The Aurora Institute’s 2019 definition of competency-based education (CBE) includes a Frequently Asked Question section. One of those questions is: What do students experience in a competency-based school? Wherever you are in the process of implementing a CBE system, I invite you to re-read the answer and consider how you might use these examples as a tool for reflection, collecting feedback data from your students, or setting a goal for the coming school year. See below for four ideas to get you started in using these examples of what we hope every student will experience in a CBE system.
What do students experience in a competency-based school?
Below are examples of experiences that every student should have in a well-developed personalized, competency-based system.
- I am fully supported in developing academic knowledge and skills, the ability to apply what I have learned to solve real-world problems, and the capacities I need to become an independent and lifelong learner.
- I feel safe and am willing to put forward my best effort to take on challenging knowledge and skills because I have a deep sense of belonging; feel that my culture, the culture of my community, and my voice are valued; and see on a daily basis that everyone in the school is committed to my learning.
- I have the opportunity and support to learn the skills that allow me to take responsibility for my learning and exercise independence.
- I have access to and full comprehension of learning targets and expectations of what proficiency means.
- I have the opportunity to learn anytime, anywhere, with flexibility to take more time when I need it to fully master or go deeper and to pursue ways of learning and demonstrating my learning that are relevant to my interest and future.
- I am able to own my education by learning in ways that are effective for me with the support that allows me to be successful.
- I receive timely feedback, instruction, and support based on where I am on my learning progression and my social-emotional development to make necessary progress on my personalized pathway to graduation.
- My learning is measured by progress on learning targets rather than level of participation, effort, or time in the classroom.
- Grades or scoring provide feedback to help me know what I need to do to improve my learning process and reach my learning goals.
- I can advance to the next level or go deeper into topics that interest me as soon as I submit evidence of learning that demonstrates my proficiency.
Ideas for Using the Student Experience Examples
Below are ideas for four ways to use these examples of student CBE experiences in your own practice. These offerings are a starting point – I hope they spark your thinking and generate more ideas.
Reflect on Your Own
Take a bit of time to journal or think about each example. Try one or more of the following questions. For each question, push yourself to explain your thinking with evidence and bring an equity lens to your reflection by considering who might not be accessing the example experiences (and why).
- Which example(s) do you believe are true for your students? Explain.
- Which example(s) do you believe are not yet or not fully true for all or some of your students? Explain the implications for students.
- Which example(s) are an area of focus or strength in creating learning experiences for your students? Explain.
- Which example(s) do you aspire to in your practice? How could working on this enhance access and equity?
Reflect with Your Team or School
If you are working with a team or are part of a school-wide CBE implementation effort (and I hope that you are!), start with the above individual reflection questions and engage in discussion to explore patterns or divergence in perspectives. Here are a few questions to try.
- Where do we agree on areas of strength in the CBE experience we are cultivating in our school?
- Where do we agree on opportunities for further development in the CBE experience we are cultivating in our school?
- Are there areas where we have different perspectives on whether – or to what extent – we are providing the experiences that every student should have in a well-developed personalized, competency-based system?
- Are we providing CBE experiences equitably to all students, and specifically historically underserved and marginalized students?
Ask Your Students About Their Experiences
Create a survey using a simple strongly disagree – strongly agree scale and collect input from your students about their experiences. An alternative or additional activity is to use the statements as part of a continuum dialogue where students move around the room based on whether or not they agree or disagree with each example. You could also do the continuum exercise with your colleagues. Either way, if you do use the continuum dialogue, it’s a good idea to warm up with some practice rounds on lighter topics (e.g., pineapple on pizza?).
Once you have data from students, you can also circle back to the reflection activities to analyze the feedback.
Identify a Focus Area
Pick one area in which to try something new. Finding an entry point into a next step for your learning is a great way to continue to build and refine your practice and your system. Whether on your own, with your team, or as part of a formal learning and continuous improvement process, setting a goal helps us move forward in our practice. Plus, as a bonus, working on our own goals can provide insight into how students experience goal setting in their own learning.
Keep Learning and Exploring
I hope the above examples of student CBE experiences provide a great starting point for conversation and reflection. If you want to dig deeper into specific areas of your system with a student-centered, equity lens, check out Designing for Equity: Leveraging Competency-Based Education to Ensure All Students Succeed. The report has example look-fors and red flags, as well reflection questions, for each of the nine equity principles including:
- Nurture Strong Culture of Learning and Inclusivity
- Support Students in Building Skills for Agency
- Ensure Consistency of Expectations and Understanding of Proficiency
Good luck and if you are looking for additional resources, try browsing past posts on the CompetencyWorks Blog with its many stories of lessons learned by innovators and early adopters from across the field of K-12 competency-based education.
Laurie Gagnon is the Aurora Institute’s CompetencyWorks Program Director.