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North Queens Community High School: Blooming the Outcomes

August 2, 2016 by
Queens1

Principal Winston McCarthy, Chris Sturgis of Competency Works, Lew Gitelman of reDesign, and teacher Martin Howfield at North Queens Community High School

This is the sixth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery CollaborativeThe Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria, Flushing International, and KAPPA International.

Imagine my surprise as Lew Gitelman greeted me when we arrived at North Queens Community High School. Pure delight. Twenty years ago, Lew Gitelman, co-founder of Diploma Plus, which has been replicated in many schools across the country, was the first person to patiently walk me through what competency-based education looked like in a school and classroom. After lots of hugs and ear-to-ear grins, we got down to talking about mastery-based education at North Queens, a transfer school serving students who are over-aged and under-credited.

Spanish teacher Martin Howfield opened the conversation with, “We don’t frame learning in terms of passing and failing. We do growth. So mastery-based grading makes sense for our school and our students.” After piloting in two classrooms in the Spring of 2011, they decided to take the whole school to mastery-based learning the next fall. Gitelman, Co-Director of reDesign, has been working with the team to create a system that is aligned to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Principal Winston McCarthy explained, “We use a trajectory of learning based on Bloom’s to move kids to HOTS – higher order thinking skills.”

Blooming the Standards

“You can Bloom the standards. You can Bloom the learning outcomes,” enthused McCarthy. Gitelman expanded on this. “If we want students to be thinking about big ideas and using HOTS, how do we operationalize it?” he asked. “Bloom’s Taxonomy captures the thinking skills students would need and a path to move from lower level to higher level skills. This isn’t just about meeting or exceeding a standard. We want our students to be able to understand the level of thinking they are applying to a problem.”

By aligning around Bloom’s Taxonomy, North Queens is prioritizing students’ development of skills and strategies to solve problems, rather than prioritizing content. The content in each discipline is integrated into skill-building. However, operating in the archaic Regents system that requires students to know about the Byzantine Empire in order to graduate means there are times this doesn’t lead to the voice and choice that is so helpful in motivating and engaging students. (Shame, shame on the New York Regents. It’s time they upgrade their high-stakes assessments to be aligned with learning sciences and adolescent development.) (more…)

KAPPA International: The Story of Angelica

July 28, 2016 by
KAPPA2

Principal Panorea Panagiosoulis and students at KAPPA International High School

This is the fifth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery CollaborativeThe Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria, and Flushing International.

Story of Angelica

Angelica was a model student at KAPPA International. She had a good attitude, did her homework, always went for the extra credit, participated in class, and had a 90 in all of her classes. But then she failed the Earth Science Regents Exam. Assistant Principal Andy Clayman said, “We had been lying to Angelica. Her good grades were giving her misinformation about how she was doing. She is the kind of student who would do anything we asked. She needed to be working on her gaps in knowledge. But we weren’t giving her the information or the opportunity she needed. It was a lightbulb moment for us.” (It’s worth watching this video to directly hear from Angelica and the team at KAPPA.)

So began KAPPA International’s journey to mastery-based learning.

It was a journey to a focus on learning, not requirements. Principal Panorea Panagiosoulis, who goes by Penny, explained, “Our students are very good at identifying what the state wants as far as minimum requirements. But we wanted to bring the focus back on learning. Instead of focusing on forty-four credits, we wanted students to be thinking about the skills and knowledge to be successful when they leave here.” Clayman expanded with, “It was a huge pedagogical shift to only focus on mastery in a student’s grade and to begin to work intentionally on building their work habits. We are seeking better and faster ways to help students develop their work habits because the connection between the habits and learning is so strong.”

Bridging the Gaps, Tightening the Curriculum

KAPPA has an interesting story. They launched in 2007 as an International Baccalaureate (IB) program because of the strong pedagogy and the dynamic role of assessment. Clayman explained, “AP exams focus on what the students don’t know as much as what they do know. But how much can you tell from an essay and multiple choice in a three-hour exam? The IB program gave students opportunities to show what they know and build the skills they would need to do well in college.” The curriculum of six academic areas, foreign language, and the arts – regardless of whether students passed and received the IB curriculum or the NYC diploma – would position students to compete for college admissions. (more…)

Flushing International’s Three Learning Outcomes: Habits, Language, and Academic Skills

July 26, 2016 by
Flushing 2

Collaborative work on projects at Flushing International High School.

This is the fourth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery Collaborative and The Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria

Magic. I think magic happens at the International Network of Public Schools (INPS). How else can they take a group of ninth graders who have newly arrived to the United States – with a range of English skills and academic skills – and within four years have them speaking and writing English, passing the New York Regents with their archaic focus on content (they require students to learn and regurgitate content knowledge about the Byzantine empire in order to graduate), and completing all the high school credits?

So why would an International School that is already performing magic with students want to become mastery-based? Flushing International’s principal Lara Evangelista was perfectly clear on that point. “We started along the path toward mastery-based learning when we began to ask ourselves why we assess,” she said. “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.”

How Mastery-Based Learning is Making a Difference

The value to teachers was very clear. 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.” (more…)

The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria

July 21, 2016 by
TYWLSA1

Seniors at The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria (known as “Twills”). Some of their school-wide outcomes are on display behind them.

This is the third post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and the second on NYC’s Mastery Collaborative.

The classrooms are buzzing at The Young Women’s Leadership School in Astoria (TYWLS). It’s one of those schools that brings tears – tears of joy as students feel cared for, respected, supported, and challenged throughout their learning. It feels as if students and teachers alike are in what athletes refer to as the “flow state” or the “zone.” Everywhere you look is deep concentration, deep learning, and deep satisfaction.

TYWLS is using mastery-based learning to break out of many of the organizational structures that bind, and one could argue constrain, our education system. Thanks to Dr. Allison Persad, principal; Caitlin Stanton, arts teacher; Christy Kingham, ELA teacher;​ Scott Melcher, social studies; Katherine Tansey, math teacher; and Greg Zimdahl for sharing their insights and wisdom.

The Power of Performance Levels

The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, serving 600 students in grades 6-12, is ten years old. Watch the film to hear from the young women of TYWLS directly.

The Young Women’s Leadership School is focused on skills such as Argue, Be Precise, Collaborate, Communicate, Conclude, Discern, Innovate, Investigate, and Plan. These skills are the primary organizing structure for the school. ELA teacher Christy Kingham was the first to explain the TYWLS strategy. “We began to integrate project-based learning and performance tasks at the same time as we came to mastery-based learning,” she said. “We stay focused on helping students build skills, as those can be transferred into other domains. Content in each of the disciplines is very important, as that is what students use to engage in projects and performance tasks. However, we separate skills from content because of the importance of transferrable skills.” (more…)

Catalyzing Mastery-Based Learning: NYC’s Mastery Collaborative

July 19, 2016 by
MasteryCollaborative

Mastery Collaborative Speed Rounds

This is the second post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways

How does a huge district open the door to mastery-based learning when the rest of the district is focused on other areas of improvement and innovation?

New York City Department of Education created the Mastery Collaborative to support schools that were ready to take on the new frontier of mastery-based learning. The Department’s policy for school autonomy has formed a strong foundation; however, schools need support as well. Led by an extraordinary group – Jeremy Kraushar, Joy Nolan, and Julianna C. Brown – the Mastery Collaborative is building a network of leader-educators, a knowledge hub, and a shared vision of what mastery-based learning can be in NYC.

“Speed round” conversations at a Mastery Collaborative meeting allow school leaders, teachers, and students from participating schools to “cross-pollinate” effective ideas, practices, and experiences about mastery. In the above photo, Justin, a 7th grader from Brooklyn, talks to Joaquin Vega, principal of Bronx International High School, about how students feel the impact of mastery-based grading.

 

The Collaborative is made up of forty schools: eight Living Lab schools and thirty-two Active Member schools (a list is at the bottom of this post with links to the articles written about the schools CompetencyWorks has visited). The Living Lab schools provide visitors with a chance to see what mastery-based schools look like and to talk to other educators who are experienced at working in a schoolwide mastery system. Living Lab schools also post resources in a shared wiki page so others can quickly look at different options regarding grading practices, design of competencies, or school policies. The Mastery Collaborative team works with the schools to set goals aligned to a shared community framework, learn from one another, and develop overall guidance documents. For example, they have developed a tool to evaluate LMS systems to expedite the process for schools to consider different products. They are in the process of working with DOE Central’s Office of Academic Policy to offer PD that will help schools develop fair, transparent, and comprehensive mastery-based grading policies and messaging for teachers, students, and parents.

Some of the schools in the Mastery Collaborative sought waivers through the PROSE initiative, a joint effort of the UFT and the Department that has offered opportunities for schools to become mastery-based. However, most of the practices within mastery-based schools do not require waivers. (more…)

NYC Big Takeaways

July 14, 2016 by

Selfie ShotThis is the first post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. 

I love my job – always learning, always meeting incredibly insightful, dedicated educators, always seeing new parts of the country – it’s just one big adventure. However, the most recent trip to New York City was also fun, fun, fun thanks to the incredible team at the NYC Mastery Collaborative: Jeremy Kraushar, Joy Nolan, and Juliana (Charlie) Brown. Natalie Abel, program manager at iNACOL and project manager for CompetencyWorks, also came along to get to see mastery-based learning up close. Add on seeing Hamilton, which helped to sweep out some of the webs of racial bias that seeps into one’s head, and this trip was by far one of the highlights of 2016.

I learned so much from this trip and have done my best to capture the depth of the conversations in each of the posts:

(more…)

Asking the Right Questions: Urban Assembly Maker Academy

December 16, 2014 by

UA MakerDesigning a school with only a blank page to start can be a daunting task. Where do you begin? Values? Themes? Needs of target population? Instructional approach?

I couldn’t stop thinking about design at the very, very new UA Maker (the twenty-fourth in the Urban Assembly network) because design itself is at the core of the school model. So are its values. A poster on the wall articulating the norms of UA Maker really brought this home:

We agree to center our work on the core values: curiosity, empathy, risk-taking, self-awareness and resilience.

We agree to:

  • Engage in Design Thinking and understand this work as iterative
  • Engage in growth mindset
  • Document our process
  • Respect each other’s time

The following highlights of their school design are based on conversations with Luke Bauer, Principal; Madelaine Hackett, Urban Assembly’s Carnegie Design Fellow embedded at the school site; Alexis Goldberg, Urban Assembly’s Achievement Coach; and members of the NYC Department of Education’s Digital Ready team Michael Preston, Jeremy Kraushar, and Joy Nolan. (more…)

Bronx Arena: Organizing Spaghetti (Part 1)

December 10, 2014 by

BronxThis article is part of a series of case studies of schools in New York City. For the full story, start with the overview of the Magical Mastery Tour and the three biggest takeaways. Part 2 about Bronx Arena is below.

Ty Cesene and Samantha (Sam) Sherwood, co-principals at Bronx Arena (BxA), opened our conversation with an unexpected reference to spaghetti:

Competency-based structures are just one part of our school. In fact, for us, they’re the back-end. Our primary focus has always been to have a student-facing school that makes sense to students and also constantly reminds staff that our job is to support students.

Once you take away the element of time, as we did, the door is opened wide to everything you ever wanted kids to know and do. Of course, then there has to be some way of prioritizing. That’s where defining the competencies has become really important for us. Yes, there may be lots of ways to organize instruction, but we know exactly what we want kids to be able to do when they graduate from Bronx Arena.

As we started to put together all the ideas – asynchronous learning; responding to the intersection of our students’ social-emotional lives and their cognitive development; competency-based learning; flexibility in staffing, structures, and how we use time – we felt like we were trying to organize spaghetti.  (more…)

Bronx Arena: Innovating Until 100% of Students Graduate (Part 2)

by

One Hundred PercentThis article is part of a series of case studies of schools in New York City. For the full story, start with my overview of the Magical Mastery Tour and the three biggest takeaways. Part 1 of the Bronx Arena visit can be found here.

Students at BxA are unquestionably at the core of everything the school sets out to accomplish. You can see this in the way students are arranged academically.

Instead of traditional grades, students at BxA are “leveled.” Those assigned to Level 1 are focused on passing the Regents exams based on tenth grade skills, while those at Level 2 are in eleventh and twelfth grades. Students at Level 2 prepare for their senior portfolio, which includes designing their own capstone project for a course. Students select the competencies they will be demonstrating, as well as the rubric that will be used for assessment. This demonstrates that they know how to structure their own learning experiences – a skill that will be very handy in college and taking on new challenges in the workplace.

Designing Curriculum: Two Challenges and a Capstone

BxA has created a course model for teachers to follow. Every course is organized around two “challenges” and a capstone. A challenge is designed around one to two competencies and tends to be a bit larger than a unit. The challenge has a summative project by which students demonstrate proficiency. The capstone is designed for students to transfer the skills into a new context. (more…)

A Deeper Dive into the EPIC North Design (Part 2)

December 8, 2014 by
Mr. Dash

Mr. Dash’s Science Class

This article is part of a series of case studies of schools in New York City. Read the entire EPIC North series with parts one, two, and three.

The EPIC North school design is best explained by the students themselves.

Teachers give us guidelines for our projects. We can learn in different ways, including learning from outside of school. We have to figure things ourselves and we have to learn how to do it ourselves. But we are never all by ourselves. Teachers are always there to help us.

Like most mastery-based schools, EPIC is founded on the idea of student ownership, transparency of learning expectations, and demonstrating proficiency before advancing to the next stage of learning. In this case, EPIC embeds the mastery-based structure within a tightly woven culture and programming based on youth development and future focus through CORE and Summer Bridge.

A Personalized, Mastery-Based Structure

Across the three EPIC high schools, staff and students use technology as a means to personalize learning. Students interact with the schools’ LMS (Educate) and relevant Google programs to receive, complete and submit assignments, collaborate, and track their learning progress. Currently the schools are implementing a one-to-one (student to device) program. In classes, teachers use both procured and teacher-generated digital content. In classes like targeted support, students use interactive software to practice and develop their skills towards mastery. As students access material and produce works, staff are available to provide direct support and guidance. However, it is important to note that at EPIC schools, teaching and learning is highly blended. In addition to technology use, students participate in class activities, discussions, and labs that require collaborating with peers and working with teachers. (more…)

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