Ideas, Influence, Impact

Posts tagged ‘learning’

The 5 Shifts of Competency-Based Education

Competency-based education (CBE) is a transformative educational approach for classrooms and systems that is emerging across the country. It has its deepest roots—and greatest success—in the state of New Hampshire, as its legislature and state department of education have worked to significantly change how education occurs in the state. CBE also has strong roots in Iowa and Kentucky; it is growing in numerous other states through the work of the CCSSO’s Innovation Learning Network (ILN) and several organizations, such as iNACOL and KnowledgeWorks.

At its core, competency-based education can be defined by five major shifts in how an educational system operates:

  • Learner agency
  • Learner experience (commonly known as curriculum)
  • Learner facilitation/support (teacher instruction)
  • Learner evidence (assessment)
  • Learner environment (both the culture and the physical space).

Please note that I intentionally reworded some common educational terms, such as using learner experience instead of curriculum. The reason is that a CBE system is built on the learner. It is not just learner-centered; it is learner-driven. A CBE system is built to fully support the passion, purpose and needs of each and every learner. The learner works to reach his or her potential in all aspects of life, college, and career readiness. Therefore, I have chosen to rebrand some common educational terms to make sure the “learner” is always at the forefront of the work we need to do.

If you are interested in adopting CBE in your school or district, these are the five shifts you will need to make in order to truly transform your educational system. You cannot change your educational system merely by changing the terms you use to describe it. There are a myriad of details that need to be addressed in overhauling a system. These shifts provide a conceptual framework to address those details.

Learner agency focuses on making sure the student has a voice and choice in his/her educational journey. They are involved in setting their goals, setting their learning objectives, setting their assessment levels and setting the pace of their progress.

Learner experience means that a curriculum is not just the content standards given to the students; it is also the context that a student brings to the content.

Learner facilitation and support flips the model of teacher as sage on the stage and cements the role of guide on the side.

Learner evidence revamps the entire notion of assessment of learning to assessment for learning.

And learner environment refocuses the culture to ensure that students have a significant presence in the ownership and direction of their learning.

This framework is designed to focus on the learner foremost, and to build an educational system that supports the learner completely. It was developed based on my experiences implementing competency-based education in my school district, as well as several publications from iNACOL and KnowledgeWorks. I curated the information and attempted to conceptualize it into a framework that can be easily understood by educators and community stakeholders so there can be action taken instead of confusion and inertia.

You can use this general overview of the five shifts to begin formulating a framework for transformation in your school or district. In future blog posts, I will address each shift in greater detail.

* This blog post first appeared on the Educause/NGLC blog site on May 2, 2017.

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Leadership: Flawed and Forgiven

As leaders in classrooms, buildings and districts return to a new school year, we are faced with the same daily demands from students, parents, and stakeholders.  We are expected to give our best every day, to be innovative, to be responsive and more.  And we meet those standards on most days.  And yet, with any innovative, responsive, and thoughtful leader, we make mistakes.

As reflective leaders, we can obsess on those mistakes.  And many times, our stakeholders obsess on them as well.  The truth is – we must remember – we tried.  We are flawed human beings, and we can grow every day from our mistakes.  In fact, we SHOULD grow from our mistakes.

As the pressure may grow and people focus on your mistakes, make sure you focus on what you can learn from those mistakes.  Let the noise of our errors remain outside of you, and let the growth happen within.

We are not perfect.  We are flawed – and we are forgiven.

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

iNACOL 2014

It was an extraordinary opportunity to attend the 2014 iNACOL Symposium.  I was able to learn so much about competency-based education, personalized learning and blended instruction.  Throughout this conference, one key them continued to arise – “change the mindset”.  Session after session spoke about the need to change the mindset of teachers, of administrators, of parents, of community members and of policymakers.  For our system to truly be transformed, each of these groups need to think differently about what is learning and how we develop a system that fully supports it.

Every group, that is, except students.  Students were lauded as willing and able and excited to learn in a new system, a new ecosystem.  Students are ready for this new system.  From this international conference, and from my interactions back home, I know there are teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and policy makers already with mindset to change the system.  In fact, they have not only the mind for it, they have the heart for it.  They have the fire for it.  And, with each day, we gain more skills for it.

From the WILL set to the SKILL set, we are ready.  We need to be.  My sons and daughters – and yours – need this transformed system of learning NOW.

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.

Teachers as Validators of Learning

As I continue to read about competency-based education and personalized learning, I continue to see a shift in education for the role of teachers.  For years, we have discussed that teachers should not be the “sages on the stage” but rather “the guides on the sides.”  We continue to discuss that teachers should be facilitators of learning.  They should support students in developing metacognitive skills, and they should help students apply knowledge instead of just teaching content.

 

As we continue to transform our industrial, factory-style model of education to a more personalized learning ecosystem, I am excited and intrigued with the transformation of the teaching profession as well.  I believe that for a truly personalized learning system to occur, teachers will need to let go of some of their “instructional” duties as currently defined.  There are so many opportunities to gain knowledge and practice skills beyond the scope of the classroom, that teachers will need to do less “teaching” and more validating.  No one, especially I, believes that the role of the teacher will be less in a personalized learning system.  I think the role will change.  In fact, I am inclined to believe the stature of an educator will actually grow.

 

As teachers will be called upon to check the learning progress of students, to see that the students are meeting the learning expectations of the school system whether through blended learning, direct instruction, or community internships, it will be teachers that will be looked to to validate the learning of the students.  Teachers will need to have strong content knowledge, learning styles knowledge and assessment techniques.  The stature of teaching should increase as more specialized skill sets will be needed in a new personalized learning ecosystem.  It is only be teachers who will have the brain research, the social skills knowledge, the content knowledge and the pedagogical knowledge to truly determine the extent of a student’s learning progress.

 

As we move toward a more personalized learning system, I am excited that the role of the teacher will be enhanced not minimized.  I am excited that new skill sets will be developed, and teachers, once again, will be at the forefront of the education profession.  I look forward to their leadership being validated – as it should be.

Jack Climbs the Rock

This weekend, my family attended a function that was outdoors with a lot of large rocks that were to be used for seating.  My son, Jack, decided that he was going to stand on the rock instead.  Instantly, when I noticed that Jack was trying to climb the rock, I tried to lift Jack up so it would be easier for him to stand on the rock.  Jack – all of 18 months old – swatted my hand away and carefully hoisted himself up on the rock.  He first knelt on the rock and then, once he got his bearings, stood up.  His smile was so large, you would have thought he had climbed a mountain.

 

I stood there both happy for Jack and frustrated with myself.  I was upset with myself because I almost robbed Jack of this moment – this purely joyous moment.  Like all good parents, I wanted Jack to be safe.  And he showed me he was as he climbed that rock alone.

 

When I return back to school, I hope I remember this lesson.  For our students to truly experience the joy of learning, they have to know the struggle.  They have to struggle alone.  And we have to be there – ready for support, ready to keep them safe, and ready to not be needed.  I hope Jack is just as happy with learning at 18 years as he is at 18 months.

 

Every educator needs to pledge to keep it so, make it so, for every student.  

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