Category: Understanding Competency Education

What if We Started Looking at STEM-Education Differently?

October 10, 2017 by

STEM is all the rage these days, and with an ever-growing gap in filling jobs that are tied to science, technology, engineering, and math, employers are at a loss with finding well-rounded, educated, and professional employees to hire. What if STEM-Education began to be viewed as more than just science, technology, engineering, and math, though? What if the STEM programs which are slowly emerging in schools across our country started working with our youth at a young age and became something greater, something that helped develop successful, collaborative, creative, and innovative thinkers who could actually apply their knowledge? What could this possibly look like, and what might the benefits be for our workforce and, more importantly, our future?

A concept that has resonated with me for years has been one of students wanting to advance through “curriculum” as quickly as possible. Mastery never seemed to be the goal for these students and sometimes parents, but really, how fast the student could advance through a program, or ace a test… just to show that they knew how to solve the problems and get some high school credits. The issue, however, was when you asked them what the answers actually meant… as in, “What are you actually telling me?” Blank stares and a response of, “Well, the answer is 22.5432432….” were quite often the conversations hastily exchanged across the table. Were we really helping our students grow as learners and, more importantly, as college and career citizens who were ready to be sprung out into our ever-changing world? It was at this point that the shift from masters of content began to transition into helping to foster experts in context.

What if we flipped the script and started to look at STEM differently? What if instead of simply thinking that students needed to master concepts, they became experts in context in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math, and actually began to embrace STEM as “Strategies That Engage Minds” or even better yet “Solving Today’s Everyday Mysteries.” Students were now becoming real-life, rational problem-solvers instead of solving a problem solely to show the answer. When asked how something worked or why it didn’t work, a student could now articulate the Why, instead of just defend the What.   (more…)

15 Dimensions of Personalized Learning

September 29, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on September 12, 2017.

Tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests–including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn–to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.

~ iNACOL definition of personalized learning

As the dominant meme of U.S. education, personalized learning is frequently discussed and debated. We’ve each developed a mental model of what it is aspirationally and how that’s different from what we used to do. While there is value in drilling down on aspects of personalization, it’s also useful to zoom out and consider all the ways we can support personalized learning journeys.

The subject of personalization deserves a preamble of sorts that recognizes what we’re beginning to understand about the art and science of learning and development:

  • Learning begins with the individual learner and their journey; each learner brings their unique history and context to each experience;
  • Learning is frequently motivated by relationship and activated in community;
  • Learning occurs most fully when it engages all of a student’s senses, emotions and intentions; and
  • Learners bring unique interests, motivations and ways of learning.

It is easy to think of personalization simply as differentiated instruction but a full commitment to supporting individual learning journeys has many dimensions. We identified 15: (more…)

Strategic Reflection on the Field of Competency Education: Future Action

September 25, 2017 by

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

In this fifth post on our annual strategic reflection. Click here for the discussion on our progress, the growing number of organizations and literature in the field, and our lessons learned. You can hear the entire webinar on this topic here.

We use the term charting the course to discuss what needs to happen to develop the most effective competency-based systems possible, support its expansion, and shape the context that will make it sustainable. It’s pretty easy to list all the problems and issues that need to be worked through, but it’s a lot harder to think about how to do that in a way that is consistent with the values of competency education, builds the capacity and leadership of the field, leverages current organizations and infrastructure so that more than one piece of the puzzle is put into place at a time – and does all of this with limited resources.

Below are a number of the things we think are high priority to tackle – and hope it will catalyze conversation about how we do that so that several can be addressed or reinforced by initiatives.

1. Strengthen diversity in the field.

2. Strengthen the working definition and create logic model.

3. Improve communication strategies targeted to different stakeholders

4. Build shared understanding of quality. Tools to support learning across schools and communities of practice.

5. Engaging higher education and colleges of education to:

  • Prepare leaders and educators for personalized, competency-based systems.
  • Build bridges across K-12 and higher education to address college admissions issues including ranking by GPA.
  • Build aligned understanding of credentialing learning with proficiency-based diplomas and multiple pathways.

6. Shift district top-down policies to more bottom-up or co-design in order to support greater school autonomy.

7. Generate demand for the information management systems for CBE models and student-centered learning.

There are also a number of things we need to pay attention to in order to improve teaching and learning within CBE schools: (more…)

Taking a Minute to Reflect on Competency Education and ELL students

September 12, 2017 by

Why would a school serving high numbers of ELL students want to turn to competency education? As I visit schools serving students who are learning the English language while also learning academic skills, content, and the powerful higher order skills, I always seek further understanding about how competency education is being implemented to better serve English Language Learners.

Given the release of iNACOL’s new paper Next Generation Learning Models for English Language Learners by Natalie Troung, I thought I would take a minute to reflect back on what I’ve heard from educators over the past six years of visiting schools on behalf of CompetencyWorks. I realized as I revisited my conversations with educators that much of what has been shared certainly applies to any student.

From Flushing International High School in NYC

Power of intentionality and transparency impacts students and teachers. Principal Lara Evangelista explained the value of competency education, “We started along the path toward mastery-based learning when we began to ask ourselves why we assess. Why do we grade? We realized that every teacher did it differently. The transparency and intentionality of mastery-based learning makes a huge difference for our teachers and our students. Our teachers are much more intentional about what they want to achieve in their classrooms. It has also opened up the door to rich conversations about what is important for students to learn, pedagogy, and the instructional strategies we are using. For students, the transparency is empowering and motivating. They are more engaged in taking responsibility for their own education than ever before.”

Targeting conversations on learning and habits of success. The topic of how to help those students who are really struggling ran through the conversations. Math teacher Rosmery Milczewski explained that she was unsure at first, as she wasn’t familiar with mastery-based learning. “The thing that convinced me is that in the traditional grading systems, when a student would come and ask how they could do better in a class, all I could really say was study more,” she explained. “The grades didn’t guide me as a teacher. There was no way to help students improve. With mastery-based grading, we talk about specific learning outcomes. I know exactly how to help students and they know exactly where their strengths and weaknesses are. With mastery-based learningI am much more focused and goal-oriented when I’m conferring with students. In my advisory, mastery-based grading has changed how I talk to them about how they are doing in other classes. We always look at their work habits. That is going to tell you everything.”

Improving quality of learning experiences and assessing students. Assistant Principal Kevin Hesseltine noted, “Our projects are teacher-designed. The intentionality has made a huge difference on the quality of our project-based learning.” Wolf explained, “The question of how you judge what mastery is has made a huge difference for me. I don’t use quizzes any more. I would rather spend a day working on project with students than designing and grading a quiz.”

Finding ways to build successful learning experiences. For students who are really struggling, Jordan Wolf suggested that the key is seeking ways to build success, “Sometimes it is important to find small chunks that give a roadmap to success for students. In JumpRope (Flushing’s grading software), I can expand down to a much more granular level until I can find a place to focus in which the student can build success on one or two things. After they realize they can be successful, they’ll be willing to try a little more.” To make sure students get extra attention when they are having difficulties, a policy has been developed where a 1.7 triggers an intervention. There is also a policy for course extensions when students have not been able to reach all the learning outcomes. The expectation is that students will finish everything by the end of the following semester.

Helping teachers improve their own learning. Milczewski explained, “When I look at JumpRope and I see that a majority of students are having difficulty with a specific outcome, it tells me two things. One, I need to re-teach it, and two, I need to reflect on my own teaching to find a better way to reteach it.”

From Dual Immersion Academy (DIA) in District 51 Colorado

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What to Read to Learn about Competency-Based Education

September 7, 2017 by

I’ve been getting a lot of emails recently about how to learn more about competency-based education. Here are a few ideas to get you started based on my discussions with educators and what I know is available. It seems that more is being produced every day. As you know, CompetencyWorks is dedicated to learning from the cutting edge. So if you have resources that have been effectively used in your district or school, please let us know about them. Even more helpful is to know how you used them and what question prompts you used to spark discussion and reflection. Send them to chris at metisnet dot com.

Why Change?

Competency education is gaining attention. Some of this may be authentic, arising from educators and communities that are frustrated with the traditional system and how it is designed to produce inequity and lower achievement. Some attention may come from people who are interested in competency education because it helps them advance the ideas that they feel strongly about. Some may be required by state policy. And some may see that it is trending and want to make sure they are in the know.

Communities and districts that decide to make the change to competency education usually take the time to understand The Why: why do we want to make a change at all? Converting to competency education requires too much work if you are doing it because you have to or think you should. The districts that are successful in the conversion to competency education feel urgency because the world has changed around us and they need to change their schools. They also feel a moral imperative once they realize that the system is designed to underserve students.

In interviewing district leaders over the past six years, there is a pretty common set of books they have used to engage school boards, their staff, and community members about the reasons there needs to be a change. You can learn more about the process communities use in the section on Ramping Up from Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems. (Please let us know if there are materials you have used successfully to help people engage in The Why.)

What is Competency Education?

The next question then becomes, “What is going to be better than the traditional system?” The following resources should be helpful as the basis of discussion. (more…)

Strategic Reflection on the Field of Competency Education: Emerging Issues

August 25, 2017 by

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

In this fourth post on our annual strategic reflection, the focus will be on emerging issues. Click here for the discussion on our progress, the growing number of organizations and literature in the field, and our lessons learned. You can hear the entire webinar on this topic here.

As you probably know if you follow along on CompetencyWorks, we identified four important challenges that we need to fully understand and address if competency education is going to be fully effective and become the backbone of the new education system. These four issues – equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy that is fit for purpose – were deeply explored at the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education from January – June 2017 with revised papers to be released by the end of this year. You can also find articles on these issues starting here.

At the Summit, we also spent some time talking about emerging issues. Of course, what may be an emerging issue for one person may be a been-around-for-some-time frustrating issue for another. Furthermore an issue may be emerging in one place in the country, but others will have made significant headway (and are hopefully sharing their insights on CompetencyWorks). So it may be better to think of these as challenging issues.

What makes an issue challenging? I think they aren’t easily resolved because they are beyond our experience in some way. Either we don’t have enough knowledge (either research-based or implementation knowledge); they require us to be operating deeply within the new sets of values, assumptions, and beliefs when we still are wearing blinders that cause us to analyze situations through the traditional lens; or they are bigger than any one of us and require strategic collective action.

As you look at this list of challenging issues, do you have something to help understand the issue or resolve it? If so, please do let us know.

1. What Research and Evaluation is Needed to Advance Competency-Based Education? We need to make sure that we are operating on the best evidence about learning, systems, and implementation. What is known and what isn’t? What type of research and evaluation might help us improve competency-based models? What is needed to ensure that we are going in the right direction?

2. How Can Technology Best Support Competency-Based Education? Technology can be used in many ways to support students, parents, teachers, principals, and districts. How can technology can be used to support competency-based education? What is state-of-the-art in terms of student information management systems that support student learning? What are advancements in resolving interoperability challenges?

3. How Can We Build the Critical Elements in Building Balanced Systems of Assessments for Personalized, Competency-Based Education? We know that we need to re-orient systems of assessment to be contributing to the cycle of student learning and organizational learning (i.e., continuous improvement). What are the critical elements of what is needed in balanced systems of assessments that reflect the principles of personalized, competency-based education? What will it take, and who can we learn from in developing and implementing these elements?

4. What Do We Know about Changing Mindsets? If everyone needs to develop a new mindset that believes students and adults can all grow and learn, if everyone needs to shake off old beliefs about learning and learn to make decisions based on the learning sciences, are there ways that we can do this more quickly and easily? We need to share ideas and resources about how to help teachers, parents, students, and community members make the paradigm or mindset shift to competency-based education and personalized learning more easily. What is the wish list of tools, resources, and training to support districts and schools in this important step toward building a competency-based system? (more…)

Strategic Reflection on the Field of Competency Education: Lessons Learned

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

In this third post on our annual strategic reflection, the focus will be on how our understanding of competency education is deepening (i.e., lessons learned). Click here for the discussion on our progress and the growing number of organizations and literature in the field. You can hear the entire webinar on this topic here.

When it comes to competency education, everyone is learning. Below are just a few of the areas around which our learning has been deepening over the past year. We are very interested in what you are learning. Please leave comments or consider writing an article on three things you learned about competency education this year. 

1. Developing diverse leadership requires intentionality and changes in practice and processes. As a field, we got off to a bad start in terms of diversity with way too many meetings and panels that were filled with white people relatively comfortable with the fact that we were missing critical expertise and perspectives. At CompetencyWorks, we’ve been working hard to correct that situation, including ensuring that the Summit reflected the beautiful diversity of America. We surpassed our goals and learned a lot along the way. To sum it up – we had to change our processes and had to keep the commitment to diversity front and center in our decision-making. I’ll write more about this later.

2. Invest in building the culture as much as the structure. Agency and empowerment matter. We’ve known the culture of competency education is important. I used to call it the spirit of CBE. At the Summit, there was consensus in the group working on the issues related to quality that we can build a perfect technical CBE structure, but if it is rooted in the traditional culture, there is no reason to believe that there will be changes. Thus, CBE is both a cultural and structural transformation (and still requires effective instruction, by the way!). We will now start thinking and learning about what really goes into this culture and how schools are making the cultural shift. One thing we know is that it requires a commitment to equity and inclusivity.

3. We need to be able to directly confront the institutional practices and bias that leads to inequity. During the Summit process, we did a lot of research on equity, and the participatory Technical Advisory Group process introduced us to even more. We realized that you can design for a more fair system but it requires more than that. First, we have to make sure we are drawing from all the research on how to best serve students who have been historically underserved into the core instructional practices, not as add-ons. Second, it’s not just about doing the right thing. We also have to dig out the problematic practices in the institutions and be upfront that we all have biases that shape our behaviors and decisions. By committing to air out biases, we can engage in conversations that don’t have to be colored by shame, but by the shared exhilaration of working together against racism and other isms.

4. Pedagogy first – if there is a shared understanding of the principles of learning and teaching based on the learning sciences, every part of implementation will go easier. As I wrote in the paper Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems, schools that convert to competency education begin to focus on aligning and improving instruction, learning experiences (curriculum), and assessment soon after they build a shared and transparent continuum of learning. However, we have discovered that some schools clarify their pedagogy – creating a shared understanding of the principles of teaching and learning based on learning sciences (including engagement and motivation) – before they convert to competency education. They begin the commitment to doing what is best for kids by leading with instruction and assessment – the core function of schools. It’s much easier to understand and value CBE when the district or school shares the commitment to doing what is best for kids in the classroom. (more…)

Reflecting on The Field of Competency Education: Organizations and Literature

August 22, 2017 by

In the first part of this reflection, we focused on where we started and where we are now. One of the important areas we reflect upon each year is the strength of the field. Each year more organizations enter the field of competency education by adding it to the agendas of their meetings, investing in staff learning about it, and identifying leaders in their networks. Although the slide to the right is certainly missing organizations (and let us know if you want to be included as an organization building capacity around competency education), it gives you a good sense of the strength of the field’s capacity. The collaborative spirit, even with increased competition for resources, continues to be one of the strengths of the field.

One of the challenges in the field we all share in correcting is the lack of diversity in our networks and our leaders. We let a horrible thing happen when we allowed ourselves to have meetings that were all white – it was simply a pattern of white privilege that means we didn’t tap into our collective knowledge and failed to put equity, especially racial equity, front and center in our work. CompetencyWorks is dedicated to making a mid-course correction, but it is something that will require everyone to work together to make the necessary changes in our processes, values, and relationships.

One of the strengths of the field to date is that we have built a strong set of literature that allows people to learn about competency education from different perspectives. Our challenge going forward is to ensure that we refresh the knowledge as we learn more and that we focus in on the issues that are most challenging to ensure that we fill gaps in knowledge. The following slides are included for you in case you want to review the different reports and books that are available. Later this week I’ll continue the strategic reflection with a focus on policy, how our learning is deepening, and what we need to think about to advance competency education.

 

 

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Reflecting on The Field of Competency Education: Where We Started and Where We Are Now

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Every summer, the CompetencyWorks team and our advisors reflect on the progress that is being made and the emerging issues that we see developing. This helps us know where to focus our attention in our daily work, and it is a leadership opportunity for all of us to hear from others from around the country and different perspectives about how competency education is advancing.

This article highlights some of the areas of our reflection and will accompany today’s webinar Competency Education: A Reflection on the Field and Future Directions. For those of you completely new to competency education, you might want to glance at What is Competency Education? as a starting point.

Where We Started and Where We Are Now

There are different starting points for how we tell the story of where we started. Several valuable reports provide slightly different starting points and critical stepping stones, although almost everyone will recognize Benjamin Bloom’s contribution. It would actually be an interesting project to talk to leading innovators and find out the key advances in education they are building upon. For those of you interested, I suggest the following reports to learn more about the foundation for competency-based education:

At CompetencyWorks, our understanding of competency education is that it is a transformation of culture and structure. It is best approached as a district reform to enable students to have the fullest support no matter where they are on the learning continuum, from kindergarten on up to college level. The commitment to all students successfully learning the skills they will need for college, career, and life also requires a strong commitment from leadership – both school board and district level. However, there are many examples of schools within traditional districts being able to implement in a way that is highly meaningful even though there may be some limitations and work-arounds.

Thus, our starting point of competency education often begins in the mid-1990s, where, on one coast, innovators in Chugach School District were transforming their schools in response to Native Alaskan communities demanding that their children be educated. On the other side of the country, innovators were developing Diploma Plus and Boston Day and Evening Academy to re-engage students by focusing on learning and skill-building, not simply accruing credits.

Since then, there have been stages of development – of practice and of policy. The most important thing to remember is that, as a movement, competency education has been educator-developed and educator-driven. For example, the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning, a collaboration of districts, helped to catalyze change in Maine. Lindsay Unified, one of our lighthouse districts that continues to develop and refine their model, launched their transformation in a state that has made no effort to create innovation space. In the past five years, investments have often been directed toward creating new models, including Next Generation Learning Challenges, Opportunity by Design, and XQ schools. Some of the grantees have been intentionally competency-based, while we are seeing some schools inch their way in that direction.

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Competency Education and the Complicated Task of Communicating

August 17, 2017 by

Did you see that competency education (the same as mastery-based education) was mentioned in the New York Times? In some ways it is a very helpful article to introduce people to the idea of competency education, highlighting students taking ownership, students engaging more, the opportunity for students to really learn or master the skills and content before moving on, and the focus on growth.

Yet the article also includes examples of the difficulty we are facing in communicating what competency education is about, what it means to have a high quality competency-based school, and the noise from some of the critics. Below is a sample of the conversation I had with the author (in my mind, of course) while reading the article.

Instruction

One of the issues we are facing is that although competency education is primarily a cultural and structural shift, it also has implications for instruction. We know that instruction matters – it matters a lot. You can have strong instructional practices or weak instructional practices in a school. You can have some teachers with strong professional knowledge or some with weak professional knowledge in a school.

What competency education does is creates a structure by which teachers are talking with each other about what it means to have a student become proficient, aligning their assessments and instructional strategies, and exploring what is working and what isn’t working to help each and every student reach proficiency. Competency education, when well implemented, should be igniting the professional learning of the educators.

Competency education does introduce a few important implications for instruction and assessment:

  • Students need to be active learners with opportunity to apply their learning to new contexts (this is what makes it about competencies and not just standards). This means there also need to be assessment strategies that assess students at higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (i.e., performance-based assessment).
  • Instructional strategies need to meet students where they are. Yes, we want to think about grade level standards AND we want to think about where students’ performance levels are and where they have gaps. Then using their professional knowledge and taking into consideration the needs of other students and resources, educators work with students to develop strategies that will help them progress.
  • To the degree possible, summative assessments should be aligned with the depth of knowledge and the learning goals of the students. This may mean organizing assessments to be “just-in-time” with students bringing forward evidence of their learning. A student who has completed a unit at the beginning of the week and believes they have fully learned the material shouldn’t have to wait until the end of the month to move on to higher level work. In other learning experiences, there is going to be value in students working on a large project all with the same due date. But when the curriculum can be organized into more modular units, it opens the door to more flexibility for students.

When I see something like “students work at their own pace through worksheets, online lessons and in small group discussions with teachers” I get worried that either the school isn’t offering enough applied learning opportunities or we aren’t communicating what is happening instructionally in the classroom. First of all, students should know where they are on their own learning paths. Second, teachers are offering instruction through several methods, including individual and small groups, online videos they have made, or perhaps online instruction. In most, most but not all, of the classrooms I have visited, students talk about the use of online adaptive programs as how they practice. Most will say they prefer to learn about new material from their teacher or from a video their teacher made. Third, there will often be choices about how students practice and then demonstrate their learning. Worksheets might be one of them, and I’ve seen students playing games to practice and build math and vocabulary fluency, working on projects, writing essays, and engaging in large, inquiry-based projects that will wrap-up with a presentation. (more…)

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