Competency-Based Education revisited

Why Competency-Based Education Is Exciting And Where It May Stumble

This headline caught my attention because even if I am a great fan of this way to organized school, I do see how and why it could be difficult. I have read articles on how well this system works, but also how difficult it is to implement it in the whole school or whole school systems.  I also read this article in October 2018, “Maine went all in on ‘proficiency-based learning’ — then rolled it back. What does that mean for the rest of the country?” In 2012, Maine passed a law changing how high school diplomas were awarded. To earn one, students would have to demonstrate that they had mastered the material in eight subjects. Advocates said this would better prepare students to compete in the future economy. I can relate to the teachers who are concerned about how to be an efficient teacher when you are trying to teach everything to everyone. How can you manage 30 students moving at different paces? It will quickly seem like an obstacle to many. This are questions I need answers to before I would attempt to implement this in my own school. Many argue that this method is better suited in subjects like science, math, and I would agree that I would probably start with math. In middle school, you can use the flipped classroom system to ensure that all the students can see the teacher model how to do the different tasks. When asked the students like hearing the teacher explain and that they can watch as many times as they want. But they still want the teacher to discuss math with the whole class, and they like to be able to show their competency doing math problems on the whiteboard in front of the class. The only difference between this and the traditional classroom is that they have had the opportunity to learn the material at their own pace. That makes all the difference.

Across the state, districts struggled to define what “proficiency” meant and teachers struggled to explain to students how they would be graded. Those challenges, plus strong backlash from parents, caused the state to scrap the experiment earlier this year, allowing districts the choice to return to traditional diplomas. “If you don’t have the buy-in of your community, you’re in for a world of hurt,” Source: Chalkbeat

In other words, even if you implement the system, you have to continuously work on it, ensuring that everyone is on board and that all the teachers know how to do this. That means that every time you get a new teacher onboard you have to ensure that they have the know-how to do this and to do this well. But before we continue, watch the video below to get a better idea about what Competency-based Education is.

MIT professor Justin Reich is interested in the conversation around competency-based education because it touches on some fundamental problems in the system right now. He’s not convinced competency-based systems will be the solution for everyone, but he has seen positives come out of communities who are trying to implement it.

“It forces or compels people to think really carefully about what it is we want students to know, to do, to believe, and to have conversations that are not just within one person’s classroom or department, but across departments, “ Reich said. “They’re thinking really carefully about what it looks like for students to be on a trajectory.”

That kind of coherence is key to innovative change, Reich said. And often it’s the incremental changes, not the huge innovations, that ultimately transform systems. So while competency-based education in its most radical form may not end up being a viable solution for many schools, elements of the reform may make a big difference for educators and students where these conversations are happening.

At competency-based schools Reich has visited, school is still recognizable to him. The differences are more subtle; teaches are on the same page about what students need to know and be able to do at each stage of their learning. Students know what the expectations are, and there’s a clear system to track students through their progression.  Source: MindShift

If you are looking for initiatives that are combining Competancy-based learning with personalized learning you should look at Summit Public Schools, a charter network with major Silicon Valley backing. It is an “efficiency-driven reform” and “student-centered reform” based on personalized learning.

The software is a crucial part of Summit’s approach—and an increasingly important component of personalized learning in schools around the USA. using software called the Summit Learning Platform. Designed in partnership with Facebook. the software provides students with a daily overview of their responsibilities and progress, which are marked against their yearly personalized academic goals. It does so by centralizing every student’s various goals, assignments, drafts, tests, self-reflections, grades, and feedback from their teachers—making a bet that such an immediate and continuous feedback loop promotes student ownership over their own learning. The platform also aims to promote more individualized learning experiences: Students who complete all assignments can take on additional tasks and stretch themselves, and those who struggle can request extra tutoring. Source: Mother Jones

My fear would definitely be a school where most of the learning is driven by software more like a playlist that maps the learning for every learner.  I realize that the benefits are that by doing this you free up the teachers for more individual coaching. And in a combination with classroom instructions and discussions, it is a benefit for the students.  I’m still going to go with Vygotsky’s theories that stress the fundamental role of social interaction in the development of cognition. And that community plays a central role in the process of “making meaning. I would be skeptical of any software taking a major role in the learning, but I have of course not tried this software.

I’m still intrigued and interested in pursuing ways to ensure that all our students learn to capacity and that they succeed in school. No learner should feel that they are destined to fail a class when they work hard and are interested in learning. Every child should experience that the can master the subjects they are taking in school. That is why I am planning on enrolling in this competency-based education in a free online course offered by EdX beginning  Jan. 31, 2019. Let me know if you are too!

Participants will hear from experts and on-the-ground practitioners about the positive and negatives of competency-based models. Reich hopes teachers, district leaders, school board members, parents and community members will participate in the six-week course so they can go back to their communities and start informed conversations about the best way forward in their unique contexts.

More about the work in Maine. 



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