Tag: personalized learning

Incredible Opportunities for Learning and Networking at the iNACOL2017 Pre-Conference

August 21, 2017 by

Each year the competency education strand expands at the iNACOL Symposium, and the sessions for iNACOL2017 are really incredible. I want to go to all of them. Here are the sessions scheduled for Monday October 23rd at the pre-conference. Remember, we’ll have a meet up on Monday evening at the opening reception so you all can meet each other and we can welcome newbies into our amazing network.

Building a Personalized Learning System: Transparency, Culture, and Courage

Rebecca Midles, Mesa County School District 51
Ken Haptonstall, Mesa County School District 51
Leigh Grasso, Mesa County School District 51

Join this interactive workshop to learn how to get started in building a personalized, competency-based education system. This session is designed for leaders of schools and districts in the planning or early implementation phases of personalized, competency-based education. Gain insights into how to build a transparent learning system designed for student success, develop and nurture a culture aimed at continuous improvement, and have the courage to lead systemic transformation of teaching and learning in your school. Access tools from Colorado’s District 51, such as their teaching and learning framework, personalized adult learning hubs, and their social and emotional learning framework, and learn how to modify and incorporate these resources as you begin transition to competency education in your own program.

Using Student Data to Drive Unit Design and Scheduling in a Personalized, Competency-Based System

Doug Finn III, Marzano Research
Bill Zima, Kennebec Intra-District Schools, RSU 2 (ME)

A primary design element of personalized, competency-based education is to get students more engaged in the learning process by challenging them at their appropriate academic level and pace. To effectively manage this outcome, we need to rethink how we use student data. This session will focus on how to better utilize student data in designing instructional units and creating competency-based systems. Participants will have opportunities to engage in discussions dealing with the many facets of unit design and scheduling and explore examples of units and school schedules based on student data.

Building Understanding of Competency Education and Changing Grading Practices

Thomas Gaffey, Building 21
Sandra Moumoutjis, Building 21
Sydney Schaef, reDesign

Are competencies and standards the same? How do you assess competencies? Why do we create rubrics and convert them to points? Should measurement of learning be punitive? In this session, we will dive deep into these questions by providing an alternative approach to traditional grading. Through a series of activities, participants will engage with the Learning What Matters competency model and leave the session with a fresh perspective on how three Pennsylvania urban district schools assess students.

  • Participants will engage in a series of activities to define and illustrate competency-based learning.
  • Participants will use rating tools called continua to rate student work.
  • Participants will be exposed to an alternative grading and assessment mindset that will push their school design efforts forward.

After a series of knowledge-building activities, participants will be exposed to a powerful new approach of using the learning progression as a rating and grading tool. These activities include: basketball dribbling activity, small group continua building, and continua norming. Each of these activities requires participants to engage with each other to understand, create and build consensus. This approach mirrors our on-boarding for new teachers. (more…)

Competency Education and the Complicated Task of Communicating

August 17, 2017 by

Did you see that competency education (the same as mastery-based education) was mentioned in the New York Times? In some ways it is a very helpful article to introduce people to the idea of competency education, highlighting students taking ownership, students engaging more, the opportunity for students to really learn or master the skills and content before moving on, and the focus on growth.

Yet the article also includes examples of the difficulty we are facing in communicating what competency education is about, what it means to have a high quality competency-based school, and the noise from some of the critics. Below is a sample of the conversation I had with the author (in my mind, of course) while reading the article.

Instruction

One of the issues we are facing is that although competency education is primarily a cultural and structural shift, it also has implications for instruction. We know that instruction matters – it matters a lot. You can have strong instructional practices or weak instructional practices in a school. You can have some teachers with strong professional knowledge or some with weak professional knowledge in a school.

What competency education does is creates a structure by which teachers are talking with each other about what it means to have a student become proficient, aligning their assessments and instructional strategies, and exploring what is working and what isn’t working to help each and every student reach proficiency. Competency education, when well implemented, should be igniting the professional learning of the educators.

Competency education does introduce a few important implications for instruction and assessment:

  • Students need to be active learners with opportunity to apply their learning to new contexts (this is what makes it about competencies and not just standards). This means there also need to be assessment strategies that assess students at higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (i.e., performance-based assessment).
  • Instructional strategies need to meet students where they are. Yes, we want to think about grade level standards AND we want to think about where students’ performance levels are and where they have gaps. Then using their professional knowledge and taking into consideration the needs of other students and resources, educators work with students to develop strategies that will help them progress.
  • To the degree possible, summative assessments should be aligned with the depth of knowledge and the learning goals of the students. This may mean organizing assessments to be “just-in-time” with students bringing forward evidence of their learning. A student who has completed a unit at the beginning of the week and believes they have fully learned the material shouldn’t have to wait until the end of the month to move on to higher level work. In other learning experiences, there is going to be value in students working on a large project all with the same due date. But when the curriculum can be organized into more modular units, it opens the door to more flexibility for students.

When I see something like “students work at their own pace through worksheets, online lessons and in small group discussions with teachers” I get worried that either the school isn’t offering enough applied learning opportunities or we aren’t communicating what is happening instructionally in the classroom. First of all, students should know where they are on their own learning paths. Second, teachers are offering instruction through several methods, including individual and small groups, online videos they have made, or perhaps online instruction. In most, most but not all, of the classrooms I have visited, students talk about the use of online adaptive programs as how they practice. Most will say they prefer to learn about new material from their teacher or from a video their teacher made. Third, there will often be choices about how students practice and then demonstrate their learning. Worksheets might be one of them, and I’ve seen students playing games to practice and build math and vocabulary fluency, working on projects, writing essays, and engaging in large, inquiry-based projects that will wrap-up with a presentation. (more…)

Supporting Educators as Ambassadors for Mastery-Based Learning

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Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Forward School District, Pittsburgh, PA

Teachers tell us ‘we know so much more about supporting students, it would feel like malpractice to go back to how we used to teach,’ and parents will tell you the same thing: ‘we never want our students to go back to the other way, because this way leads to independence and real learning.’”

These words from Ellen Hume-Howard, former curriculum director for Sanborn Regional School District (NH), paint a picture of a school community in which parents and teachers speak a common language and pursue common goals for student learning. However, as Ellen is quick to add, this partnership is the result of years of effort. Educators and parents came to value innovations like mastery-based learning because they took the time to forge relationships, build trust, and co-create new definitions of student success.

Ellen is one of many educators in the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) community who has experience in communicating with stakeholders about mastery-based learning. We spoke to three school leaders and the authors behind Communications Planning for Innovation in Education to learn about their communications strategies and particularly the role of teachers in this work. They tell us that communicating effectively about innovations, and especially the “why” behind them, is essential. Classroom educators are the most visible—and powerful—ambassadors for next gen learning models to the broader school community.

To explore the key role teachers play as communicators, we tapped into the knowledge and experience of NGLC school leaders and other innovators to help us answer these questions:

  • Why are classroom educators so important to the work of communicating about innovative teaching and learning?
  • What kinds of support should schools provide to educators to do it well?

Classroom Educators Tell the Story of “Why?”

With another school year about to begin, educators are working full tilt to get ready. Principals are preparing professional learning activities and reviewing student data, while teachers are counting supplies, planning lessons, and setting up their classrooms. The “back to school” season is a tradition, a familiar part of the rhythm of teaching and learning familiar to parents from when they were in school.

However, the more schools engage with mastery-based learning and other student-centered, personalized innovations, the less learning looks like it did when parents were students. In place of rows of students at desks, we see groups collaborating around a table on a student-designed project. Instead of “all eyes on the teacher” as the sole repository of knowledge, we see learners setting goals and making choices as they navigate personalized pathways. Traditional letter grades give way to mastery-based measures, like the competency badges used in Elizabeth Forward School District (PA) or Sanborn schools’ “running report card.” Even time-honored concepts like “grade level” become less distinct.

Like other innovative schools, CICS West Belden has committed to a personalized learning model with new goals for student learning. “Those days are long gone when just doing the work put in front of you was enough, either in school or as an adult,” Colleen explains. “Now it’s about helping students know who they are. Once a child can articulate what kind of a learner they are, what makes them curious, there’s such a different investment in learning. Kids take the wheel.” (more…)

The Mission and the Message

August 16, 2017 by


How we found our ‘why’
and how we’ve used it to create urgency and

common purpose in our community’s quest for greater educational equity.

By Julianna Charles Brown, Jeremy Chan-Kraushar, Joy Nolan, and Patrick Williamson of Mastery Collaborative, a program of New York City Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness

***

Any school that has embarked on shifting to mastery-based teaching and learning can tell you that messaging and mission are vital to this complex endeavor—which affects every aspect of teaching, learning, assessment, and school culture. A clear and powerful mission inspires all stakeholders to connect to and invest in the work more deeply and authentically. Without a clear mission, the work of a school or any organization is susceptible to a lack of focus, resistance from within, and confusion in implementation. As a leader, it’s hard to call the shots without a guiding mission. As a member of a community, it is necessary to have clarity about what’s happening and why.

A strong mission statement articulates the ‘why’ that powers the work. Great missions connect the day-to-day operations of an organization with a desired larger impact, and ideally, all stakeholders can contribute to its creation. Once a strong mission is developed, it should then become fundamental to the way you speak about your work. When taking on large and complex endeavors—like transitioning away from traditional education to mastery-based models—the ‘why’ must be meaningful and inspiring enough to justify the sustained focus required to accomplish multidimensional school change over several years’ time. In working with our school partners, we help to co-create communications materials and provide training that supports school leaders and staff in talking to parents, students, community partners and others about their school’s mastery-based systems. We also model the kind of mission-driven communications that practitioners can use to think about their own communications approach.

How we found our ‘why’

We started the Mastery Collaborative (MC) in 2015-16, to form a community for dozens of schools across New York City that were implementing mastery-based shifts in relative isolation. We dedicated that first year to creating a lively community of practice with and for member schools, and learning from them about mastery implementation models around the city. While visiting schools, we noticed a distinct feel in more advanced competency-based schools. There was positive energy in the air, and there was a shift in the adult/student power dynamic—as one school leader put it, “Students here have lots of choice and freedom, and lots of responsibility to their own learning and to our school community.”

In these schools, students regularly described what they were learning and why and were able to pinpoint how they could improve; we were seeing the self-confidence and assurance of students who valued school and felt they belong there, who were were empowered to own their learning—and we were seeing educators who believe in the young people they work with, and who understand that power is not a zero-sum game. Helping students find their power as learners only makes a class more compelling and powerful for them. Giving up a position as a lecturer at the front of the room only means finding more power as a facilitator of students’ learning. By the conclusion of MC year one, a hypothesis was forming: that there was a unique connection between mastery-based shifts, culturally responsive practices, and equity. To share out these ideas, we made program videos such as Why make the shift to mastery-based learning? and How does mastery transform school for students and teachers? (more…)

Much Ado About Mastery-Based Transcripts: What Schools Need to Know and What They Can Do

August 15, 2017 by

From University of Wisconsin Flexible Options

As more and more schools across the United States make the transition to proficiency-, competency-, or mastery-based systems* of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting, one question often comes to dominate conversations in community after community: How will mastery-based grades and transcripts impact students when they apply to college? In fact, this question can become so emotionally urgent for some students and families that it can render all other issues—including all the many advantages and benefits of mastery-based learning—effectively invisible.

Over the past decade, the Great Schools Partnership and the New England Secondary School Consortium have worked with hundreds of districts, schools, colleges, and universities across New England and the country on a wide range of issues related to mastery-based education, grades, and transcripts. After thousands of hours of conversations, meetings, interviews, presentations, workshops, and working groups, we’re confident we’ve learned a thing or two about the topic.

Here’s what you need to know about navigating the transition to mastery-based transcripts in your community.

The Facts

In the many conversations and meetings we’ve we had with colleges and universities, admissions officers have repeatedly told us—unequivocally—that mastery-based grades and transcripts will pose no problems whatsoever for applicants to their institutions. In fact, many of these institutions—including some of the most highly selective institutions in the world, such as Harvard and MIT—have provided public statements expressing this position. And the New England Board of Higher Education even published a position paper on mastery-based transcripts and college admissions that affirms what admission officers have been telling us for years: there is no cause for concern as long as sending schools provide some basic information and context explaining their systems.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Concerns about mastery-based transcripts are largely unfounded. And more often than not, they are based on assumptions that are easily dispelled. In general, admissions offices will happily discuss any concerns that school leaders, guidance counselors, and prospective applicants and their families may have. If you have questions, pick up the phone. Or read this interview with Nancy Davis Griffin, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at the University of Southern Maine—she will tell you a lot of what you need to know.
  • College and university admissions offices receive—and always have—a huge variety of transcripts, school profiles, and other academic records, including transcripts from international institutions, foreign-language schools, home-schooled students, and countless non-traditional educational institutions and programs. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to say that there is actually no such thing as a “traditional” transcript, given that admissions offices have been receiving a huge variety of transcripts, and from every corner of the globe, for generations.
  • Colleges and universities simply do not discriminate against applicants based on the grading system or transcripts of their sending school, as long as the school’s documentation clearly presents and describes its policies, programs, and practices. If a postsecondary institution happens to have a specific admissions requirement that is not directly addressed in a school’s standard transcript or school profile, they typically contact the school to request the necessary information. If any information gaps emerge over time, schools can then modify their transcripts and profiles to include the required information.
  • As long as the school profile is comprehensive and understandable, and it clearly explains important information such as the content and rigor of the academic program, the technicalities of the assessment and grading systems, and the characteristics of the graduating class, then admissions office will have no problem understanding the transcript and properly evaluating the strength of a student’s academic record and accomplishments—after all, this is what they do, quite literally, thousands of times of every year.
  • Secondary schools use so many different systems for educating, categorizing, assessing, grading, ranking, and tracking students—and always have—that these many diverse systems can only be fully understood when a school clearly articulates how its policies work and submits a comprehensive school profile. A course title, grade, GPA, or class rank, for example, doesn’t mean much unless the admissions office also has the “key” (e.g., the school profile) it needs to understand how the system works and how the applicant performed in that system.
  • The rigor and quality of the school’s academic program, and understanding how an applicant performed in that system, matters much more than class rank or artificial “rank-enhancers” such as weighted grades (in fact, many admissions offices will “unweight” weighted grades). An admissions office wants to know that applicants have been intellectually challenged, that the school’s courses and learning experiences are rigorous, that the applicant performed well in those courses, and that the applicant is prepared to thrive academically in their program. The irony: If well designed, a mastery-based transcript will actually satisfy all of these admissions needs far better than so-called “traditional” transcripts.

What Schools Can Do

(more…)

Welcome to Mastery Communications Week!

August 14, 2017 by

Educators implementing mastery-based learning can enumerate a list of priorities to conquer. But all too often the strategy for communicating what mastery means for students, families, and community partners can be left until the end, or ignored all together. Mastery-based learning — also known as competency-based education (CBE) — has the potential to transform how students learn content and acquire skills. Messaging this fundamental truth is key to building understanding, garnering buy in, and implementing a successful mastery-based system.

That’s why Springpoint has joined forces with national partners and schools to present Mastery Communications Week — five days devoted to exploring how to communicate about mastery that starts today.

We’ve partnered with Great Schools Partnership, Mastery Collaborative, Next Generation Learning Challenges, KnowledgeWorks, iNACOL, and CompetencyWorks to share expertise around some of the most common questions about mastery communications. Throughout this week, principals, teachers, students, district leaders, community partners, and parents will share their experiences with mastery and their role in ensuring that it supports and accelerates student learning. We hope this compilation of best practices, tools, tips, ideas, and open questions can spark an insightful conversation and prove useful for educators and school leaders as they prepare to engage key stakeholders on all things mastery in the coming school year.

Defining Mastery-Based Education

To communicate effectively about mastery, educators first must get clear on their own working definition. While mastery can mean many things to different people, we generally cite CompetencyWorks’ five elements:

  1. Students advance upon demonstrated mastery.
  2. Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  3. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  4. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  5. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

(more…)

Mastery Communications Week Launches on Monday #masteryweek

August 11, 2017 by

What is competency education? To answer this question, we need to have strong communication strategies and messages.

To help us improve our communication strategies, Springpoint Schools (along with Great Schools Partnership, New York City’s Mastery Collaborative, Next Generation Learning Challenges, KnowledgeWorks, Getting Smart, reDesign, CompetencyWorks, and iNACOL) has organized Mastery Week. Throughout this week, we will be shining the spotlight on insights and best practices on communications regarding competency education. (See the flyer on Mastery Week for more information)

There will be digital sharing and online collaboration that can help schools and districts develop their communications plans. Each day during Mastery Week, our Mastery Week site will feature an article from one organization on a specific area of mastery communications. You’ll also find stories and resources from practitioners that illuminate successful approaches. We encourage everyone to share useful content and join the conversation on social media and other platforms.

Here is the schedule:

Monday’s Focus is on Resources: The welcome post on the Mastery Week website will explain the mechanics of the week, discussing resources that can help schools communicate with diverse stakeholders. There will also be five questions for engaging teachers and students.

Tuesday’s Focus is on Post-Secondary Institutions: The Great Schools Partnership will discuss communicating with postsecondary institutions and engaging with parents around what mastery means for their students’ postsecondary opportunities with five questions to engage college admissions experts.

Wednesday’s Focus is on Equity: The Mastery Collaborative will explain how a clear mission with an equity lens can drive a communications strategy. You will also find five questions for Border Crossers and NYC students to underscore these themes. There will be a Twitter chat at 3 pm ET.

Thursday’s Focus is on Teachers: Next Generation Learning Challenges will share best practices, tools, and resources that highlight how to support teachers as critical ambassadors for mastery learning. You can find five questions for teachers and school leaders.

Friday’s Focus is on Multi-Media Communications: KnowledgeWorks will provide an overview on the ways in which multi-media communication creates deep engagement around mastery education. You will also find a podcast from Getting Smart and resources from reDesign.

(more…)

Help Students Hold Themselves Accountable

August 9, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on August 3, 2017.

The new report “How to create higher performing, happier classrooms in seven moves: A playbook for teachers” tells stories of teachers who improved student engagement and academic results by introducing seven specific, practical moves into their classrooms that replicate the successes of top managers in cutting-edge workplaces. For the next three months, I’ll be doing deep dives into each of these important moves.

The sixth move for creating a dynamic classroom is to help students hold themselves accountable.

Cutting-edge organizations that give employees ownership—as well as hire for and nurture the skill of agency—balance that trust with a thoughtful accountability system. Ownership and accountability, out of necessity, go hand in hand. Companies such as Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and Medallia rely on Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to help their employees cycle through a system of setting transparent goals, learning, tracking their progress, taking stock of where they are, and pausing to reflect on how to improve before beginning the cycle anew.

The term accountability can stir negative associations in the education sector, as it conjures images of top-down oversight. That’s not the type of accountability that we have in mind. Rather, Move #6 is talking about any structures and systems that teachers can put in place to help their students learn to set goals, track their progress, and follow through.

Kelly Kosuga, a 9th-grade Algebra I teacher at Cindy Avitia High School, part of the Alpha Public Schools network in the San Francisco Bay Area, knew that her students would make better choices if they felt informed and accountable. She decided to make this move in two ways: (1) making the grading system and student progress transparent and (2) using tools to help students stay organized.

Making the grading system and student progress transparent

First, Kelly needed to make sure that her students clearly understood what they needed to do to succeed in her class and where they currently stood academically. She didn’t have a tool that allowed her to do this easily, so she created one. (more…)

Iteration in Action: PACT Academy

August 8, 2017 by

This post and all pictures first appeared at Springpoint on January 30, 2017. This is the third in a series on iteration in school design. 

If you ask one of the 200 students at PACT High School about grades, one of the first things you’ll hear is “we can’t fail here.” That’s because this high school is designed to foster positive youth development through strong relationships between students and adults.

It’s also because PACT does not give failing grades. Instead of an “F,” students receive the designation “not approaching proficiency.” This remains on a student’s transcript until they master the content in their course, which they can continue to work towards throughout their high school experience. This mastery-based approach means some students can be working to master standards from their first year after they’ve already moved onto their second year coursework. Others are able to skip ahead—in courses like Health, math, and science—using one of several available tech tools and with teacher supports. In the words of one student, “if you don’t get something, you work on it until you master it.”

Positive relationships to support mastery-based learning.

PACT opened in fall 2014 as part of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s participation in Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Opportunity by Design Initiative, and has since nurtured a strong culture of mastery-based learning supported by positive relationships between students and adults. This approach permeates the school, from everyday interactions to instructional policy. At PACT, students have an active voice in shaping both their learning path and the school’s design. For example, at the end of its first year, students expressed a desire to reorganize the instructional day to achieve a better balance between hands-on projects and online learning. Principal Reynolds and his team listened to students’ concerns and, beginning in the school’s second year, retrained teachers to give students more voice and choice in choosing and participating in projects.

In addition to giving students a voice in their education, PACT has a laser focus on ensuring students are college and career ready. On any given day, students can be seen working on a variety of projects: running cars down ramps to measure velocity and friction, or creating a multimedia presentation about a “turning point” in their life for their English class. In each project, students are measured based on how well they have mastered problem-solving, communications, and presentation skills that will truly prepare them for college.

The PACT team is committed to helping each and every student succeed, despite challenges they face academically and personally. For example, the majority of PACT families make less than $20,000 a year, and many students care for younger siblings and extended family members. Principal Reynolds says that the pressure of street affiliation and gang violence is ever-present, particularly for young men in the community.

Knowing this, the PACT team works hard to create an environment where students can open up about their concerns and responsibilities. In the words of one student, “I have a voice here. I joked my way through sixth and eighth grade, but this school and its teachers changed my view of things.” PACT hosts several after-school activities geared toward giving students choice and agency, including theater, astrophysics, and a girls’ empowerment club called “Cover Girl.” The school’s staff has cultivated an awareness and responsiveness to challenges students face. Teachers like Mr. Hurt, an English teacher for first-year students, realize that, “for many kids, their day starts after they leave school. My goal is to give them something positive to think about when they leave us, and hopefully to help them make good decisions.” (more…)

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