Category: Reflection

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…)

Steps Toward Maturity: Making Meaning of the Mindsets and Skills for Student Agency (Part 1)

by

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

This is the beginning of a periodic series on what it means to help students build the mindsets and skills to be a lifelong learner.

Student agency is a phrase that is nearly impossible to use in everyday language and is certainly not a phrase that parents use to describe their children. “Look at the agency my darling Marla has climbing that tree.” “My Martin is doing so well, he is demonstrating such agency these days.” Nope, nuh uh. That isn’t language that is going to be accessible to parents.

Student agency is also a concept that has yet to be fully developed or understood in our field. I’ve heard way too many people who specialize in blended and online learning interpret agency as choice. More choice, more agency. Wrong! I’ve heard people say that working through adaptive educational software is agency. Of course, there could be some elements of skill-building depending on what skills or dispositions a student is working on (with the coaching of the teacher leading to greater agency), but in general, programs are designed to guide students with discrete choices along the way. I’ve heard others describe it primarily as leadership, others as giving students opportunity to have voice. However, helping students become lifelong learners and have the ability to navigate new, and often challenging, environments is much more than choice, voice, or leadership opportunities.

There are other related concepts, such as executive functioning (the worst of all in terms of family-friendly language), self-regulation, social & emotional learning, habits of success, and of course the all-important growth mindset. In the next article, the concept of student autonomy will be introduced for us to consider.

It is helpful to have complementary sets of concepts so that experts within schools (i.e., teachers) and within the research community can develop and implement evidence-based strategies that help students learn and succeed. We need the technical language, and we all need to become adept at using the technical language, so we can communicate with preciseness and discern between different capacities and strategies. (more…)

Memorization is Still Important, Even in Deeper Learning

October 31, 2017 by

This is the 2nd article in a periodic series on aligning competency-based schools with the learning sciences.

In an earlier post, I described my effort to understand the cognitive learning sciences and begin to make connections with our work in competency-based education. This post, and part of what may become a series, is another effort to ground our work in the learning sciences. And like the earlier post, I will turn to the Deans for Impact Science of Learning. They’ve organized their summary into six questions:

  • How do students understand new ideas?
  • How do students learn and retain new information?
  • How do students solve problems?
  • How does learning transfer to new situations in or outside of the classroom?
  • What motivates students to learn?
  • What are common misconceptions about how students think and learn?

I realized that I have been making a bit of an error in how I talk about the efforts to engage students in the higher level skills, usually level 3 and higher in the different taxonomies such as Webb or Bloom. I’ve tended to judge those schools that have stayed focused on memorization and comprehension without creating opportunity for more analysis and evaluation or applied or deeper learning. I’ve tended to see them as underserving their students, out of touch with the demands of the skills young adults need in today’s world, and even holding low expectations for students. Perhaps they are all those things, but my mistake has been in undervaluing memorization.

Memorization must not, of course, be the end-all of the school experience. However, it must be appreciated and valued in the role it plays in learning and the application of learning. In fact, as we think about helping students develop the skills to be lifelong learners, perhaps we should lift the knowledge about how to memorize in the long-term into that set of skills every student should know. From Science of Learning:

Cognitive Principle: Each subject area has some set of facts that, if committed to long-term memory, aids problem-solving by freeing working memory resources and illuminating contexts in which existing knowledge and skills can be applied. The size and content of this set varies by subject matter.

Practical Implications for the Classroom: Teachers will need to teach different sets of facts at different ages. For example, the most obvious (and most thoroughly studied) sets of facts are math facts and letter-sound pairings in early elementary grades. For math, memory is much more reliable than calculation. Math facts (e.g., 8 x 6 = ?) are embedded in other topics (e.g., long division). A child who stops to calculate may make an error or lose track of the larger problem. Additionally, the advantages of learning to read by phonics are well established. (more…)

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