Tag: teachers and teaching

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Four Tips for Crafting Driving Questions

December 8, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Learner Centered Practices Blog on October 21, 2017. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

A high quality driving question provides motivation for learning. Often when we first start working with driving questions, or essential question, to frame learning the questions we come up with can feel a little, well, off. Just like with any skill, crafting good driving questions takes practice. The four tips below can help you make some gains. For each tip there is an example of a driving question using the following learning target:

Understands the structures and functions of the major body systems

1. Focus on the enduring understanding of the learning target. Many standards, competencies, and targets come with a lot of foundational skills and understandings attached. When we only think about all the pieces, we miss the big picture. Pulling back and focusing instead on the big picture can help us see what the essence of a target is. Here is an example using our test target:

How do body systems work together to keep our bodies running?

2. Place the target in a larger context. Sometimes a learning target is interesting enough in itself to motivate learning for most learners, others are not. If a particular targets feels dry when you think it, or try to make a question of it, then try thinking about where the target fits in the real world. The target itself should rarely be its own context for learning, and putting targets in a larger context makes them feel more relatable and interesting to many learners. Think about this example for our test target: (more…)

An Update on D51: The Teaching & Learning Framework

December 6, 2017 by

When I visited D51 a year ago, they were in the midst of developing a teaching and learning framework. I was inspired by the participatory process and intrigued with the way the framework was being developed to spark dialogue rather than simply check the boxes.

At iNACOL17, I reconnected with Rebecca Midles, Director of Performance-Based Learning, and was thrilled to meet Leigh Grasso, Executive Director of Academic Achievement & Growth. They mentioned they had completed the Teaching & Learning Framework (T&L) and were willing to share it with CompetencyWorks readers.  

The purpose of the T&L Framework is to guide professional dialogue and reflection on how educators engage with students and with each other. If you remember from the D51 strategy, they are using an intentional process to support adult learning and avoid creating any high-stakes situations until teachers have been fully supported in developing their knowledge and skills in the Framework.

The Framework is organized around four interrelated dimensions: Professional Engagement,  Design for Learning, Learner-Centered Environment, and Monitoring Learning. Each dimension has three sub-dimensions with several purpose statements and the powerful guiding questions.

Dimension: Professional Engagement

Click Image to Enlarge

Professional engagement is organized around three roles of educators as learners: as a reflective practitioner, as a member of a learning communities, and as a learning system practitioner. This strikes me as an enormous step away from traditional ways of thinking about professional development and toward the type of professional learning that we hear about in Finland and New Zealand. When we talk about competency-based education, we try to emphasize that it requires establishing a culture, structure, and practices that contribute to a learning organization. This is very, very, very different from an organization based on top-down management and compliance. (more…)

Personalized PD and Collaborative Teams: A Symbiotic Approach to Professional Learning, Part 2

December 1, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on September 7, 2017. In Part 1 of this series, Lebeaux shared some analysis of the ways in which Personalized Professional Development and Collaborative Teams mutually benefit one another and support a school’s process of sustainable, positive transformation.  In Part 2, below, she provides some guidance on potential approaches to bringing both of these into practice.

Bringing about transformative teacher practice is challenging in any circumstance; in a low-performing school falling under local and state scrutiny, it’s particularly dire. And yet schools fraught with high pressure for students to “perform” well and for data to demonstrate their turnaround most particularly require the kind of motivated, self-improving, and engaged staff that these tandem PD structures would provide. As a result, we require a strategic and intentional approach to implementing these two practices, each of which is revolutionary in their own right, to make them feasible and accessible to the schools that need them the most.

Although the two structures mutually reinforce each other, they need not be introduced simultaneously. The two columns of tips in the infographic seen here are not chronological steps in a process so much as attributes important to the success of each. As a result, we can explore the earliest steps of each approach individually below.

Click here to view the full image.

Getting Started with Personalized Professional Development


5 Things I Learned While Scoring Micro-credentials

November 14, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on October 18, 2017.

How can we create learning experiences that respect adults as learners and support teacher driven professional development? That was the question educators in Rhode Island set out to answer as part of the Assessment for Learning Project. At the heart of the project was a set of performance assessment micro-credentials designed by teachers. I had the task of reviewing many of the 100 submissions we received and two things are now clear to me. First, writing a performance assessment micro-credential is a performance assessment in and of itself. Second, adults are not much different from younger students when it comes to assessment. I found being a reviewer to be fascinating! Here are some of the things I learned while scoring micro-credentials.


What’s New in K-12 Competency-Based Education?

November 8, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicA Must-Read: The Hewlett Foundation Assessment for Learning Work Group released Principles for Assessment Design and Use to Support Student Autonomy.

Thought Leadership


  • This article examines the ways in which we assess students’ high school experiences and the impact this has on their eligibility for college.

Recruiting and Supporting Educators


  • The Colorado Education Initiative released a new strategy that includes Competency-Based/Personalized Learning, and states that CEI is intensifying their efforts to help districts build systems where students advance based on demonstrated readiness and educators tailor learning for each student’s strengths, needs, and interests.
  • Colorado’s Thompson School District is launching a “Seeing Is Believing” Tour as a type of professional learning where practitioners across 10 secondary schools work across buildings to showcase their classrooms, share success stories, and to unite as a district to do what’s best for students.The Donnell-Kay Foundation embarked on a journey across Colorado schools to examine how schools that have transitioned to a four-day school week are leveraging the fifth day. Here’s an update on their journey and learnings.



Memorization is Still Important, Even in Deeper Learning

October 31, 2017 by

This is the 2nd article in a periodic series on aligning competency-based schools with the learning sciences.

In an earlier post, I described my effort to understand the cognitive learning sciences and begin to make connections with our work in competency-based education. This post, and part of what may become a series, is another effort to ground our work in the learning sciences. And like the earlier post, I will turn to the Deans for Impact Science of Learning. They’ve organized their summary into six questions:

  • How do students understand new ideas?
  • How do students learn and retain new information?
  • How do students solve problems?
  • How does learning transfer to new situations in or outside of the classroom?
  • What motivates students to learn?
  • What are common misconceptions about how students think and learn?

I realized that I have been making a bit of an error in how I talk about the efforts to engage students in the higher level skills, usually level 3 and higher in the different taxonomies such as Webb or Bloom. I’ve tended to judge those schools that have stayed focused on memorization and comprehension without creating opportunity for more analysis and evaluation or applied or deeper learning. I’ve tended to see them as underserving their students, out of touch with the demands of the skills young adults need in today’s world, and even holding low expectations for students. Perhaps they are all those things, but my mistake has been in undervaluing memorization.

Memorization must not, of course, be the end-all of the school experience. However, it must be appreciated and valued in the role it plays in learning and the application of learning. In fact, as we think about helping students develop the skills to be lifelong learners, perhaps we should lift the knowledge about how to memorize in the long-term into that set of skills every student should know. From Science of Learning:

Cognitive Principle: Each subject area has some set of facts that, if committed to long-term memory, aids problem-solving by freeing working memory resources and illuminating contexts in which existing knowledge and skills can be applied. The size and content of this set varies by subject matter.

Practical Implications for the Classroom: Teachers will need to teach different sets of facts at different ages. For example, the most obvious (and most thoroughly studied) sets of facts are math facts and letter-sound pairings in early elementary grades. For math, memory is much more reliable than calculation. Math facts (e.g., 8 x 6 = ?) are embedded in other topics (e.g., long division). A child who stops to calculate may make an error or lose track of the larger problem. Additionally, the advantages of learning to read by phonics are well established. (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Making Space for Learners to Wonder

October 27, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Learner Centered Practices Blog on October 16, 2017. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Socrates said “wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” This quote is incredibly powerful because it reminds us that in order for any kind of learning to happen, we first have to be curious about something. The desire to know something, the question, is what sparks learning. In a learner centered proficiency based environment, we must make as much space as possible for learners to be curious and wonder.

One of the tenets of personalized learning, is that learners build and demonstrate proficiency through their own passions and interests. Another philosophical underpinning is that there is a culture that cultivates learner agency. Providing opportunities for learners to ask their own questions in any learning opportunity supports both these tenets. When learners ask their own questions, and then follow through with exploring the answers to those questions, they have much more investment and ownership of their learning. Here are some ways to make space for learner to ask questions in any social grade level or content:

1. Wonder Walls and Community Curiosity: Make being curious a public practice. I have always loved the idea of a giant mural-like display in a hallway where learners post their questions. Of course, there are many other ways to make wondering a regular part of any learning environment. In younger social grades, this can be part of the morning meeting. In addition to sharing what is going on in their lives, they then also share something they have a question about. Older learners might do this as part of an advisory group, or informal thinking exercises at the start or end of class. While this type of wondering might not tie directly to any content it certainly provides space and time for practicing asking questions, which is something our learners are not necessarily used to doing in school. (more…)

Making Sense of the Learning Sciences

October 24, 2017 by

I’ve been spending a year reading about the cognitive learning sciences and also about John Hattie’s work to review the effect of different strategies. Even with Bror Saxberg’s coaching (for which I’m deeply grateful), it’s been slow going for me, as I started with a pretty blank slate. I was also simply stuck. I was learning and my familiarity with the high level findings was growing, but I couldn’t figure out how to apply it. I was simply having difficulty making meaning for my work at CompetencyWorks because so much of the power of the cognitive learning sciences impacts practices of the teacher at a much more granular level than I encounter on my three- to five-hour school visits.

I had two breakthroughs recently, and now connections are being easily made. First, when reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, I realized that his exploration of different systems of thinking, with System 1 operating automatically and involuntarily and System 2 operating with deliberation and reasoning, opens a door for us to challenge the bias that we bring into our work and our relationships. It opens the door for us to be more cognizant of the types of bias and how they impact the learning lives of children in our schools. Perhaps we can use the learning sciences to cleanse ourselves and our schools of bias.

Second, as we think about the competency-based cultures, structures, and pedagogical philosophy (one of which is that teaching should be grounded in the learning sciences), it’s important for us to test out how districts and schools are supporting teachers to use the cognitive learning sciences as well as those that influence engagement and motivation. In other words, what are the structures and reinforcements that make it easy for teachers to use the learning sciences, and are there ways in which districts and schools are creating obstacles that we should address?

To get started, I’ll turn to the Deans for Impact Science of Learning, by far the easiest summary out there. Let’s look at one of the three principles under How Do Students Understand New Ideas?

Cognitive Principle: Cognitive development does not progress through a fixed sequence of age-related stages. The mastery of new concepts happens in fits and starts.

Practical Implications for the Classroom: Content should not be kept from students because it is “developmentally inappropriate.” The term implies there is a biologically inevitable course of development, and that this course is predictable by age. To answer the question “is the student ready?” it’s best to consider “has the student mastered the prerequisites?” (more…)

Personalized PD and Collaborative Teams: A Symbiotic Approach to Professional Learning, Part 1

October 19, 2017 by

Diana Lebeaux, Senior Associate, Personalized Learning Network

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on September 5, 2017.

Those of us who consider ourselves progressive and who regularly coach schools tend to focus our support on either collaboration or personalization. Schools that worry about the isolation of the traditional teacher, and teachers who yearn to share ideas, tend to focus on establishing Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), also known as Critical Friends Groups (CFGs). These groups become the mechanism of choice for propagating best practices, distributing leadership, and building collective buy-in for school reform or redesign initiatives. On the other hand, schools that fear teacher disengagement or who weary of professional development that never gains traction with teachers to foster improved student results tend to experiment with the newer approach, personalized professional development. This offshoot of personalized learning provides a structured way for teachers to share—or own—decision-making about the professional development with which they will engage, granted that it aligns with the school’s overall goals and the district’s other logistical parameters.

Both practices have promise individually, and because both represent a significant shift away from typical “sit and get” district- or school-wide professional development (PD), school leaders tend to invest their reform efforts around one or the other. After all, both approaches are ambitious and require capacity building, effective systems, and buy-in, which require time and effort. Both can result in improved teacher empowerment and even save districts money. However, unless these reforms are strategically bundled in tandem, I would argue that neither can meet its full potential to open up, and dramatically improve, classroom practice.

I have seen schools that institute PLCs begin to encounter a dreaded implementation gap when teachers mistrust (sometimes with good reason) the intention of the initiative, viewing the PLCs as a top-down, forced experience, or an attempt to further standardize practice to the detriment of teachers’ individual agency. At times, there are situations in which the PLCs are an overt means of prescribing professional development, in which principals mask top-down mandates under the guise of collaborative teamwork: arguably, these instances are poor or inauthentic implementation of PLCs. However, there are also many instances in which PLCs themselves are created with the authentic intention to build a safe community in which teachers can de-privatize practice, but the PLCs do not meet their potential to be revolutionary because they occur in isolation, providing a single outlet for teacher voice in a school that otherwise silences it.

Similarly, otherwise traditionally-structured schools that make a foray into the realm of personalized professional learning find a number of logistical hurdles that can hamper implementation. While personalized professional development plans and teacher micro-credentials, two means of personalizing PD, can provide incentives and structures that will inspire and guide teachers to learn, neither is a panacea. When poorly instituted—or done in isolation—these innovations can overly rely on educators’ knowledge of their own skills and their inevitably limited awareness of the opportunities for PD available to them. Schools may include data analysis, self-assessments and selected catalogues to mitigate some of these problems—or principals may build learning plans in tandem with their staff—but these can still result in ad hoc, sporadic instances of professional learning that may not align with the school’s overall goals or plans.  (more…)

WordPress SEO fine-tune by Meta SEO Pack from Poradnik Webmastera