Tag: curriculum and instruction

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Common Assessment

January 15, 2016 by

CellThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 16, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

What do all of these student products have in common?

  • A children’s book page showing an animal cell, with labels and simple explanations of how the major organelles work.
  • A Prezi showing an animal cell. The presentation zooms in on different parts of the cell with a narrator explaining their functions.
  • A pop song about the animal cell. Each verse focuses on a different organelle.
  • A multi-paragraph essay describing the key parts of an animal cell.
  • ​A hand-sewn felt animal cell doll with all the major parts labeled and a display box with descriptions each major part.

These example products are all exactly the same, but different. While each product clearly connects to different skills sets or interests, each addresses the same learning target and level of rigor: (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Learners in the Center

December 18, 2015 by

DartboardThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 10, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

The goal of learner-centered education is to create the conditions so that students can be self-motivated to engage in learning. When we rely too heavily on any of the other terms and ideas associated with the idea of putting students at the center of education, the intention behind an incredibly powerful philosophy of education gets watered down. Schools and classrooms can end up in a place where too much responsibility for directing and managing learning is left to the students, and people start wondering if learner-centered education is worth it.

Learner-centered education is challenging for all learning community members, in different ways. Some have to figure out how to take on different responsibilities. Some have to figure out how to let go of some control. Some have to figure out how to fail. Some have to figure out how to rely on others. The key is to focus on setting up a learning environment in which students can’t help but get engaged in learning, and in which they learn the skills and habits needed to take meaningful ownership of their learning.

Put learners at the center by making learning engaging. Connect groups of learning targets together with bigger topics, or broad essential questions. Challenge them to wrestle with problems and dilemmas that have no clear answer. Combine disciplines together in realistic ways. Incorporate group projects and challenges.

Put learners at the center by making learning visible. Provide ways for students to track their own progress. Teach them ways to do this on their own. Be honest with students about where they are in their learning, and let them know what they have to do to move forward. Make clear connections between learning experiences and learning targets. (more…)

The Power of Choice: Increasing Novel Reading From 21 Percent to 87 Percent

December 16, 2015 by
Crystal Francis

Crystal Bonin

For those of us who have always taught with an end-goal in mind, competency-based education isn’t that big of a shift. We’ve always thought about assessment and the way we’d bring our students to success. In my opinion, the biggest difference between competency-based education and traditional education is that our focus is less on content and recall, and more on differentiation and application.

As an eleventh-grade English teacher at Sanborn Regional High School in New Hampshire, I have three major competencies: reading, writing, and communications. My students don’t earn one grade for the course; they have to pass all of their competencies in order to pass the course.

Traditionally, students in English classes have always practiced these skills. English teachers have always used literature as a vehicle of instruction, have instructed writing, and have encouraged discussion.

Traditionally, students in English classes have also habitually fake-read novels, plagiarized writing, and sat silently during class discussions. (I know that I did.)

In my competency-based classroom, that kind of fake-reading just doesn’t happen anymore. How do we get there? It’s all about student choice. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Simple Moves to Increase Engagement

December 11, 2015 by

HandsThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 2, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Student engagement involves more than connecting learning to student interests or authentic purposes. Engaging students means creating the environment for all students to be successful with learning and tackling new skills and ideas. So having a “highly engaged” learning environment is as much about the number of students involved in learning as it is the ways in which they are engaged. One area of instruction to pay close attention to when creating an environment in which as many students as possible engage in learning is the class discussion. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Homework Tips for Parents

December 4, 2015 by

Pencil ShavingsThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on October 26, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

This week… a special request: specifics on appropriate parental involvement in homework.

In The Art and Science of Teaching, Marzano lays out some action steps around using homework as a strategy for helping students to practice and deepen knowledge. One of the listed strategies is to give homework that involves participation from the home. This can be a tricky. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Homework

November 25, 2015 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on October 13, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

At last week’s professional learning day, we all spent some time in our groups talking about homework. What is the point of homework? How much is appropriate? Are there boundaries? (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Anchor Charts

November 19, 2015 by

School SuppliesThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on October 5, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

A major goal of learner-centered proficiency based learning is to foster independence in our students. An excellent classroom tool for supporting this work is an anchor chart. Anchor charts are posters that make processes, cues, strategies, and guidelines visible to students. As students are internalizing and learning these, the chart serves as the reference text. Many people already use flow-charts and s.o.p.s in their rooms. Some people have reading and writing charts up. Other people have group work charts, and problem solving charts. All of these fall under the broader category of anchor charts.

Like anything, some anchor charts are stronger than others. Here are some basic tips for creating and using quality charts in your classroom:

When To Make A Chart

  • To support routines and procedures such as the process for leaving the room, turning in homework, getting help during class, getting ready for the day, putting away materials, how to get the teacher’s attention, etc.
  • To support specific procedures or that students will use over time, like operating a microscope or initial troubleshooting with a computer or other device.
  • To support complex skills, such as working in a group, solving a problem, reading, and writing
  • To support the application of content that does not need to be memorized, like the periodic table, a timeline of dynasties in China, formulas, and editing marks

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Deadlines and Redos

November 12, 2015 by

Real WorldThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 28, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

One of the goals of learner-centered proficiency based education is to create authentic, real-life experiences for our students. Traditionally, the way school has been structured does not really mimic the experience people have outside of school. Do you categorize tasks into subject specific chunks? When is that last time you did just “math?” Have you ever said to yourself, or someone else, something like “Hold on, I’m doing science right now. That writing will have to wait until later.” I doubt it. How strange would that be!?

Or how about other real-life competencies? What happens when you are planning a group presentation, and one member doesn’t do their part? The presentations stinks, or is clearly lopsided. Perhaps the group members get annoyed with one another, and the slacker never gets invited to be a part of that kind of opportunity again. Maybe your supervisor expresses disappointment, and now you feel extra pressure at work. What about if you are late paying a bill? Maybe now you have to pay more. Depending on who you owe the money to, it can be a real hassle to correct the late payment. On the whole, however, we always have a second opportunity or a chance to fix the problem in real life. Even if we mess up royally and end up in prison, there is typically a way to work towards fixing the issue and getting back on track. What generally motivates us to do our best work, and get things paid on time is the hassle involved if we don’t.

If we want to create some of the real-world-esque scenarios around things like deadlines and retakes, we have to start thinking about setting up comparable hassles for our students. Giving students multiple opportunities to show what they know means giving second chances, maybe even third chances, but not without some work on their end. Here are two ways to build the hassle in so that students begin to learn that doing it well, and on time, on the first chance is worth the effort:

1. Require students to do an error analysis before resubmitting work, a project, or an assessment. In an error analysis, students need to identify what they got wrong, why they got it wrong, and then do whatever it takes to show they can do it. Here is an example of an error analysis for a math assessment:

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Readiness Levels

November 6, 2015 by

RaceThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 21, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

One of the biggest concerns about proficiency based, and learner centered instruction, centers around the idea of “students working at their own pace.” Education community members wonder: what about deadlines? what if a student’s pace is “do nothing?” who will teach them if the just keep going ahead? what happens if a kid finishes all the standards by the time they are 16? The questions go on, and on. Most of them are completely valid questions, and worth conversations about. A good place to start is to examine how the idea of a student’s own pace.

Instead of thinking of the word “pace” think of “readiness level.” A student’s readiness level is the point where they have the ability to be successful with whatever the current learning is, and stretch a bit into new understanding and skills with the support of a teacher. Readiness level is the same thing as the Zone of Proximal Development. So now, think about this new statement:

 In a learner centered system, students work at their readiness level.

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Choice Words

October 30, 2015 by

Science ClassThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 14, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

By now the school year feels under way. The chaos of the first week has subsided. Classes are settling into routines. Units and projects are underway. Our excitement and expectations for the new year, and our students, is still there.

It is these expectations, the ones we as teachers hold up, that have the most power for our students’ learning. This piece from NPR explores the research behind teacher expectations and student achievement, and also offers some ideas for recognizing and adjusting our expectations.

In the book Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning, Peter Johnston talks about how the way we speak to our students conveys our expectations. He argues that our language is the central tool for the social, emotional, and academic development of our students. Here are three of my favorite suggestions for how we intentionally use language with our students so that we can create the intellectual life we want them to grow into:

Notice and Name: Be explicit about the praise you give. Say who you saw doing something you want to praise, then say what it is they did.

  • “I noticed, Sean, that you were putting yourself in the character’s shoes in order to figure out their motivations.”
  • “Class, I noticed that each group had different problems with their marshmallow challenge and each group kept trying different prototypes until they found one that worked.”

(more…)

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