Tag: continuous improvement

RSU2: Continuous Improvement at Richmond Middle and High School

January 7, 2016 by

pumpkinThis post is part of the Maine Road Trip series. This is the second post on my conversations at RSU2 in Maine. The first post is on lessons learned.

During my visit to RSU, we stopped off at Richmond Middle and High School. It was a glorious fall day, perfect for the middle school students to do a bit of pumpkin pitching with the catapults to culminate their study of Newton’s Laws and simple machines.

Richmond serves 260 students in grades sixth through twelfth, of which 40 percent are FRL. The size of the school means each academic department is approximately two people. This allows for ease in collaboration. For example, ELA and social studies are starting to explore how they can be integrated.

As we stood out on the field watching pumpkins soaring over our heads, Steve Lavoie, Principal of Richmond, emphasized that the induction process is vital to the success of the school. In the summer, he brings new hires together for a full day to talk about the philosophy of personalized, proficiency-based learning. During the school year, he meets with the new teachers every other Wednesday. Lavoie explained, “I bring an agenda item and the new teachers bring agenda items that feel pressing to them. We look at issues in the context of their work. As they become comfortable with work in a proficiency-based school, we begin to have meetings as needed.” When there is only one new teacher, other teachers join in this process so the new teachers always have a cohort of support.

Lavoie has noticed that students are talking more about their GPA and going to college. “The conversation about what it means to be academically successful has lifted the expectations that students hold for themselves.” At some schools I’ve visited, the competitiveness surrounding the GPA has created an environment in which students want to re-assess to get higher scores. Lavoie explained that hasn’t been a problem at Richmond. “We stay focused on helping students reach proficiency and always do their best. Students can go back and finish things they didn’t get done. They can go back to things they didn’t learn well to strengthen their skills. But wanting to increase the scores on the GPA is not a reason for re-assessments. We want them to do their personal best the first time around.”

Like many competency-based schools, Richmond has moved from an honors track to honors performance. Any students with 3.75 are designated as honors. Lavoie emphasized, “We want to reward students for performance.” Another example is that if a student in an AP course gets a 3.25 in class and a 4 on the AP test, their final performance score will be a 4.

In an exciting new partnership, University of Maine Presque Isle (UMPI) is sending new teachers to Richmond to understand the personalized, proficiency-based system. Seven student teachers visited RSU2 in the fall. The first day was focused on gaining an overall perspective on proficiency-based learning; the second day, teachers were fully immersed in the classroom. The partnership is also opening up experiences for students, as well. Last year, thirteen students took an online course offered by UMPI. College-going confidence skyrocketed when students realized they were doing as well or better than some of the college students. (more…)

How My Understanding of Competency-Based Education Has Changed Over the Years

December 8, 2015 by

StairsNext week, I am excited to be sharing the work that my team and I have done in New Hampshire on competency-based education with a group of South Carolina educators as part of the Transform SC institute on Meeting the Needs of Every Student With Competency Based Progression. My preparation for this institute has been an opportunity for me to reflect on what has now been a six-year journey with competency education with Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH. This past week, our school district was recognized for the second year in a row as a “leader in competency education” by Tom Vander Ark’s organization Getting Smart, noting that Sanborn was one of 30 School Districts Worth Visiting in 2015. (more…)

Casco Bay High School: We Will Shape our School by our Learning

November 30, 2015 by
Casco

From the Casco Bay High School Website

This post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine. This is the fourth of a four-part look at Casco Bay High School. Read Tips and Takeaways (Part 1), Learning as Exploration (Part 2), The What and HOW of Learning, and We Will Shape our School by our Learning (Part 4). 

As is the case with everything at Casco Bay High School, the system of supports is designed around making sure every student can participate in support (i.e., access). It is designed to be meaningful whether you are a student learning English, have an IEP, are struggling to get a “meets” (i.e., proficiency), or are generating a 4.0 in the academic grades by constantly producing work that gets an “exceed.” Support doesn’t happen once in awhile – it is embedded throughout every part of the Casco Bay High School experience. (more…)

Casco Bay High School: Learning as Exploration

November 18, 2015 by

MapThis post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine. This is the second of a four-part look at Casco Bay High School. Read Tips and Takeaways (Part 1), Learning as Exploration (Part 2), The What and HOW of Learning, and We Will Shape our School by our Learning (Part 4).

FUN!

From start to finish of my day at Casco Bay High School, the overwhelming feeling was one of fun. Or perhaps it is really an all-out pervasive joy of learning. I saw it in the students gathering together in the Great Space before the start of the school day, the group conversations among students, the discussions with teachers, and the knock-me-over-I-was-laughing-so-hard game of Your Greatest Fan with the staff and visiting educators from Chicago at the end of the day. (You can get a taste of FUN at the video Movin’ On Up – the celebration when students get accepted to their first college.)

Before I dive into describing the proficiency-based system (remember Maine uses the term proficiency-based), it is important to understand the overarching design of Casco. It’s not easy, as Casco is what I described as an integrated model. The pieces all work together – take away one element and it will have direct implications on the rest of the model.

1. Size and Student Population

Sharing space with the Portland Arts and Technology High Schools, Casco serves, at its maximum capacity, 400 students with about 50 percent FRL. It is one of three public high schools in Portland and has a large number English Language Learners, many of whom are from the over ten African countries for which Portland serves as a refugee settlement city. With a waiting list, students are admitted to Casco based on a lottery weighted for Free and Reduced Lunch, special education, and ELL. Given that refugee families are in the midst of many changes as they create new lives, mobility is an issue. In addition, Casco accepts students in all grades throughout high school.

2. Expedition, Community, and Adolescent Development

Casco is an Expeditionary Learning school with an emphasis on achievement, character, and meaningful work. (If you haven’t visited it yet, check out the Illuminating Standards that has been developed by a partnership between Expeditionary Learning and Harvard Ed School.) Again, Casco is so integrated that any activity is designed to build on all three components.

Expedition: The concept of expeditions, or learning as an exploration, is constantly drawn upon throughout the school. Expeditions, all of which are interdisciplinary, can take place within the school, on Cow Island for outdoor learning, or in the community to look at topics such as sustainable foods. Each class has a major question guiding their year. This year, sophomores are exploring Africa Rising, juniors are looking at income equality, and seniors are learning about the Arab world with a final project of turning the school into a museum so others can learn as well. Freshmen and seniors have Quests, and the Junior Journey is a week of investigation, community service, oral histories, and video production on inequity in an American city such as New Orleans, NYC, or Biloxi. Here is a video about expeditions created by Edutopia in the Schools That Work series.

Another form for students to explore their passions, the world, and their own perspective on the world is through intensives. These week-long opportunities may include learning to swim, learning conflict resolutions skills, or embarking on career exploration. (more…)

Why Making Meaning Matters for Student Ownership

October 5, 2015 by

EmpanadaThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on September 12, 2015. 

This weekend I decided to make empanadas. I looked to my Chilean cookbook for inspiration, but ultimately determined lard, hard boiled eggs, and raisins did not belong in my version. So, I started to play. I peeked inside the refrigerator to see what ingredients might work, scanned the pantry for additional items with complementary flavors and began mixing, chopping, measuring.

At some point during my experiment, as I was standing there making the empanada dough from scratch, rolling it out, kneading it, and forming it into a meal, I felt this sense of pride and satisfaction settle in over me. I wasn’t just a consumer; I became a creator. I didn’t just heat up a Hot Pocket, I made one. And it felt good.

Learning From Scratch

I think kids feel the same way. Our students learn best when they make the meaning, when they begin to own the learning. When students start to control things like pace, product, even the content, they make more meaning from scratch.

We are simply settling for a shadow of what learning can be when we, as teachers, provide answers too soon and grant little time for students to wonder and make.

Our students need to see-think-wonder their way through new ideas and concepts instead of being told the right answer. They need to use real tools, pull back the bark and discover what is hiding underneath.

Our students need us to stop taking over, grabbing the mouse, the iPad, the pencil, or the paintbrush to show them how it’s done.

Our students need time to think, explore, and be puzzled–time to not know on their journey to knowing. Time to struggle and experiment and test hypotheses.

Our students need to know we, as their teachers, value thoughtful questions over answers. (more…)

Support for Teachers in a Competency Education School

August 13, 2015 by

LockersAs a high school principal who has worked for the past six years through a transition from traditional to competency education, I am often asked how our school district has supported teachers both in the past through the transition process and also currently as we sustain our competency education model. Our teacher support system has many layers, each designed to support teachers at different points along our journey.

Professional Learning Communities

Perhaps the single biggest investment our school district made prior to implementing competency education was to establish the Professional Learning Community (PLC) model in each of our schools. I keep this quote from PLC architect Rick DuFour on my desk to remind me what role PLCs play in our school’s teacher support system: “A team is a group of people working interdependently to achieve a common goal for which members are mutually accountable.” PLC teams, when implemented correctly, focus their work around four essential questions:

What is it we want students to learn?

How will we know when they have learned it?

What will we do if they haven’t learned it?

What will we do if they already know it? (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

July 16, 2015 by

CompetencyWorks in the News


Steps to Help Schools Transform to Competency-Based Learning
, a Mind/Shift article by Katrina Schwartz, features Chris Sturgis and CompetencyWorks’ recent report: Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. A panel of district leaders implementing competency education presented a webinar on this report; you can find the archived webinar here.Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AM

School Designs

Competency Education Policy

  • States considering policies to support competency-based education are on the rise, according to a recent iNACOL blog post. Policy levers that support competency education and personalized learning include innovation zones, school finance changes, planning grants, new assessment frameworks, and pilot programs. Read more here. (more…)

Is Competency Education a Disruptive Innovation? The Answer is No

May 8, 2015 by

Disruptive InnovationOnce upon a time when Susan Patrick and I were just starting to understand the field of competency education, we described it as a disruptive innovation…until Michael Horn explained why it wasn’t.

Competency education can be considered an innovation, just not a disruptive one. It may be reaching underserved consumers, but not necessarily with a different value proposition. Competency education isn’t a new product, technology, or service that is introducing new values and benefits to new sets of consumers. It just doesn’t meet the definitions of a disruptive innovation as developed by Clayton Christensen.

But if it isn’t a disruptive innovation, what is it?

I’m not done thinking about this, but wanted to share my thinking to date. The better we get at explaining what competency education is, the better off we will be as a field. (more…)

Maximizing Competency Education and Blended Learning

March 17, 2015 by

Insights from Experts Paper

Today, CompetencyWorks released a new paper, Maximizing Competency Education and Blended Learning: Insights from Experts. The paper is based on a two-day conversation with twenty-three incredibly insightful people who work in competency education, personalized learning, and blended learning – and the paper only captures a small portion of the rich conversation. (See A Mountain of Knowledge to Climb for more background) There are several parts to the paper, including:

  1. an exploration of the relationship between personalized learning, competency education, and blended learning and the concerns about equity that arise in each;
  2. issues that district leadership will want to consider in managing change, such as providing greater autonomy to schools;
  3. guidance for competency-based schools to enhance their instruction through blended learning; and
  4. how districts that have integrated blended learning can take the next step towards becoming competency-based.

Blended learning can help in competency-based schools in so many ways – sometimes with a tidbit of risk we need to guard against. We all know that high quality adaptive software can be helpful for students to develop their foundational skills.  Blended learning can also help to offer  students the opportunity to take what they are learning and go deeper, or begin to use what they are learning in knowledge creation. These aren’t discrete activities such as extra credit or helping peers. This is the opportunity for students to be highly challenged. Blended learning can be used to offer additional challenging projects that students can take on (call them honor projects, if need be) to strengthen their learning by asking them to further apply their skills to new situations (Level 4 Depth of Knowledge). Students will be able to access the challenges or problem-based learning independently so teachers can stay focused on supporting students who are still struggling to reach proficiency. The risk here is that schools only offer deeper learning to the high-achieving students, which is totally unacceptable. So we need to create both/and – embedding Level 4 work for all students into the school design at some point in the schedule and curriculum, and offering Level 4 work for students who have advanced to proficiency in the unit or course.

Another way blended learning can be helpful is to allow students to advance to the next level of learning once they have reached proficiency on a unit or course.  This requires us to strip the ceiling off the education system by offering units online so students can advance. The risk is that that this will turn into a dynamic that so-called faster students are considered the better students. I’ve already visited schools where students talk about faster and slower students – it was done respectfully but was definitely a way for some students to differentiate themselves from their peers.

There are also challenges in using certain types of online learning in competency-based schools. These are raised in the paper and hopefully vendors will take these into consideration as they further develop their products.

We’d like to hear from you — How is your district/school using blended learning? What are the lessons learned and insights? What would your advise be to districts/schools about how to best implement blended learning to support students build and apply their skills?

 

 

Driven by Student Empowerment: Chugach School District

January 6, 2015 by
Debbie Treece

Debbie Treece

This is the first post in the Chugach School District series. Continue reading the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh posts. 

I’ve never been to Alaska before. All I can say is that it was beyond any and all expectations – as was my visit to Chugach School District (CSD).

I’m sure you’ve heard about Chugach. It’s the first district to transform itself into a competency-based model (or what they refer to as performance-based). It’s the basis of the must-read Delivering the Promise. CSD has stayed the course for twenty years, developing a sophisticated system that provides flexibility to their schools while keeping a firm eye on student achievement and progress. And they aren’t done – they are continually exploring ways to increase access to knowledge, expand hands-on and college/career readiness opportunities, and more.

It’s not easy to see the CSD performance-based system in practice. Seventy-seven percent of their students are homeschoolers, the schools in the Alutiiq communities of Tatitlek and Chenega Bay require boarding a charter flight, and the road to Whittier…well, it goes through a one-lane tunnel where you have to decide whether you want the wheels of your car to fit on top of the railroad track or to the sides, and where you have to be prepared to share the road with moose if the snow gets too deep! (There is also the Voyage to Excellence, a statewide variable-term residential program to expand learning opportunities, which I’ll talk about in future posts.)

I spent three days with the CSD team in order to fully understand their approach – and I am forever grateful for their willingness to share their knowledge and their love of Alaska. I learned so much about performance-based education: how it looks in tiny, rural schools; how it can be structured for Native education; how it supports special education students; and how the infrastructure can be intentionally designed to capture all aspects of learning and student development.

A special thanks to Debbie Treece, Director of Special Education, who organized the tour, answered a thousand questions, and drove me through a wintery-white landscape to Whittier. (more…)

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