Posts Tagged Competency Based Education

What Educators Should Stop Doing

I am currently reading the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.  It’s a great read if you are looking for a leadership book.  This book is all about what you should stop doing to become a more successful leader.  It got me thinking about our education system and the current transformation that is happening to a Personalized Learning Environment.  There are a lot of things that we currently do that are going to keep us from making the jump to a true Personalized Learning Environment.  In this blog I am going to outline several of these.  After reading them please comment and let me know if you disagree with any of them or if there are some that I missed.  Be sure to elaborate and tell me why you feel the way you do.

Stop using a textbook as our main resource in the classroom.

Textbooks are outdated the moment they are placed in a learner’s hands and most textbooks are used for 6-10 years in our classrooms.  Imagine how outdated they are by then.  Textbooks are also limited in the information they can provide.  There is something we have called the internet that is constantly being updated and provides a wealth of knowledge within seconds of activating a search.  It is more important for our learners to learn how to conduct a quality search and be able to spot a strong resource from a weak one.  It is also more important that our learners learn how to analyze what they are reading and be able to summarize and use what they learned from that reading.

Stop grading behaviors, skills, and knowledge together

How many of us have given points to students because their work is nice and neat?  How many of us have given points to students for bringing in a box of Kleenex?  How many of us have taken points away or even given a 0 for late work?  None of these things indicate what a learner knows and is able to do.  They should not be grouped in the same grade/score as a students knowledge.  Neat, organized, and on time work is important in the work place.  Good behavior/conduct is also very important in the work place.  In fact, they are so important I feel these behaviors should have their own score.  Separate this score and call it a Citizenship and Employ-ability grade.  By having a score that represents a students mastery of the standards and a seperate score that represents their behaviors and work ethic everyone will have a much clearer picture of the learners abilities and work ethic.

Stop the grading periods and hard deadlines for learning targets

By having grading periods we are supporting the philosophy that when a learner knows something is more important than that they learn something.  Isn’t it more important that a learner learns?  If we get rid of grading periods and set soft dates for our learners to give them a guide for pacing, learners will never feel as though they are being left behind.  It is up to us as the educators to find a method that best supports the learner.

Stop grade levels – Start levels of learning

We need to stop grade levels and start levels of learning.  If learners are not all moving at the same pace, grade levels would no longer be needed.  They should be replaced with levels of learning.  Learners would still be working with other learners close to their age and learners close to their ability.  Learners may also be working with peers that have similar interests and passions as they collaborate and work together to solve real world problems.

Teachers should stop being the Keepers of all Knowledge AKA Sage on the Stage

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a place for lectures when a student or group of students would learn best from this.  However in most cases this can be obtained with the use of videos so that students can access the lectures at any given time, from anywhere, and have the ability to pause and rewind them.  It is also my opinion that students need to learn the skill of how to find information on their own and interpret, summarize, analyze, evaluate it, and eventually create from it.  This is not done by educators giving the students all the information through lecture and having students memorize it for a test.

Stop assigning practice homework to students who already know it.

Some people would say stop assigning practice homework completely because even if the student does not know it they will probably need the teacher’s support to help them.  I believe today’s technology fixes this issue and therefore would support students working from home if they would like.  I am instead advocating that we stop assigning practice homework to students who have already demonstrated mastery of a learning.  My daughter comes home every night from school with a math assignment that she rarely gets even one problem wrong on.  This homework takes her 20-30 minutes and rarely, if ever, stretches her thinking to higher levels or supports her in learning something new or deeper.  In my opinion we are doing all of our students an injustice if the homework is only assigned for repetition of something they already know how to do.

Stop believing that everything assessed must be learned in the 4 walls of our classroom.

There is an entire world outside the 4 walls of our classrooms.  What would happen if we had a student who was interested in computer programming and he/she was partnered with a mentor who currently worked in this field.  The mentor allowed them to come to work with them and work along their side to learn on the job.  I’m guessing they could learn some math standards while on the job and even learn some Language Arts standards as they wrote a report about what they learned and did.  The same could be said about someone who was passionate about becoming a botanist, healthcare worker, engineer, mechanic, lawyer, performing artist etc…  If our students are passionate about these and would like to learn about them in the real world, couldn’t we find them mentors to work with and then come back to present out what they learned in the field to demonstrate their mastery of the Common Core and how it all applies.

Stop spoon feeding students.  The learning is in the struggle.

We must create an environment that is built on a growth mindset and teach students how to be resilient in order to work through things that are more difficult for them.  It is ok to try and fail.  The key is for our students to stop viewing them as failures and instead view them as opportunities for growth.  If we want our students to become life long learners they must also learn how to use the resources at their disposal to teach themselves.  We as educators should be there to support, lift them up, and guide them to be the best they can be.  We should become Facilitators of Learning instead of teachers or keepers of knowledge.

Stop segregating classes and standards.

In the real world there is not a job that exists where the subjects live in isolation.  You can not become successful in any job unless you are well rounded in all of the core areas and have the ability to use your knowledge of them together at the same time.  We have to be creative and collaborative to create projects that are cross curricular and show students how each of the subjects supports the other.  I’m not saying that we should stop having teachers (Facilitators of Knowledge or FOL’s) that are experts in a specific field.  I’m advocating for our FOL’s to collaborate together and with learners to create projects that are interdisciplinary and aligned to student interests and passions.

What else should we stop doing as educators?  What other walls do we need to tear down in order for us to unleash the full potential of every child?


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Evaluation Tool to Support Personalized Learning

I was sitting in a classroom the other day observing a teacher for her evaluation.  I have the 8 Iowa Teaching Standards sitting right in front of me as I observe her and I am completely focused on what she is doing to meet the students’ needs in her classroom.  That’s right, my entire focus is on what she, the teacher, is doing.  While I am doing this, I have a huge epiphany.

She was doing a fantastic job of setting up activities for students to collaborate and think critically.  Her transitions were fantastic when having students move from one activity to another.  Students knew her expectations and followed them at all times.  She was constantly assessing students learning and adjusting her instruction to meet as many of their needs as she could with her current structure.  She is a great teacher who is meeting all 8 Iowa Teaching Standards at a high level.  Why am I not satisfied with the evaluation I am writing?

Then I realized what the disconnect was for me.  I have a passion for flipping the focus from what the teacher is doing, to the students and their learning.  My entire evaluation is focused on what SHE is doing to support the students.  If we want to get away from the Sage on the Stage and Keeper of All Knowledge platform and move to a more Personalized Learning environment where the students’ learning is the focus then I feel we have to change our evaluation tool.

A few years ago a new set of teaching standards were released called the InTASC standards which were created to articulate the standards teachers need to meet to create a more personalized learning environment to meet the needs of each and every one of their students which they call, and I like to call, “learners”.  The InTASC standards are a great step to better support this movement.  They are still very much focused on what the teacher is doing, but have a stronger influence on what the teacher is asking students to do, how much voice the teacher is giving the students, how the teacher is personalizing each learner’s path, and how the teacher is making the learning relevant and real world applicable.  I love just about everything in the InTASC standards but struggle to get past the fact that there are 10 different standards instead of 8 and most of the standards have 15-20 criteria under them.  This gives them a feel of being much more complicated than the previous standards.  They are also missing, just like the Iowa Teaching Standards, a growth mindset.  Teachers are either meeting the criteria or not meeting.  If we want our learners to have a growth mindset, we must also create an evaluation tool that supports our teachers in a growth mindset with a scoring rubric that pushes them to meet each criteria at higher levels as they improve.

It is my opinion that we need to find a way to simplify these a great deal, add a piece that focuses on what the students are actually doing while keeping the majority of it still focused on the teacher, and create a rubric that supports a growth mindset for all teachers.  I feel by adding the student piece we will get a more clear picture of exactly what is happening in the classroom.  And, by adding a 4 point scoring rubric we will be able to provide better support for our teachers to change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Has anyone created anything similar to what I am asking?  Is there anything else you would want in the evaluation that would help support this movement?  Please share so we can create something that we can all get behind and find useful.

If you would like to view the InTASC Standards you can find them by clicking on the following link.

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Differentiation vs Personalization

Differentiation has been the buzzword for many years.  Everyone has been saying that we must differentiate our instruction for our students to support their individual needs.  Recently personalization has become the new buzzword.  I have had many conversations with people about personalization and it seems to me that the majority of people are using these two terms interchangeably.  Are they the same thing?  If not, what’s the difference?

I believe that the two are very different.  Teachers differentiate for their students by giving alternative assignments or modifications to assignments for students to better support a student’s needs.  It is the teacher that makes the majority of the decisions for differentiation.

Facilitators of learning, (i.e. teachers) personalize learning by giving learners, (i.e. students) both a voice and choice in their learning.  Learners are pushed to take more ownership of their learning and are not just given choices, but allowed to have a voice in what the process looks like.  No, they are not permitted to skip over Common Core learnings.  Instead they are given the standards, benchmarks, and proficiencies they must learn and given the freedom and ownership to have a voice and choice in how they learn them and how they demonstrate mastery of the learning.  The facilitator of learning will make the final decision on whether to approve the learner’s process and demonstration of learning both before proceeding and after completion.  The facilitator will also be able to give suggestions on how to move forward, but the ownership is shared by both the learner and facilitator.

This has a very different feel than differentiation.  When you talk about personalization, what are you really saying, meaning, and hearing?

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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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Technology + Core = Freedom for Creativity

Are we in the middle of a perfect storm?  We currently have technology entering the classroom at an incredible pace, and most states have made it the law for all teachers to teach from the Core Standards.  This can sound very scary to a lot of educators because their practices must change drastically.  They now have to learn how to use a technological device that they may have very little to no experience using, and that their students probably have been using for the past few years.  They also have to plan their lessons differently, which could mean the loss of some of the resources and lessons they have been using for the past decade or two.  All of this sounds scary for a large number of educators.

However, I had a conversation with one of the educators in my building who felt much different about it.  She described it as freedom!  She told me that she has felt trapped for quite a while and that the implementation of a one-to-one initiative of iPads and planning from the Core has freed her to be creative again.  She is excited about the changes she is planning to make.

After hearing this, I couldn’t help but get excited with her.  I have been reading many articles about the science of teaching – how we have to all teach the same things and have the same expectations.  If we are to all teach the same things, have common assessments, and common grading practices, many of us begin to feel trapped and unable to be creative in our craft.  All of this sameness feels very blah!

Here’s the flip side to all of this.  Technology gives us access to just about an unlimited number of resources.  And the Core tells us what we must be teaching and assessing, but nowhere tells us how we must do it.  There is actually more freedom in the Core than there is in a textbook.  The Core gives teachers and even learners the permission to be creative again.  Lessons don’t have to come out of the same book for every teacher.  Learners don’t have to read the same pages to understand the standards and benchmarks they are learning that day.  Technology has allowed teaching and learning to become completely personalized.  We can use videos, read articles, practice problems from an interactive site, talk to people anywhere in the world, and many other ways to teach and learn the standards.  Finally, educators have the freedom to become artists again.

So, what kind of educator are you?  Now that you have the freedom and the right resources to create a perfect storm in education, what are you going to do with it?  Are you an artist who has been waiting for this day?  Well here it is, jump on it, and enjoy.

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Let Them Own the Learning

How do you learn best?  What are your interests?  What are your strengths and weaknesses?  What motivates you?  How fast of a learner are you?

Are your answers to these questions the same as everyone else you know?  My point is, we are all very different.  So, if we are all this different, why are we forcing students to learn the same way and at the same pace?  I know that I learn best when I take ownership in my learning, by having choice in what, how, when, and how long it takes me to learn.  Do you?  I have been thinking a lot about what an education system would look like that personalized learning for every child – a system where students become learners who are actively seeking knowledge instead of receiving it.  I would like to create a school where the learners are presented with every standard, benchmark, and/or competency they will have to demonstrate mastery of.  After they are presented with these, learners are given the freedom to piece them together however they like and begin learning them in what ever order they like.  They may choose to learn from a teacher in a traditional classroom setting, on-line, through a work-study in the community, or by doing some kind of project.  There could be other ways that I haven’t thought of yet that students might come up with at a later time.

My point is… every person in this world learns differently, is engaged in different things, has different motivations, has different strengths and weaknesses, and learns at different paces.  If we give every child choice in how they learn, where they learn, how long it takes them to learn, and how they demonstrate mastery of their learning, they will take more ownership in their learning.

So what exactly would this look like?  Below I have included some examples.

If a learner wanted to work on a project that covered several competencies in multiple subject areas, they would only have to present their proposal to the facilitators for approval to begin working.  If the facilitator did not feel it was enough to prove competency, the facilitator would help support the student to improve their proposal to meet the competency.  Once the project was approved, the learner would have permission to begin working on it.  After completion, the learner would turn the project in to be evaluated.  If improvements needed to be made to meet competency, the learner would be given more opportunities to reach it.  Failure is not an option since more opportunities will continue to be given until competency is achieved.

If a learner wanted to work on a group of standards through an online course, or through direct instruction with a facilitator, these options would be provided.  There are many learners who like the structure of being told when to learn something, how to learn it, how long to spend on it, and how they will be assessed on it.  For these learners, there will continue to be traditional classes and on-line classes available to them.

There are also many learners who learn best when completely submersed in real world application of the learning.  For these learners, the school would partner with the community to provide authentic, hands on learning in the community.  The issue with this model is that community members cannot reward credit for completion of a competency.  Because of this, learners would still need to check in with their facilitators (teachers) to discuss how they will prove mastery of the competencies.

In each of these examples, it is the learner who chooses their personal method with the approval of a facilitator.  Currently we have a system where teachers hold the majority to all of the control.  In order for a system like the one I envision to be successful, teachers will need to give up some control and become facilitators of learning, and students will need to take more ownership and become learners.  We all learn best with the right motivations.  Most of us are intrinsically motivated to do more and learn more when we have some choice in the process.  Let’s release some control and let the students own their learning!

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