Archive for September, 2012

F = Failure or F = Feedback

What does failure mean to you?  What opportunities does failure present to you?  I recently had a conversation with one of my teachers who is working towards her bus license.  She made a comment to me that she was working very hard to pass the test, but felt as though she was probably going to fail the first time.  Instead of fearing this failure, she was ok with it, and stated that if she failed she would learn exactly what she needed to work on for the next test from this failure.  The first thought that went through my mind was… WOW!  Failure = Feedback and an opportunity to learn?  Now that’s a different frame of mind and one that excites me to no end.

However, how many of us truly view failure in this light?  How many of us give our students F’s on assignments, tests, and report cards with little to no good feedback?  How many of us give F’s and then just permit the student to move on with very little to no understanding, and give no further opportunities to demonstrate understanding or learn the concepts?

Imagine a business world where failure was an option.  A world where if you didn’t understand something, or were unable to perform up to expectations, you were either immediately fired, or worse just permitted to continue on without ever having to learn it.  Our lives would be completely different, and many of us would be searching for work at this very moment.  Life does not permit failure on a daily basis.  Life requires us to learn and, if we struggle, to continue trying until we understand.  Why isn’t school like this in every classroom?  Why is it that many educators continue to hand out F’s to their students when they fail to learn a concept and then allow them to move on without mastery, or worse don’t even permit the student to try again?  What are we teaching our students with these philosophies?

I believe that an F should no longer equal Failure.  Instead let’s create a system where F = Feedback and further opportunities to learn.  Let’s change the F together.

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Organic Implementation

As I continue to think about Competency Based Education (CBE), I continue to struggle with the process in changing from a traditional approach in education to a completely personalized educational system with Competency Based components.  Below I have outlined my thoughts on the best way to proceed, and I would greatly appreciate any push back, opinions, successes, and thoughts on the process.

It is my opinion that there are two ways I could change the educational system over to a truly personalized CBE.  One way would be to have many conversations with staff, parents, and the community about CBE.  Over time, get buy in, and then at the end of one year announce that when students and staff return there will be no bells, and students will have more ownership in their learning by having input in how, when, and where they are learning.  I am greatly over simplifying this, as there would have to be a great number of supports for both teachers and students put in place, but, in essence, this method would be like flipping a switch and all of a sudden we are a personalized CBE system.  This sounds like, and is, a major change for all stakeholders.  And, it sounds and feels very scary for all involved.  Which leaves me thinking…

There’s got to be a better way that feels more organic.  Organic is a term my superintendent, Jason Ellingson uses to refer to something that happens naturally. My school currently has some students learning through online learning and others taking classes in the traditional classroom.  We have other students who have been advanced and are taking classes at a college nearby.  We also have a teacher who is flipping his classroom by delivering instruction with the use of videos for homework, and creating a problem-solving atmosphere in his classroom each and every day.  We have a teacher who is instructing students on how to weld, who scores students on whether they have mastered a series of competencies in order to pass the class.  There are a couple of teachers who are very interested in standards-based grading for the middle school language arts department, and a math teacher who wants to give formal formative assessments each week over the previous standards and benchmarks covered with multiple opportunities to retake if not passed.

Every one of these scenarios have pieces of personalized CBE.  Am I witnessing the beginnings of a tipping point?  Are these the beginnings of a school organically changing into a personalized CBE system without feeling like a major change?  Is it even possible for a school to change in this manner?  At what point will teachers ask me to take away the bells and the walls of the building because they are in the way of learning?

It is my opinion that this kind of change is definitely possible.  With continuous support from the administration, teachers supporting and challenging each other, and many more conversations, I believe this can and will happen.

So, what’s next?  Do I need to help the parents and community understand what personalized CBE is, why it is good for all learners, and how it can benefit everyone involved?  Or, will the process happen so smoothly that it will feel natural to them as well as the learners and staff?  This is pretty exciting to think about, and there is a great deal more work to be done, and questions to be answered!

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