Skip to content
Aurora Institute

Creating a Common Language of Learning: Habits of Learning

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, How to Get Started, Rethink Instruction

studyThis is the thirteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

What are the skills students need to manage their own learning, and how are they developed?

Creating empowered students isn’t about moving them through a curriculum. It requires schools to organize their learning experiences to help students build all the skills (referred to by many terms, including habits of learning) to become independent learners ready to pursue college and careers.

In order to separate out academics from behavior in the grading system that indicates how students are progressing in reaching proficiency (i.e., a progress monitoring system), competency-based districts and schools must establish a set of skills or behaviors that are important for learning or are needed for college and career readiness. For example, at the Sanborn Regional School District, teachers have learned that assessing behaviors in elementary school students is an important step in helping students make academic progress. The Responsive Classroom CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-Regulation) project focuses on developing work-study habits early on. (You can read more about this effort here.)

The most advanced competency-based districts have discovered that these skills and behaviors are in fact an essential element of creating student agency and improving academic achievement. They are beginning to think about what the habits should be developmentally and how they interact with efforts to address social-emotional learning and the school culture.

Helping students stay on a meaningful pace toward graduation goals, regardless of their grade and academic levels, requires attention to students’ strengths in the habits of learning as well as adequate coaching from teachers. Jaime Robles explains Lindsay Unified School District’s approach as, “Our lifelong learning competencies have been developed around our strategic design for graduate outcomes. We have created a school-wide focus on progress. This starts with frequent check-ins. We do not wait until the end of the semester; we are constantly checking. We review learner progress and indicate whether they are at a 3 (on pace), 2 (indicating they can catch up), or 1 (indicating that the student needs additional support). However, we do more than look at learner pace, we are also reviewing their scores in lifelong learning and seeing what areas need to be addressed and supported by learning facilitators or in advisories.”

Three Things to Think About

#1 Only after defining the knowledge taxonomy, structure, and continuum of learning should districts seek out the Learning Management Systems and digital infrastructure to support learning. Some districts make that decision too early and are then constrained by the existing product architecture. It will help to include the chief technology officers and/or technology department in the early conversation around structure and the learning continuum so they can understand the vision and begin to seek out potential technological solutions.

#2 Districts and schools can save time by adopting approaches developed by other schools or working with vendors. However, invest time and resources to support the process of calibrating the determination of proficiency, as it is part of the process for creating a competency-based system. The process of creating the I&A model can also help educators shake off the beliefs of the traditional education system and embrace the assumptions underlying competency education.

#3  Remember that the work of developing the I&A model is never fully completed in the first attempt. Even the most developed competency-based districts tend to have some but not all of this in place, or they are continuing to refine. Thus, it’s best to think of this as a work in progress. It’s a meaningful process for educators to unpack the standards, think about the level of knowledge, turn it into user-friendly language, and discuss how they would know if a student had mastered the skill or content. Make sure that realistic goals are set. Learn as much as you can from other districts so that not everything is built from scratch.

For more information, explore this whole blog series:

Blog #1 Introducing Implementing Competency Education in K–12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders

Blog #2 What Is Competency Education?

Blog #3 Investing in Shared Leadership

Blog #4 Constructing a Shared Journey of Inquiry, Shared Vision, and Shared Ownership

Blog #5 Engaging the Community

Blog #6 Creating the Shared Purpose

Blog #7 Investing in Student Agency

Blog #8 Clarifying the Overall Pedagogical Approach

Blog #9 Configuring the Instruction and Assessment Model

Blog #10 Constructing a Common Language of Learning

Blog #11 Creating a Common Language of Learning: A Continuum of Learning

Blog #12 Creating a Common Language of Learning: Rubrics and Calibration