What if teachers could no longer give B-, in Norway 2+?

Using competency-based learning, mastery learning, standards-based learning, or proficiency-based learning

This pedagogical approach goes by many names and I just read this article written by Michael B Horn. The idea behind this is changing from time being the constant to the learning. To quote:

In today’s system, time is held as a constant and each student’s learning is variable. Students move from concept to concept after spending a fixed number of days, weeks or months on the subject. Educators teach, sometimes administer a test, and move students on to the next unit or body of material regardless of their results, effort, and understanding of the topic. Students typically receive feedback and results—in the form of a letter grade—much later and only after they have progressed.

The solution is taking time for everyone to learn the material and not moving on before they do. Like this:

Instead of receiving a B-minus, students keep working at something until they demonstrate mastery. Failure is embedded in the process. A student might struggle for a long time with a concept and fail repeatedly until the proverbial light bulb goes off. And that failure is no longer attached to a high-stakes outcome.

I’m also reading the book Michael Horn refers to The Gift of Failure, by Jessica Lahey, and it reminds me of my encounter with parents and students in my role as head of the student council department at my school. Grades get in the way, parents in meetings do all the talking and the kids are unengaged and do not take ownership of their learning. As Lahey says it is better when the goals are self-determined rather than teacher or parent determined. When students establish their own goals for learning, they gain a sense of ownership and competence.

The key no doubt is engaging the students, letting them take ownership of their learning. I’m also reading this “Global Education Futures Report, Educational ecosystems for societal transformation”. Here they discuss four radical changes in educational systems.

A. Rise of learner-centered education and raising self-guided learners.
B. Creating Team, community and network-based education.
C Emerging global educational ecosystems, and
D. Evolving learning success metrics.

The last point is interesting because here they argue that the assessment of the skills needed now is impossible using traditional assessment methods. and that social and emotional intelligence and our abilities to cooperate and co-create are less tangible and therefore challenging to assess.

How this is done in a competency-based system I do not know. What I do know is that being a teacher has become increasingly difficult and that with all these new demands very time-consuming and difficult. At the same time we are constantly reading about overworked teachers in the Uk and the USA, and I’m sure teachers in other countries feel the same.

Implementing competency-based learning requires that you know about the challenges in advance. There are areas that can be difficult; examples are attendance, students handing in assignments late and how to lead with pace. Read more about that here.  The main point is that It’s all about students starting at different points, learning different amounts while moving towards common goals and reaching different points within a period of time.

Here are some points to remember, source Competency-works.org

PRINCIPLE 1: Build a Culture rooted in a growth mindset that supports risk-taking and help seeking.

PRINCIPLE 2: Utilize Assessments that are transparent, ongoing, and provide meaningful feedback to support student learning and agency. Reassessment is integral to competency education; however, it does not mean that students simply take tests over and over again until they pass. Together, students and teachers will work to understand what is confusing to the students, often reviewing or reinforcing early learning targets.

PRINCIPLE 3: Develop Embedded, Tiered, and Timely Interventions for just-in-time support that leads to successfully meeting or exceeding the learning targets. Conversely, competency-based schools always start where students are, not where they should be according to a grade-level curriculum. An important factor here is the grouping and regrouping of students according to their needs and the needs of the other students.
The goal is to deploy teaching staff around student needs so that students are working at their own level. Blended learning supports may include adaptive software that provides rapid feedback to students as they learn and create more practice time for skills that are harder for them to attain. It can also provide multiple modes of learning so that students can watch videos on the topic, review the teacher’s lectures several times if they don’t understand some concepts, and have some choice about how to pursue studying the topic and demonstrating their knowledge.

PRINCIPLE 4: Develop Extended Opportunities to Learn within and beyond traditional school times and settings, including internships, online learning, project-based learning, summer classes, and more.

PRINCIPLE 6: Implement a Continuous Improvement System that responds to keep students within or above pacing expectations.

I’m certain that this is absolutely the right way to go for schools. At the same time, I would take some of these parts and make them our own. The more our students succeed the better. Our graduation rate at our school is high already with over 90% of our students graduate  and moving on within 3 years. In addition we have students who need 4 years, and they are successful too. As I see it, it is a matter of getting everyone through high school. That is not saying that everyone should get an A or B+ in every subject. That is the same as saying that everyone can be successful athletes. That everyone can make the A-team. I am currently on the C team for running at our school and no amount of practice can change that. I guess it is more like this; everyone should have a chance at succeeding at some level and we should celebrate the learning, not the grades.


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