Results for: RSU2

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Making Targets Visible…Really

October 28, 2016 by

aimThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on October 18, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

We all know that making learning transparent is a key element of learner-centered proficiency based education. We’ve all gotten the memo: have targets posted. Many people have even taken posting targets a step further and posted all the learning targets for an entire project, course, or year. All of these methods can be a solid part of making learning targets and progressions visible to learners. The important thing to remember is that making learning really visible is about much more than simply slapping a learning target up on the wall; It is about developing learner agency. When learners know what it is they are supposed to be learning, and where that fits in the bigger picture of what they have to learn, motivation and engagement go way up.

If the goal is supporting learner agency, and not simply the posting of the target, we have to think differently about how we use targets. As a start, here are some target-posting pitfalls to be aware of, and some ideas about how to sidestep them and make the learning truly visible.

Pitfall #1: They Are Posted, And Rarely or Never Referred To

The point of having learning targets, or anything really, on the walls of a classroom is to have a visual reminder for learners. But anything that gets put up on the walls and ignored might as well be old wallpaper. Relying on the off chance that learners will notice or refer to them, even after being shown where they are, is not a successful strategy.

Sidesteps:

  • Have a consistent place in the room where current targets are posted
  • Point to the posted learning targets whenever you mention them
  • Mention the current learning targets at the start of every lesson

Pitfall #2: They Are Posted, And Are Too Small To Read From The Class Seats

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: The Perennial Homework Question

October 14, 2016 by

mathThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 29, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Just the other day a colleague sent me a note saying “please post about homework!” I can’t say I’m surprised, the homework question is one of the perennial questions in education; I even wrote about it last year. And like a stubborn weed, it spawns and shoots many other questions:

  • How much homework should students have?
  • Is homework for practice or learning?
  • Is it fair to assign homework that relies on internet access?
  • What is the purpose of homework?
  • How does homework count, if at all?
  • Does everyone have to do the same homework?

The truth is that despite all of the research compiling on the effectiveness of homework, the answer is a big thorny “depends.” Under the right conditions, homework can be a fantastic support for learners moving ahead and growing with their skills and knowledge. Under the wrong conditions, homework can actually be detrimental to learning. In a learner-centered proficiency-based culture, the homework weed can be even more noxious and thorny. We need to be considering the right conditions for every learner, every day.

If we step back and think about homework through the lens of personalized learning, we can come to some clarity around homework in our schools. Here are some questions to ask yourself about homework, and some resources to help you tame this weed. (more…)

Preparing Teachers for Personalized Classrooms

December 5, 2016 by

classroomThis is the nineteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

One of the necessary steps to ensure a district is creating a student-centered culture rather than one solely driven by standards is to prepare teachers for managing personalized classrooms. Pittsfield School District provided professional coaching courses for all their teachers. Don Siviski, former Superintendent of RSU2, describes eliminating all travel and non-related professional development in order to stop doing what wasn’t working and marshalling all resources to supporting teachers to prepare for the transition to proficiency-based learning. Maine districts, in partnership with the Reinventing Schools Coalition, offered training on classroom design to help teachers look at their own beliefs about learning, examine tenets of personalizing learning, build student agency by creating classroom codes of collaboration, introduce new operating procedures, enhance formative assessment, develop and take advantage of transparency of learning targets, and plan for a competency-based instructional model that emphasizes higher order skills.

Teachers can begin to use a variety of ways to manage their personalized classroom, including creating a shared purpose with their students, standard operating procedures that emphasize how students can get help (re-read the directions, ask a peer, then ask the teacher), visuals with the standards to indicate how students are progressing, posters that emphasize a culture of learning and the idea that mistakes are simply part of that process, examples of student work that are considered proficient, parking lots, and planning tools to guide students in thinking through what they will need to be successful. (more…)

Investing in Student Agency

October 10, 2016 by

LettersThis is the seventh article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

After the ramping up efforts have been put into place, the next phase of implementation is to re-engineer the learning infrastructure. The traditional system is based on three elements: a) time (days per year, hours per day, the time-based credit, semesters, agrarian schedule, promotion based on age); b) focus on curriculum and instruction; and c) A–F grading based on assignments, assessments, homework, and behaviors. If this system has been producing low achievement and inequity, what type of infrastructure and operations can be put into place to produce learning consistently with all students?

The following steps in developing what will be referred to in this series as the Instruction and Assessment model (I&A model) are not necessarily done in a linear fashion. They actually require an iterative approach so alignment can be developed within the learning infrastructure. Whether you start from scratch or draw from other districts, you will find that the discussion takes you deep into the core of learning. You may also find that once you remove the infrastructure of the traditional system, the experience is like trying to “organize spaghetti,” as described by Ty Cesene from Bronx Arena. The options will feel infinite as you begin to question the pillars, customs, and operational procedures that hold the traditional system in place.

Most districts focus on the core changes needed to create a transparent, coherent system that empowers students and teachers. They want to focus the attention on what is needed to ensure learning and progress, knowing that parents and communities are comfortable with the traditional understanding of how schools operate, and that some of the traditional structures still have meaning in today’s world. For example, in many communities, the agrarian schedule is now a tourist schedule in which employers rely on teenagers to join the labor market in the summer. Although this sounds like an adult issue, work experience is also a valuable component of helping students become college and career ready. Because each operational or policy change requires substantial leadership attention from district and school leaders as well as teachers, most of the districts that have converted to competency education continue to operate within a relatively traditional schedule for the first several years. It is later that they begin to move beyond the trappings of the traditional system.

Before beginning to design the infrastructure that will support your instructional model, take the time to consider the supports, the implications for student agency, your district’s overall pedagogical approach, and how you plan to support teachers through the transition. (more…)

Policies for Personalization: Student Agency

November 1, 2016 by

booksThis is the fourteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

If a district puts into place all the pieces described earlier, they will be well on their way to creating a strong standards-referenced system—but not a student-centered one. The new value proposition is based on an integration of personalized learning that takes into consideration students’ needs, interests, and aspirations along with a competency-based infrastructure focused on proficiency, pace, and progress.

The following discussion, organized into two articles, is on the policies and procedures that need to be in place to ensure that the system you are implementing has students and their academic success—not the standards themselves—at the center.

Student Agency

Personalization and student agency go hand in hand—it is nearly impossible for teachers to manage a personalized classroom if students are constantly turning to them for direction. Thus, as schools move toward personalized, competency-based education, they will also want to create the conditions for students to take ownership over their education (i.e., student agency). There are a number of essential ingredients required to create an environment and learning experiences that help students build the skills they need to have agency: a school culture that is grounded in a growth mindset, strategies to help build habits of learning, opportunities for choice and co-design, transparency of learning objectives with well-developed assessments, and high levels of teacher autonomy. (more…)

Constructing a Common Language of Learning

October 18, 2016 by

Art SuppliesThis is the tenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

What are the explicit and measureable learning objectives to describe what students need to learn on their way toward meeting the graduation goals?

Districts and schools start with a different mixture of concepts and create a variety of structures to define the learning continuum. It is important to take your overall pedagogical approach into consideration when shaping the overarching competencies. As Kim Carter, founder of Making Connections Charter School, explains, “Designing competency frameworks is a creative process. We gather together the tools we will need the same way a painter might choose brushes and paints.” For ELA and mathematics, most turn to the well-developed Common Core continuum of learning or their state standards. Others will start or embed the essentials of a discipline, asking, “What does it mean to be a mathematician, a historian, a writer, a scientist?” Still others may be designed around themes or career pathways that rely on a structure that starts with the needs of industry. In some cases, states may have even already set a broad framework within which districts and schools can further structure their learning.

There are five components that guide this work:

  1. Knowledge Taxonomy
  2. Structure and Characteristics
  3. Developing the Continuum of Learning
  4. Rubrics and Calibration
  5. Habits of Learning

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Starting the Year Off Strong

September 9, 2016 by

Back to SchoolThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 2, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Welcome back! Students are back, and the buildings feel alive again. It is the end of the third day, and we are already settling into the year. As you and the learners get ready to start new learning adventures this year, keep these ideas in mind:

1. School and Classroom Culture Is Dynamic
Many teachers spend time at the start of the year working with the students to build culture. This is a hugely important step to creating the environment needed for learner centered and proficiency based systems to be successful. Even more important is setting up a plan for maintaining culture, and keeping it alive throughout the year. Visions, codes of conduct, SOPs, Flowcharts, all of these culture tools need to grown and change in response to feedback from the day to day, week to week, and month to month life of the classroom. Here are some ways to plan for culture maintenance from pK-graduation:

– regular team/class meetings (as much as every day, as little as once a month)
– a Parking Lot
– regular, simple self reflection on the vision and code of conduct
– recognition based on the vision and code of conduct (more…)

Constructing a Shared Journey of Inquiry, Shared Vision, and Shared Ownership

September 26, 2016 by

StudyThis is the fourth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

Transforming districts and schools starts by engaging in a period of study. The superintendent may engage the school board in a series of readings, discussions, retreats, and site visits. A leadership team involving key district personnel and principals will look more deeply at the issues to examine how other districts have proceeded and to reflect on options for designing a process for moving forward. Superintendents also begin to have initial conversations with stakeholders in the community to lay the groundwork for understanding why we need a more personalized system, the problems with the traditional system, and the benefits of redesigning to ensure students are learning. Principals will later engage educators in inquiry teams in a similar process and also begin to review research about how students learn, brain science, motivation theory, and grading practices.

District and school leadership will drive the study groups and conversation with a set of questions such as the ones below:

  • Why do we exist as a school? What is our purpose?
  • What do successful people have that we want our graduates to know and be able to do?
  • How will our children support the future growth of our communities, state, and country?
  • What are the values that will govern how we interact with each other?
  • What are the principles by which we will make decisions?

It is through this process of studying together, of no one having all the answers, of listening and respecting each perspective, that district and school leadership can begin to introduce a different leadership approach as well as the roots of a student-centered, problem-solving culture. (more…)

What Does it REALLY Mean to Do Standards-Based Grading? (Part 1)

June 27, 2016 by

2016-04-13 11.11.40

Updated November 1, 2017

I read a lot of clips about how districts are advancing competency education around the country, and it always seems to me that when there are any negative reactions they are in response to new grading practices, usually referred to as standards-based grading. It strikes me that negative reactions pop up when districts either use grading as an entry point (which puts all the focus on the grading and not on why competency education is valuable) or they’ve put some of the pieces of standards-based grading in place but not the entire framework necessary to make it more trustworthy than traditional grading.

How does a district implement high quality standards-based grading, and when is the right time? I’ll do the best I can to synthesize what I’ve been learning from districts, but please do not hesitate to disagree or add more nuance to these thoughts.

Before I dive deep, allow me to once more review the three types of grading systems using standards (at least that I know about): standards-referenced, standards-based, and an emerging concept of competency-based.

What is the difference between standards-referenced and standards-based grading?

In his book, Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading, Robert J. Marzano explains the difference. “In a standards-based system, a student does not move to the next level until he or she can demonstrate competence at the current level. In a standards-referenced system, a student’s status is reported (or referenced) relative to the performance standard for each area of knowledge and skill on the report card; however, even if the student does not meet the performance standard for each topic, he or she moves to the next level. Thus, the vast majority of schools and districts that claim to have standards-based systems in fact have standards-referenced systems.”

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Constant Feedback

June 3, 2016 by

WalkingThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on May 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When we think about the essential aspects of proficiency-based learning, or how people learn in general, one thing that comes to mind is feedback. We know that regular, meaningful feedback is important to learning. At it’s simplest, feedback is being able to see where you are in relation to a goal of some kind and seeing what comes next in order to get closer to that goal. We can’t get better at something if we don’t know how we are Meaningful feedback can take many forms, and it all has the same characteristics:

  1. It is goal referenced
  2. It is actionable
  3. It is timely
  4. It is ongoing

The last two characteristics, being timely and ongoing, can present challenges in the classroom. They don’t have to, if we shift some of our thinking about how the feedback happens. Before we look at a how to make it work in a classroom, let’s look at a feedback loop many of us have experience with: the Fitbit™. (more…)

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