get it done, get a good grade. I haven’t gotten anything important out of my (college) classes so far. With mastery classes, I got something out of it that I can use in day-to-day life. The things you’re learning don’t feel useless. (In college) you’re learning because (more…)

In Reflection: The Challenges and Opportunities Before Us

December 13, 2018 by

This article is the final in a three-part series of my final reflections on the field of competency-based education before I depart CompetencyWorks. You can find more about how to move from traditional to modern schools, including a series on what it means to modernize your schools to include competency education, at LearningEdge.

In this final article, I’m going to make some suggestions on what we can do about some of those hand-wringing problems facing us and then wrap up with the opportunities that bring me hand-fluttering excitement.

Facing Up to the Challenges

I honestly don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer when I talk about hand-wringing problems. I just firmly believe that we need to deal with problems that are both emerging and currently facing us, or at least have well-laid plans in hand. Otherwise, they really could be our downfall; the movement will start to dissipate and we’ll have to wait for the next cycle that will re-introduce the ideas of personalized learning and competency-based education under a new name. (more…)

In Reflection: Eight Lessons Learned Over the Past Decade

December 12, 2018 by

This article is the second in a three-part series of my final reflections on the field of competency-based education before I depart CompetencyWorks. You can find more about how to move from traditional to modern schools, including a series on what it means to modernize your schools to include competency education, at LearningEdge.

I feel like I’ve been in “the zone” for eight years. Honestly, I’ve been in the flow that is just as exciting as the crazy high of swimming among 30 whale sharks in the Yucatan. Constantly learning, readjusting the internal framework I use to cluster ideas, checking out new insights to work out whether they are partial, conditional, nuanced, or something that holds generally true. Below are just a few of the big A-HA!s I’ve had over the years. What insights and lessons learned have you had in your work? Wanna share? We all benefit by hearing from each other.

1. Student Agency is Much More Than Voice and Choice (more…)

In Reflection: Can We Stop Ourselves From Slipping and Sliding Sideways?

December 11, 2018 by

This article is the first in a three-part series of my final reflections on the field of competency-based education before I depart CompetencyWorks. You can find more about how to move from traditional to modern schools, including a series on what it means to modernize your schools to include competency education, at LearningEdge.

Each summer, the CompetencyWorks Advisory Board has a conversation about where we are and where we are going: we call it the “strategic reflection.” This year, the conversation was focused on how we keep our field and the movement toward personalized, competency-based education from slipping sideways.

States have created enabling policy for personalized, competency-based education with waivers, innovation zones, and pilots. Some have fully embraced it as their future. Yet, effective implementation and high quality examples of personalized, competency-based education are not expanding as quickly. Policy is outstripping practice. (more…)

Enjoying Learning or Completing Tasks? How Do You Explain Competency-Based Education?

October 9, 2018 by

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

What is competency-based education? It seems that it is harder to explain than it should be. Or perhaps we haven’t put enough energy into trying to make it easily understood. The problem is if we don’t become better able to explain it, then communities across the country will think it is just about a self-paced curriculum, a jazzed up outcome-based model, or a new system of grading. They’ll only implement a sliver of what is, in fact, a major rehaul so that the education system is designed to support and sustain effective teaching and powerful learning.

The problem is further complicated in that the reporters at local newspapers are highly influential in how competency-based education is described. Take this article in the Courier Express for example. Competency-based education is described as: (more…)

Getting Ahead of the Curve: Time for a Mid-Course Correction

September 10, 2018 by

I recently played chess with an eleven-year-old niece who is a much better player than I am. She thinks ahead whereas I am definitely still a novice, a step-by-step player constantly surprised when the next pawn, rook, or knight is bumped off the board.

When I read an op-ed titled Proficiency is a flawed model for education regarding proficiency-based education in Maine, I realized that as a field we are operating as novices with the risk of getting bumped off the board and bumped out of the educational agenda. (more…)

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…)

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