Ideas, Influence, Impact

Posts tagged ‘competency’

Learning: Either/Or No More

Before the start of the new school year, my family took a week-long vacation to Duluth, Minnesota.  We had never been there before, but were excited by cool temperatures in July, a beach in the Midwest, and the opportunity for a lot of family fun.  During the trip, we visited a children’s museum, a coastal lighthouse, the Aerial Bridge, the Great Lakes Aquarium, the Lake Superior Marine Museum, the Lake Superior Railroad Museum and so many other interesting places.

Throughout the trip, my family (five kids ages 2, 4, 7, 9, and 11) had a great time – and asked a lot of questions.  With each stop, we learned something.  It was a great trip!  It also reminded me that school may be a place, but learning is a process.  It can – and does – happen anywhere.  It happened as we spent 45 minutes learning about the locks and dams along the Great Lakes.  It occurred in the replica steam engine, and it certainly occurred standing on the beach of Lake Superior.

With each stop, new questions were asked and answers were sought.  We learned, we laughed, and we did it as a family.  Now, not all learning is family based, but it is personal.  What Grace (my 11-year-old) learned at the aquarium was different that what Elle (my 9-year-old) learned, but it all had value.  And don’t even get me started about all the train things I learned from Sam (my 7-year-old) at the old train depot.

Competency-based education does just what this family trip did.  It takes what is personal and connects learning to what is necessary.  There were a lot of science, math, English and social studies standards met while on vacation.  We learned because we wanted to, and ultimately, it will be deeper learning because of our interest.

Competency-based learning holds the potential to take each one of this moments and turn it into a learning experience.  We do not need artificial lesson, because real life did it for us.  Imagine all that can be learned, is learned, in a single day.

CBE can help us do it better, do it richer, do it deeper.

CBE can help us cross the bridge from “required to know” to “desired to know.”

Aerial_lift_bridge_duluth_mn

The Aerial Bridge in Duluth, MN

Leaving To Learn

I have recently finished the book, Leaving to Learn by Elliot Washor and Charles Nojkowski.  Its premise is that students that are potentially at-risk for dropping out of school would be better served if they could learn outside of school.  The entire book focuses on how schools could keep these students in school more if the schools would let them leave school more.  The whole notion is that students are not engaged in schools currently, but they are engaged in “real life”, so the students should spend more of their time out in the real world to be more engaged in learning.

It is an interesting premise, not only for those students who struggle in being engaged in schools, but for all students that attend public schools.  I read this book hoping not to solve our dropout problem, but to provide an opportunity to solve our engagement problem.  Even our best students in public education are not often fully engaged in their education.  They are the ones, who like the at-risk students, have figured out the rules of school, but unlike the at-risk students, they continue to play by the rules.

Public schools, in my opinion, are at a precarious crossroads in their existence.  They must continue to educate students to their full extent, yet grapple with the realization that their full extent is hindered by their current systemic practices.  A new system of learning is needed, and Leaving to Learn may just have a few answers.

As a proud supporter of competency-based education, I believe there are a lot of real life opportunities for learning for our students in our communities.  No, not the community college twenty miles away or the university in the other direction, but in our Main Street businesses and institutions.  If we look closely at our communities that are many, many opportunities for leadership and learning.  Our students can learn valuable skills and dispositions in finance, health care, agriculture, retail, computer science, advocacy, service and a myriad of other disciplines.  We can truly make the content more relevant and more engaging for more students.

Competency-based education can be, and should be, community-based education.  We should use the resources that surround and support the school to enhance the learning mission of the school.  I do not want our students to feel their only choice to learn is to leave; rather, I want them to connect with the community so they never have to leave this fertile place for learning opportunities.

Rebooting SIS and LMS for CBE

Nothing like a bunch of acronyms in a title of an educational post, right?  Confusing to understand?  So, too, is the idea that in this day and age, those who are transforming their schools and districts into a competency-based learning system cannot find a single learning management system (LMS) or student information system (SIS) that will work to support competency-based education (CBE).  I have spent years as a member of the Iowa legislative task force on competency-based education and as a member of the state competency-based education collaborative looking for a program that will support the learning – and report the learning – in a CBE system.

It is disheartening to see Iowa’s three major SIS – Infinite Campus, PowerSchool, and JMC – unable to meet the needs of this growing interest – an interest that is growing both statewide and nationally.  From a service perspective, it would be nice to see more effort in this area.  From a business perspective, it is maddening to see a market not being addressed.

Currently, we are looking at hodge lodge systems – how to couple two or more systems together to meet our needs.  This is inefficient and not fully effective.  We need a system designed for CBE – now.  Even now, many LMS and SIS are stifling the work of teachers and district trying to implement standards-based grading and reporting.  I am well aware of the Herculean task it will be to develop a system that allows personalized learning and reporting, necessary in a CBE system.

I hope there is a system out there for K-12 districts.  I have expanded my focus  to higher education, too, in the hopes that a solution exists.  If not, some company needs to get coding, because the need – and the market – is there.

If anyone knows of companies that will support competency education/learning, please let me know in the comments!

A Senior Gave Me An Answer

I was just at a high school football game, and I struck up a conversation with one of my senior students.  It started out as a usual “how are things going?” conversation, but by the end of it, I knew I had to write a blog post about it.  This senior of mine, who I’ve known since 6th grade, was telling my all about this model planes he builds.  Now, I remember somewhere a previous conversation about his radio control, a damaged wing, and a few other pieces of information.  But, I guarantee you I had no idea that he built planes with wingspans of sixteen feet, made of balsa wood and plywood.  For twenty minutes, this senior told me about how he buys the plans for the planes, gets a sponsor for the materials, builds the planes, flies them, and then sells them.  His last project took two and a half years to build, and the plane will sell for over $15,000!

Throughout the conversation, I asked a lot of questions about funding, licensing, plans, and equipment.  He answered every question with no hesitation and a complete grasp of his work.  So, I asked if he was taking physics this year – seemed like a natural fit for a kid telling me about designing his own air tanks to provide compression and hydraulic lift.  He said no.  He was taking three biological science or agriculture science courses instead because they were easier.  I felt upset and ashamed in that moment.  Here was a student rattling off several science and mathematical concepts in a very eloquent and sequential fashion (English/LA, too!), and he did not think he could handle physics.

In a competency-based, personalized learning system, this senior would have demonstrated several competencies and would have been well on his way to a solid high school diploma.  He clearly is demonstrating several criteria for college and career readiness.  But any scale or assessment, this senior is ready for his next step in life.  He gave me an answer to how CBE can and should look, and he gave me the passion to keep pushing our system forward.

The Boxes Arrived

The boxes arrived last week.  Those boxes stacked high, full of Iowa Assessment test booklets, answer sheets, and directions for administration.  They arrived and are sitting against the far wall of my office – not physically, but philosophically in the way.  In two weeks, our students will take those tests.  They will spend multiple hours over a course of a week filling in bubbles to demonstrate to the federal and state governments that they have grown academically in content areas like reading, math, science, and social studies.  There will be no test on grit or perseverance – except their ability to complete the test without creating a pattern on the answer sheet.  There will be no test on creativity – unless they do create a pattern on the answer sheet.

All of this will happen in the midst of a year where my district has truly pushed itself to know the learner better to grow the learner better.  We have pushed hard to mold ourselves into what our students need, not mold the students into what we need.  We have more teachers that ever using data to revise instruction, using standards-based learning, and thinking about competency-based education.  We work toward a new goal of personalized learning in our district – and it is exciting, invigorating, daunting, and … the right work.

So, those boxes sit in my office while I have the pleasure of attending a convening hosted by the Nellie Mae Foundation and KnowledgeWork on the federal accountability framework in light of competency-based education.  The convening was a great two days focused on assessment, core CBE principles, the role of the federal government in education, and the unintended consequences of building a new framework that is easy to understand (and which may do more harm to CBE than the current one).

The discussion on accountability traveled far and wide.  Some of the main points and questions raised included:

  1. We do not want to see competency education mandated from the federal government. We want to have federal accountability policy be structured to enable competency education and its core principles.
  2. Is it possible to establish policy that builds upon a continuous model so that districts can use one set of reporting systems that tracks student achievement rather than two, one for themselves and one for the federal government?
  3. What would it take to have teachers make the determination of proficiency and then have that data roll up into a school, district, state and federal reporting system focused on student progress and achievement?

I was excited by the opportunity to impact federal policy, yet realistic enough to know that it would not be done when the convening was complete.  We must struggle with the enormous task of changing a federal mindset that accountability is one battery of tests once a year.  This is completely antithetical to competency-based education and personalized learning.  We must work to change this mindset and the system of accountability derived from it if we are truly to have an opportunity to meet every student where they are at and guide them to where they can be.

I know it will not be an easy fix, but it is the right work to do.  We must persist, we must challenge, and we must ask the questions that change policy, challenge politics and improve the learning environments and experiences of our students.  A student is not a series of data points.  Each student is a complex combination of dreams, passions, fears, and possibilities.  No test, or battery of tests, will ever fully measure all of that. But we can – and should – get a lot closer to it.

%d bloggers like this: