South Carolina Overview

May 2, 2016 by

SC State FlagIt’s hard to stay on top of all fifty states now that district-wide and whole school competency-based education is expanding so rapidly. (Please note: Even though vendors like to describe their products as competency-based, we do not believe that an adaptive software program can be competency-based. Online programs are simply able to produce flexible pacing based on the algorithms that are used to determine proficiency within the program. This is very different from designing a system based upon a growth mindset and organized to help every student be successful.) Here is a quick summary of what we know about what is going on in South Carolina. If you have any updates, please send them our way.

Two Leading Districts (Are There Others?)

Charleston

Red Bank Elementary, Lexington

If you know of other districts and schools becoming competency-based in South Carolina please let us know. (more…)

Charleston: Pinehurst Elementary School

April 27, 2016 by

PinehurstThis is the sixth post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework, the second on implementation strategies, and schools Pepperhill Elementary, Stall HighGoodwin Elementary, and Pinehurst Elementary. 

My final stop of the whirlwind tour of Charleston County School District was Pinehurst Elementary, where I met Principal Dianne Benton and teachers James Tomasello (fourth grade), Lauren Gudger (third grade), and Jason Kraeger (fourth grade). Pinehurst serves 650 students in grades 2-5, 65 percent of whom are English Language Learners, 32 percent are African American, and 100 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch.

I’m always asked what competency education looks like in elementary schools and I do my very best to describe it. However, as I visited these three classrooms, I realized the difficulty in describing it is that it feels like a whirlwind of learning. Students are often doing a lot of different things; sitting quietly on the floor or at their desk working alone, sitting in pairs or triads talking about the topic, solving problems, working on a project, or working with devices in hand. In the corner or along the wall is a table, where the teacher is working with a small group of three to five students. The shoulders and heads form a circle as they stretch toward each other. When needed, the teacher might stand to do mini-lesson on the board. At some point in the class, the teacher will call everyone together for a meeting to make sure they understand the options for that day or the following day.

The walls are loaded with poster paper – shared visions, codes of cooperation, choice boards, resources related to the standards, and data walls for students to indicate their progress. In some rooms, there is a basket of Mardi Gras beads and little instruments for the class to use to celebrate learning when students have mastered a standard. (more…)

Charleston: A Conversation with Teachers at Goodwin Elementary School

April 25, 2016 by

GoodwinThis is the fifth post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework, the second on implementation strategies, and schools Pepperhill Elementary, Stall High, Goodwin Elementary, and Pinehurst Elementary.

Goodwin Elementary School is located in North Charleston, SC. 93 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, 70 percent are African-American and 25 percent are Hispanic. Goodwin serves students in child development (CD) through 5th grade. A big thank you to teachers Michelle Mazell, Kelly Vossler, and Shannon Feit for letting me visit their classrooms, and Jessica Lucas, Personalized Learning Coach, for sharing insights into Personalized Learning.

First Steps toward Personalized, Competency Education

Goodwin Elementary was the birthplace of Personalized Learning in Charleston County School District (CCSD). They began their journey during the 2012-2013 school year when a cohort of 12 teachers began exploring best practices for integrating 1:1 iPads as a tool for teaching and learning. “We read everything we could find about personalization and competency-based education,” said Lucas who was then a teacher at Goodwin. “We thought we were researching blended learning but quickly realized Personalized Learning was so much more.” Three months later, the District was awarded one of 16 Race to the Top District grants. The vision for Personalizing Learning across CCSD began to take shape shortly after.

A Conversation with Elementary School Teachers

I began my conversation with Ms. Mazell, Ms. Vossler, and Ms. Feit by asking them what lessons they had learned in their journeys to implement Personalized Learning. Ms. Mazell immediately jumped in, “I was a control freak. I had to learn to let go, and it was really hard for me. I couldn’t imagine that an elementary classroom could run so smoothly without the teacher controlling every minute of the day. However, once I observed a Personalized Learning classroom, I was totally convinced this was what was best for kids. The students are much more interested when they have ownership. I don’t have to worry anymore about the student who is totally disengaged. All students own their learning and they hold themselves and each other accountable for their behavior and mastery of standards.” (more…)

Charleston: A Conversation with Teachers at Stall High School

April 20, 2016 by

Shared VisionThis is the fourth post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework, the second on implementation strategies, and schools Pepperhill Elementary, Stall High, Goodwin Elementary, and Pinehurst Elementary. 

Our first stop at Stall High School was to visit with Hannah Studemeyer, a Personalized Learning Coach. On the wall was the Progression of Implementation, the district roadmap for implementing competency-based, personalized learning. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning, explained the Progression is important because it provides alignment and transparency with the transition to a competency based personalized learning system. For each step in the Progression, Charleston has developed a training module and a proficiency scale that provides the practical direction needed for implementation. Each school then creates a plan specific to the needs of their student population, existing programs and digital resources, readiness of teachers, etc. No two schools implementing personalized learning look exactly the same.

ProgressofImplementationDr. Brittingham and Ms. Studemeyer noted an important first step in the journey is to develop a learner-centered climate and culture where students learn the skills they need to become self-directed learners, a necessary component for ensuring success with personalized learning. Stall’s schoolwide shared vision, “R. B. Stall will be an innovative learning community that inspires all to build a better future,” embraces this philosophy. Principal Kim Wilson and his leadership team are committed to seeing their vision become a reality by using it to guide all of their decision making. “Our school shared vision is the lens through which we make all our decisions, if something doesn’t fit into our vision to Inspire, Innovate & Learn, we don’t do it,” explained Wilson.

Each classroom has developed a social contract or shared vision, which is their class goal; a code of cooperation, which delineates actions needed to reach their goal; and standard operating procedures, which identify processes that allow students to become independent learners. These actions have fundamentally changed the learning environment at Stall High School, and have been an important first step in implementing personalized learning. (more…)

Charleston: Personalized Learning at Pepperhill Elementary

April 14, 2016 by
Kayela Clark

Kayela Clark, PL Coach

This is the third post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework and the second on implementation strategies.

I have had a strong PBIS program, we have implemented rigor and relevance…but nothing has changed my school like Personalized Learning; it is like night and day. There is intrinsic motivation for learning now. It is not just ‘because the teacher told me to.’ Now everything has to do with learning.

– Principal Tanya Underwood

Seven hundred students attend Pepperhill Elementary: 90 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch, 30 percent are categorized as ESL, and nearly all are African American or Hispanic. With the introduction of personalized learning, disciplinary problems are going down and MAP scores are going up in all grade levels. Thanks to Principal Tanya Underwood, Personalized Learning coach Kayela Clark, and teachers Ashley Austin, Debbie Weathers, and Hannah Ataffi for introducing me to personalized learning at Pepperhill.

A Conversation with Pepperhill Teachers

The Personalized Learning Department at CCSD has created proficiency scales to guide teachers’ professional development. There are proficiency scales for data driven instruction, creating and using proficiency scales, and self-directed learning. Ms. Clark explained that as teachers become exposed to the new practice, they rate themselves and set their next goal. “We have teachers create their own data binders. It helps them understand how students own their data and to engage students more strategically during conversations about their learning.”

Ms. Clark explained that an important strategy she uses when she coaches a teacher is modeling Personalized Learning strategies. She described that when she is coaching teachers, she wants to make sure they feel safe and comfortable. She also emphasized that there needs to be time for individual coaching as well as collaborative learning with others. I could also tell, by the goofy pictures on the wall that are used by teachers to indicate their growth, that fun was part of the equation as well.

The district has also created iTunesU courses for each of the PL practices, which teachers can use to learn online at their own pace. Courses available to teachers include Introduction to Personalized Learning, Shared Vision, Code of Cooperation, Standard Operating Procedures, Goal Setting, Student Conferencing and Ownership, Unpacking Standards, Marzano’s Nine Instructional Strategies, Aligning Assessments with Rigor, Proficiency Scales, Differentiating Instruction, Project-Based Learning, Challenge-Based Learning, and Technology Integration. (more…)

Charleston: Progression of Implementation for Personalized Learning

March 29, 2016 by

mindsetThis is the second post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework here.

One of the big—no, huge—takeaways from Charleston County School District was the framework the district has created and the structure for personalized professional development. Thanks to Dr. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning;

Sherry Kirkland, Professional Development Administrator; Rebecca Mestaz, Marzano Research; and Personalized Learning coaches Kimberly Kascak, Kayela Clark, Hannah Studemeyer, Jessica Lucas, and Erin Abner for sharing their powerful insights.

Personalizing Learning for Teachers

CCSD has made two big advancements in the field of competency-based education. The first is a very strong framework of personalized learning that integrates competency-based learning, student-directed learning, and flexible learning environments (see the first post on CCSD for more information). The second is their “Personalized PD Model” (pictured below) for PL coaches to support teachers in building the capacity and developing the skills to implement the personalized learning framework. This progression allows the PL coaches to personalize the learning for teachers just as teachers will personalize for students. (more…)

Charleston County School District: Breaking Ground for Personalized Learning in Big Districts

March 28, 2016 by

CCSDThis post kicks off my tour of Charleston County School District in South Carolina. The next post looks more deeply at implementation strategies.

A few times during my visit to Charleston County School District (CCSD), I felt my jaw hit the ground. Even though, at the time, they were just entering into the third year of implementation, the team of district staff, personalized learning coaches, principals, teachers, and partners engaged in this work are advancing our understanding of how we can effectively introduce personalized, competency-based education in medium- to large-sized districts.

In this series—which is based on my two days with Dr. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning; Sherry Kirkland, Personalized Learning Professional Development Administrator; and a team of personalized learning coaches, principals, and teachers—I’ll share some of the most important things I learned, including:

  • CCSD’s powerful Personalized Learning Framework
  • CCSD’s Personalized Learning Progression
  • Strategies for change
  • Focus on student agency and achievement

CCSD is making tremendous progress even though they are still in the early stages of implementation. They provide support to approximately twenty of the district’s eighty-six schools. Although they are not yet engaged in whole district implementation, they have been building the supports, tools, and best practices to make this vision a reality. The district is moving to a more personalized approach to professional development via initiatives such as their Read to Succeed District Literacy Plan. It is well worth the visit to Charleston if you are a medium or large (or even small!) district contemplating the move to personalized, competency-based learning. For more information about learning tours please contact Christina_Counts (at) Charleston (dot) k12 (dot) sc (dot) us. (Lake County in Florida and Henry County in Georgia are also districts that can be helpful in thinking through medium-sized district strategies.) (more…)

Reflections on Learning

February 11, 2016 by

Marie Watson, principal of Red Bank Elementary School in Lexington, South Carolina just sent me a photo of a student’s reflection on her learning in preparation for sending our report cards. (To learn more about Red Bank, click here.)

reflections 1                   reflections 2

Victoria writes on her second nine week reflection:

In Reading I learned, how to apply strategies for passages. I can site evidence to support my answers. I quote text accurately to make inferences. I can also use key details to make strong sumaries. I feel good about making summaries and applying my strategies. I need work on finding evidence in the text. (more…)

Red Bank Elementary: The Parent Perspective

February 9, 2016 by

2015-11-16 08.57.29This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the fifth in the series on Red Bank Elementary in Lexington School District. Begin with the first on five big takeaways and follow along with: #2 teaching students instead of standards, #3 teacher perspectives, #4 student perspectives, and #5 parent perspectives.

The employees at Red Bank Elementary outside of Columbia, South Carolina have a choice about where to send their children to school. I had the chance to meet with five employees with seven children – all of whom were at Red Bank or had been until they had to move on to middle school. Here are their insights about personalized, competency-based schools.

What has been the impact of having your child in a school that is personalized and competency-based?

Behavior and Discipline

“My fifth grader was visiting the principal’s office once a week in the previous school. He hasn’t received even one referral since we enrolled him at Red Bank. He’s a typical “ADHD” boy who only sees his way and can only sit down for five minutes at a time. Here, he gets to feel in control by being able to make choices.”

Social Emotional Learning and Academics

“My daughter is above average in reading and struggles in math. But she has never been low enough in math to get an official intervention. She gets frustrated easily in math and needs a lot of support. Her teachers here know she can shut down – they see the shutters coming down. They meet her where she is at and have her work on other things if she has turned off. They also create repeated opportunities for her to keep working on math, giving her more time. Her pace is different than the teacher’s and she knows that she will have enough time to learn. The pressure is off and she is building her self-confidence. I worry about next year – when she finds out she only has one shot at it, she is going to probably start shutting down again.”

“My daughter struggled with reading before she got here. It was a big problem. Here the teachers work with her and she isn’t having problems anymore.”

“My son is an active learner. If he is interested in something, he goes and looks it up. He struggles if he is expected to sit and get it. He struggles if there is homework assigned that isn’t engaging him. In his class, he has a choice about how he learns things so he can choose the ways that are the most engaging to him.”

“My second grader is very serious about her education. She thinks about what she is learning. She was telling me about symbiotic relationships the other day.” (more…)

Red Bank Elementary: What Students Have to Say about Personalized Learning

February 8, 2016 by

2015-11-16 08.40.10This series is part of my Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina tour. This is the fourth in the series on Red Bank Elementary. Begin with the first on five big takeaways and follow along with: #2 teaching students instead of standards, #3 teacher perspectives, #4 student perspectives, and #5 parent perspectives.

During my visit to Red Bank Elementary School, Reilly, Audrey, Gustavo, Chandler, Zaria, Alysia, Kayla, and Riley all piled into Principal Marie Watson’s office ready to talk about their experience in a personalized, competency-based school. Here are a few of the highlights:

How does Red Bank compare to other schools you’ve gone to?

One student described going to a different school for three months. “I did not like it because they were sticking together and learning the same thing. It was upsetting me because a lot of kids were falling behind. They don’t know it and no one helps them. The teacher just keeps moving. Or everyone had to stop for the teacher to help them. If they had extra tutoring like we have at Red Bank, they could keep working on the topic until they got it.”

What is personalized learning?

  • It makes school fun. It’s fun to get smarter.
  • Learning is something we want to do.
  • You can learn things when you want to learn it. It’s at your own pace.
  • If you learn something and get a 3, then you can work on something else that is interesting to you.
  • We are working differently – we learn different things at different times.
  • The iPad and Compass Odyssey help with personalized learning.

(more…)

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