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Competency Based Instruction in Action

Competency Based Instruction in Action

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, you will learn about how some schools are implementing competency-based education.

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In this tutorial, you'll hear about some real-life examples of competency-based education being used in K-12 schools. We'll first hear about an example of individualizing based on students' unique needs. Then you'll learn about some senior capstone projects, a non-graded school, and finally, an emphasis on student ownership of learning. Let's get started with the first example.

Green Hills Middle School implements something called a workshop day, in order to support the implementation CBE. This really focuses on individualizing students' learning based on students' unique needs. For example, on a geometry-focused workshop day, students are allowed to work on any geometry topic of their choosing.

Students begin by using a self-assessment to determine what they currently know and also to determine what they need help on. Students are then instructed to search out resources that might assist them. These resources could be electronic resources or apps on digital devices. They could be manipulatives or perhaps assistance from either peers or teachers.

Students are responsible for locating the resources that are going to help them to develop the knowledge and skills that they are still in need of. On these workshop days, students are not given specific directions about exactly what they need to do. Instead, each individual needs to choose what he or she needs and whatever is going to help him or her learn most effectively.

This student workshop day exemplifies competency-based education in a couple of ways. First, in CBE, learning objectives are supposed to be explicit and measurable. And this helps to empower students. In this situation, students understand the learning objectives that they're working towards, and students are empowered to measure their own progress towards the learning objectives and then to seek out the help that they need. So this also relates to another design principle of CBE that states that students need to receive rapid and differentiated support.

On this workshop day, teachers and other school personnel, and even students peers, are providing the support that students need as they work towards their objectives. A workshop day like this really focuses on student empowerment and student ownership of their learning. Students are allowed to work using flexible pacing on the skills that they need the most practice on at the current time. This helps each student meet his or her own learning objectives in a personalized way.

Another example of CBE in action is the senior capstone project at Fairview High School. Fairview seniors are allowed to choose a topic that they feel passionate about and develop a project that requires them to use the skills, competencies, and general knowledge that they have developed while in school. The topic needs to have personal meaning to the student. Some examples include social media, animal adoption, medical research, the legalization of drugs, or the obesity epidemic.

Throughout the project, these seniors each work with an expert mentor, who advises them as they work. This senior capstone project is a really powerful experience that embraces the aspect of competency-based education that states that we should be allowing students' voices and choices in their education. Students are able to choose a particular topic or issue that has personal meaning and then apply the skills that they've learned throughout their school careers in order to complete the project.

These senior capstone projects are a great example of CBE in action, because the project itself works as a summative assessment. In CBE, assessment is supposed to be a meaningful and positive learning experience for students. And that couldn't be more true, in this case.

Furthermore, in CBE, the learning outcomes that are emphasized need to include the application and creation of knowledge. Here, students are definitely applying their knowledge to real-world situations, and they're creating new products, as well. We can definitely understand how a project like this motivates students and thereby increases their productivity, and just creates more connections for them between their real lives and the work that they're completing as part of their school career.

Another example of competency-based education being implemented right now in K-12 schools is the non-graded Northwest Elementary School. In language arts, Northwest Elementary does not split students into grade level groupings. Instead, flexible groupings are used, based on student needs and interests, the particular learning activities or tasks that students are working on, or the individual competencies that are being focused on. Regrouping occurs frequently as students master various competencies.

This flexible grouping is a great example of the most fundamental principle of competency-based education. Students advance upon demonstrated mastery of the current competency or skill. Progress is not based on age or seat time in the classroom. It's based on a demonstrated mastery of the current skill. So in Northwest Elementary's language arts groupings, that idea of competency-based progression and pacing is fully embraced and supported. This helps students to truly meet all of their learning goals, instead of just being shuffled along the path with the rest of their classmates.

And finally, let's look at one more example; Clearwater Elementary, which has a focus on students' ownership of their own learning. Clearwater Elementary was not making adequate yearly progress in reading. Remember, adequate yearly progress, or AYP, is required by the No Child Left Behind Act. As a result of the failure to make AYP, the teachers actually conducted a school-wide achievement test. The goal of this assessment was to try to determine where the learning gaps were and also to identify individual student needs.

As a result, Clearwater Elementary has implemented a new approach to reading that is student-directed. In this approach, instead of having all students focusing on the same grade-level trade book or basal reader, each student selects his or her own reading materials. There are five different centers that students work in during language arts time-- reading to themselves, reading with a friend, listening, writing, and working on words or vocabulary. The teacher acts as a facilitator during language arts time, and this arrangement really helps students to take ownership of their own learning.

Clearwater Elementary's new approach to reading promotes the mastery of competencies, through increased student choice and through the use of personalisation, allowing students to work at their own levels and in accordance with their own unique interests. The situation at Clearwater Elementary was another example of assessment being a meaningful and positive learning experience for students. The school-wide achievement test provided teachers and students with valuable information that they used to make important decisions.

In CBE, teachers are encouraged to collaborate in order to determine student proficiency levels, and in order to identify student needs. And that definitely happened in this situation. Also, this is another example of students receiving the rapid and differentiated support that is called for by competency-based education. When it was determined that the school was not meeting AYP, drastic steps were taken in order to ensure that students received the support that they needed in order to increase their achievement. These students benefited from their teachers' quick and powerful actions.

In this tutorial, we looked at four different examples of competency-based instruction in action. In each example, we discussed how competency-based education is being embraced and how this benefits the students in each of those schools. So here's the chance for you to stop and reflect. Could you see yourself implementing any of the ideas from these four schools into your school environment?

To dive a little deeper and learn how to apply this information, be sure to check out the Additional Resources section associated with this video. This is where you'll find links targeted toward helping you discover more ways to apply this course material. Thanks for joining me today. Have a great day.

Notes on "Competency Based Instruction in Action"

(00:00 - 00:25) Introduction

(00:26 - 02:28) Individualizing Based on Needs

(02:29 - 04:10) Senior Capstone Project

(04:11 - 05:15) Non-Graded School

(05:16 - 07:21) Student Ownership of Learning

(07:22 - 07:36) Review

(07:37 - 08:02) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Langevin Amendment Supports Competency-Based Education

This is a YouTube video of Representative Jim Langevin from RI supporting a bill for Competency Based Education. He explains the importance of CBE in ensuring students are future-ready.

Competency-Based Learning in K-12 Schools

This descriptive post on the Next Gen Learning Blog explains what CBE looks like in practice in a high school classroom.