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Tag: online and blended learning

Henry County Schools: Impact Academy

February 24, 2016 by

Impact AcademyThis post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the last of five posts. Read them all the way through: Post #1: Four Big TakeawaysPost #2: Ensuring Success for Each StudentPost #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size DistrictsPost #4: What All of This Means for SchoolsPost #5: Impact Academy.

Of the many innovative steps Henry County has taken is the Impact Academy, designed to give students a non-traditional option to their school experience. Impact Academy serves secondary school students through a blended virtual school or enriched virtual school. Okay, that’s a bit confusing. It’s a virtual school because students can spend most of their time learning at home and teachers work at their homes two days per week. However it’s blended in that students come to school for up to two days per week to get face-to-face support from teachers and collaborate with other students around projects. Aaryn Schmuhl, Assistant Superintendent for Leadership and Learning explained it as, “We wanted to do enriched virtual learning. The online curriculum is the core of the work, with teachers available to work with students who need extra help. Students can come in any time, but they are required to meet with their teachers if they are struggling or falling behind. Essentially, the program becomes more structured the more students struggle.”

For eleven years, Henry County had been developing and using their own online content, combining their course catalog with that of Georgia Virtual School to offer a wide variety of courses. When they realized that 13 percent of the students were being served through private schools, home schooling, or virtual schools, they decided they needed to expand their options. By building out the district capacity to provide online educational opportunities, they are also able to ensure that it is consistent with the personalized, competency-based approach. Currently, 720 full-time and 1500 part-time students are served in a row of nine trailers on the grounds of Henry County High School. (more…)

Lake County Schools: Sawgrass Bay Elementary Increases Engagement with Personalized Learning

February 18, 2016 by

Sawgrass1This post is the fourth in a five-part series on Lake County Schools in Florida. Begin with the district overview and follow along at these schools: South Lake High, Lost Lake Elementary, Sawgrass Bay Elementary, and Lake Windy Hill Middle

Sawgrass Bay Elementary (SBE) has fully embraced personalized learning. In the first year, eight teachers started piloting the new practices in math in grades 3-5. A year later, they have full implementation in math and ELA throughout the school. As we wandered through classrooms, the conversation with Principal Heather Gelb; PL Facilitator Amy Billings; and Instructional Dean Michelle Work was full of insights and observations. Gelb enthusiastically explained, “We are seeing a big culture shift. It’s only been a year, and the teachers are noticing that the kids are highly engaged. Personalized Learning is a more intentional implementation of best practices as they pertain to student autonomy. This will be a shift for everyone.” Below are a few of the highlights from our conversation:

Background: Sawgrass Bay is situated in the corner of Lake County and is relatively close to Orlando. Many families have jobs in the tourist industry, which has led to high mobility as they move to obtain higher paying jobs. SBE is the largest elementary school in Lake County Schools, serving 1,300+ students in grades K-5. Nearly half are ELL.

The Power of Student as Leaders: Work explained that SBE is infusing Covey’s seven habits of the Leader in Me program into the overall personalized learning approach as a means to increase students’ sense of responsibility and the skills they will need. She explained, “When students feel empowered, there is no reason to act out. Instead of feeling that things are being done to them, they feel more in control of their own actions.” Assistant Principal Maurice Simmons expanded on this point with, “The Leader in Me program is helping our kids see themselves as leaders. Before, they were kids or children or students. Now they see themselves through the lens of learners and leaders. They feel more responsible for their own actions and for helping their classmates.” I saw the strong emphasis on the “habits” in Mrs. Miller’s classroom, where there were celebrations of students demonstrating the different qualities and a strong culture of “I can” and “We can.” [Red Bank Elementary in Lexington, SC is also using this program.] (more…)

Red Bank Elementary School: Starting with the Pedagogy

February 4, 2016 by

2015-11-16 09.47.31This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the third 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.

Throughout my visit to Red Bank, I had the opportunity to speak with educators. They were so very insightful that I did my best to capture the conversation in detail. Thanks to Marie Watson, principal; Jennifer Carnagey, literacy coach; Jamee Childs, technology specialist and instructional coach; Dawn Harden, assistant principal; and all the teachers, including Lauren Vann, Jennifer Denny, Susan Jennings, Sally Kathryn Deason, Tammy Ricard, and Jamie Sox.

How did you get started?

Principal Marie Watson explained that they used their summer retreats (they are voluntary) to begin to understand what is wrong with the traditional system. “You have to look at what is broken and own up to it. Teachers have to understand how the traditional system is impacting their teaching and their students. It becomes a felt need.”

The Red Bank team had book studies that used On Common Ground about professional learning communities, Larry Ainsworth’s work on formative common assessment, and Delivering the Promise. In a later conversation with teachers, they all agreed that Delivering on the Promise opened their eyes to what was possible.

“Once the majority of the teachers felt we needed to do something different, we organized training with Reinventing Schools Coalition,” continued Watson. “Teachers received training on the protocols and practices of designing a personalized classroom. Some teachers can take that and fly.” Others need more support and step-by-step instructions.

Jennifer Carnagey, literacy coach, explained that she was more hesitant, recounting her experience with, “It scared me at first. I’m not a risk taker. It felt like it was a huge ambiguous task, and I wanted to be told what to do. I kept thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, and I don’t know if I’m doing it right,’ so I would keep on doing things the old way so I wouldn’t mess up. I finally learned that I needed to identify a few places where I did feel ready to jump in.”

Since that time, Carnagey has grown a lot. “I’m proud of the things I’ve done and learned to do,” she said. “What I’ve learned is that when you begin to see the vision of what personalized, competency-based education is, it doesn’t mean that it has to be that way immediately.” Her recommendation to teachers is to “just try something.”

Assistant Principal Dawn Harden emphasized this point with, “Teachers need to understand it is a progression. It’s just like learning for kids is a progression.” (more…)

Red Bank Elementary School: Teaching Students, Not Standards

February 3, 2016 by

This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the second 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.

Red Bank Elementary offers a great example of how districts can take a big step toward high quality competency education by allowing schools to move ahead when ready. It’s also an example that schools can go far down the path when districts don’t hold them back from innovating.

It says a lot about the leadership at Lexington School District that they have been supportive of Principal Marie Watson and the team at Red Bank as they took the enormous step five years ago to work with the Reinventing Schools Coalition to transform their school into a personalized, competency-based school. Susan Patrick and I had just completed the scan of competency education five years ago and hadn’t even started imagining CompetencyWorks at that time. It’s this kind of district leadership, to support innovation wherever it develops, that is needed to transform medium and large districts.

Red Bank Elementary is in the Lexington, South Carolina district a bit outside of Columbia. The school serves a socioeconomic mix of 580 students with about 56 percent FRL. The school has a bilingual Spanish Immersion program serving 30 percent of the students. Many of the families were hard hit by the flooding in the fall of 2015. Another thing you should know – South Carolina has its own set of standards, called the College and Career Ready standards, that have been described to me by one educator in my travels in the state as a “tweaked version of the Common Core.”

What’s Happening in Red Bank Classrooms

Red Bank is entirely organized around learning and leadership (leadership is a district initiative). It starts before you even walk in the door of the school with a sign for students coming in late: “Parents please check in at the office, learning has begun.”

The dominant feeling is of a quiet joy mixed with a good dose of respect, hope, and aspirations. There are lots of hugs, constant reminders of the qualities of leadership that everyone is aspiring to, and clear, clear, clear focus on learning. Staff are unified by a commitment to do better for kids and to intentionally improve their school based on a clear set of values and understanding of learning and teaching. After spending a few hours at Red Bank, I just wanted to do my personal best (it may have been the sign that says Everything you need is already inside you that gave me that lift).

Red Bank has taken many of the rituals of personalized learning that I’ve seen in other schools, mixed it with the The Leader in Me program, and then lifted it up into almost every aspect of the school. For example, two students, Hunter and Reilly, gave me a tour of the school, guiding me through hallways named Kindness Avenue, Creativity Lane, Perseverance Path, and Compassionate Way. Hunter and Reilly talked to me about what they like to study, when they like to do their work on a computer and when they like to work in a group, and how they get to make things, “really make things, like windmills” in STEM class. (more…)

Multiple Pathways to Competency-Based Education?

October 26, 2015 by

ClassroomLast summer we published Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders based on interviews with ten districts across the country. There were strong similarities about the major steps these districts used in converting their systems from time-based to success-based. What was interesting was that most of the districts had converted without a big investment of education technology or use of blended learning.

There are more and more districts interested in competency education, but they have different starting points. Many of them have already made the transition to blended learning and are more comfortable with students working on different units or skills. I’ve also visited one district, Eminence, which started with design thinking. (University of Kentucky dLAB, led by John Nash, is bringing design thinking into the schools in the Bluegrass State.) This has raised a bunch of questions for me about how these districts might find their way to competency education. Will they follow the same implementation process or will they forge a different way to a competency-based system? And if they do forge a different way, will this lead to different understandings of competency education and new designs? Or will these districts miss important steps and encounter new challenges?

Technical or Transformational?

A few people, all of whom I have the utmost respect for, have suggested that we need to document the different models of competency education in the same way we talk about the models of blended learning. I see the value of modelizing (Is that a word? If not, it should be. ), but I also see a huge risk in that it allows people to see competency education as a technical reform.

And we at CompetencyWorks don’t think it is. (more…)

Competency-Based and Blended Learning: Friends or Foes?

October 14, 2015 by
Julia Freeland

Julia Freeland

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on October 6, 2015. 

Last week, I presented a webinar for the Michigan-based EdTech Specialists’ webinar series on blended learning and competency-based education. The presentation provided me with a chance to revisit a blog post I wrote two years ago on the overlap—or lack thereof—between competency-based and blended approaches to teaching and learning. Early on, as many in the field do, the overlap of blended and competency-based learning felt obvious to me. What better way to allow for flexible pacing than to use technology in classrooms? But over the years, I’ve come to realize that competency-based education advocates are calling for a vision of education that goes far beyond pacing reforms, and that online and blended learning are on a rapid growth trajectory that only sometimes appear to be moving in a competency-based direction. The two may be converging as the call for personalized learning grows louder, but just how much do we understand about how the two interact?

At the start of the presentation, I decided to sketch out my latest thinking on how these two aspects of education reform work for and against one another and why. Check out my quick explanation below:

See also:

A Conversation with Buddy Berry in Eminence Kentucky

September 21, 2015 by

eminenceI had a chance to visit Kentucky last month when I participated in a meeting of the Kentucky Valley Education Cooperative/University of Kentucky Next Generation Leaders Academy. Before I headed south to Hazard, I veered north to visit Eminence School District, one of the ten innovation districts.

Eminence is a small, rural district of about 850 students located forty miles east of Louisville. Superintendent Buddy Berry is a fourth generation alumni of Eminence. Five years ago, Eminence was facing declining enrollment and funding. Since they have started down this path to personalization, the tide has turned and enrollment has nearly doubled.

Eminence is taking a different path toward competency education than other districts I have visited, so for us to have a meaningful conversation, Berry and I first had to spend a bit of time unpacking the language of personalization, standards-based, competency-based, mastery, and proficiency, as they can easily become buzz words that lose their distinct meaning. Once we got ourselves comfortable with the language each of us was using, we had a tremendous conversation. Here are a few of the highlights.

Starting with Students: Berry explained that to launch their effort, they wanted to create a culture where staff listened to students and students had a sense of agency that they could shape the world around them. They organized focus groups of fifteen students and interviewed every student in the district, asking them to share what they didn’t like about school and what they wanted it to be. Based on the specific feedback they received—such as limited choice, no opportunity to feel really challenged, and lack of technology—the district made a number of changes: expanded electives, additional AP and honors courses, and laptops students could check out in the library.

Berry identified two important lessons learned through this process. First, student agency isn’t just about listening to students. After students realized they were being given a voice, they brought out every complaint, expecting the adults in the system to fix it. Thus they jumped from empowerment to entitlement. Eminence took a step back and set the expectation that everyone is part of the solution. Students could still bring forth problems, but they also had to bring ideas for how to solve them. (more…)

A Reflection on the Field of Competency Education

August 19, 2015 by

GraphEach summer, CompetencyWorks takes a bit of time to reflect on where we have come from, accomplishments, and emerging issues. Our advisory board is absolutely instrumental in this process, helping us to understand nuances and variations across states.

Below are the highlights of our discussion this year. It’s long, but I think sharing in detail is worth it, especially as each week people contact us seeking help in understanding the field. Please, please, please – we would love to hear your insights and understanding of where we have come from and what we need to think about in terms of advancing competency education. It’s the richness of multiple perspectives that allow us to be as strategic as possible.

I. How Are We Doing in Terms of Expansion?

When we wrote the first scan of the field in 2010, there were only pockets of innovation across the country, each operating in isolation. Five years later, eighteen states are actively pursuing competency education through a range of strategies including proficiency-based diplomas (ME, NH, CO, AZ), integrating competency education into the education code (VT, NH), innovation zones (KY, WI, CT), pilots (OR, IA, OH, ID), and task forces in partnership with districts (SC, WY, OK, HI, DE). Federal policymakers are now familiar with competency-based education in the K12 and higher education sector, with ESEA policy discussions considered pilots for new systems of assessments.

Districts are converting to competency education across the country, with or without state policy enabling the change. In addition to the northern New England states, which have strong state policy initiatives, districts are converting in AK, AR, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, MI, and SC.

New school models are developing that push beyond the traditional organization of school to high levels of personalization, including those at Summit Public Schools, Building 21, Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, Boston Day and Evening Academy, Making Community Connections Charter School, EPIC North, and Bronx Arena. Schools for the Future has recently announced record-breaking results in its first year of operation.

Some people think the rate of expansion is too slow. Personally, I think we need to really “get it right” – robust competency-based structures, high levels of personalization so our most historically underserved populations of students are thriving, upgraded instruction and assessment aligned to higher levels of knowledge, and effective use of online learning – before we worry about the speed of expansion. Let’s practice what we preach. We are in the midst of huge learning as we deconstruct the traditional system and put into place a more vibrant, personalized system, and it may take us a bit of time. It took us well over 200 years to create the traditional system, and its rituals are deeply rooted into our own personal lives. I don’t think it is a problem if it takes us a few more years to get it right.

The Results from our Early Adopters: The early adopters are now three to four years into implementation (with the exception of Chugach School District, which has been using a competency-based model for nearly two decades). Many have developed the systemic framework within a traditional agrarian, course-based model, which means that at first glance, it appears there is little innovation…until one looks deeper to see the benefits of greater personalization, student agency/voice/choice, consistency of proficiency scales across the school, and greater responsiveness to students who are struggling. (more…)

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