Category: Understanding Competency Education

Ten Distinguishing Features of Competency-Based Education

June 13, 2018 by

Many of you have told us that we needed a stronger explanation of competency-based education beyond the working definition developed in 2011 to help create a shared understanding. In the paper Levers and Logic Models, we introduce ten distinguishing features of competency-based education from traditional systems based on the incredible insights from the people participating in the Technical Advisory Group on defining competency-based education (you are all recognized in the paper – we are forever grateful for your generosity of time and expertise).

From talking to district and school leaders, I think it is helpful to think about the flaws of the traditional system, which produce variability and reproduce inequity, as well as how the distinguishing features work together to create a system that motivates students and adults and also produces consistency and greater equity.

Please feel free to use the distinguishing features and the icons in your own communities. Just give credit based on Creative Commons attribution. These ten features can be easily converted into a self-assessment tool for you to use to use with your colleagues in your district and schools.

Ten Distinguishing Features of Competency-Based Education

Purpose and Culture

1. Student success outcomes are designed around preparation for college, career and lifelong learning. Traditional systems narrowly prioritize and measure academic skills, often at the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Competency-based systems emphasize ensuring that students can apply academic knowledge and skills to new contexts and become adept problem-solvers and independent learners. Thus, competency-based districts and schools align around academic knowledge, transferable skills and the ability of students to become lifelong learners. Culture, pedagogy, and structures are designed to develop student agency, build foundational academic knowledge and engage students in deeper learning that provide opportunities to engage in real-world problems.

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What Will Students Experience in a Competency-Based School?

March 27, 2018 by

As you might know, CompetencyWorks has been using virtual collaborative processes, fondly known as a Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs), to build knowledge that draws from local, state, and national leaders. In a TAG that was aimed at creating a way of defining and explaining competency-based education, an unexpected set of ideas was developed: What should students expect to experience in a competency-based school? We hadn’t planned to build this out, but now we have it.

Districts and schools, after adapting for their own approach based on their student outcomes and the mediating factors of who their student population is as well as the local context, should be able to turn this into a rubric or survey to provide feedback on how deep and broad their implementation is. However, I’d like to ask you: How might you change or add to this list of the expected student experience in a personalized, competency-based school?

What will students experience in a competency-based school?

Below are examples of experiences that every student should have in a well-developed personalized, competency-based system.

1. I will be fully supported in developing academic knowledge and skills, the ability to apply what I have learned to solve real-world problems, and the capacities I need to become an independent and lifelong learner. (more…)

What Beliefs are the Bedrock of Your Competency-Based System?

March 9, 2018 by

We believe…Students need to learn academic knowledge, the skills to apply it, and the lifelong learning skills to be able to use it.

As you may know, iNACOL/CompetencyWorks has been using a collaborative process to build knowledge and ideals called the TAG. It’s short for Technical Advisory Group, but there isn’t much that feels technical at all – its just one giant swirl of learning going on for five days. The TAG that was working on developing a shared understanding of competency-based education and an updated working definition (stay tuned – the work continues and should be released by end of 2018) created a number of unanticipated products.

One of these products is a set of beliefs shared by the 30+ people in the TAG (see below). They worked hard at trying to create what you could call a set of guiding principles. Beliefs and guiding principles aren’t just something you co-create with a community. They can be used in multiple ways: to design surveys to find out if the culture in fact is embracing these beliefs; opportunity for discourse and reflection; and decision-making. (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.

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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…)

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