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Aurora Institute

#iNACOL16 Day Four Learnings on the Run

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Lead Change and Innovation

Jim Rickabaugh

Resetting the Classroom Power Dynamics: Every person I’ve met from WI is so visionary, so creative, so dedicated to figuring things out systemically. Every time I get a few minutes with Jim Rickabaugh, previously the director of the Personalized Learning Institute at CESA#1 (he’s still involved as an advisor — Ryan Krohn is now the director), I feel like he opens up door after door of insights. Here are a few:

  • Different Pathways: We aren’t ready to commit to one model or one best way of implementation. Our work in personalized, competency-based education isn’t mature yet. We may discover that there are very different pathways.
  • Learning Leaders: We focus too much on instruction and instructional leaders. We want our focus to be on learning and leaders who manage learning. “Learning leaders” have to think about the whole school, the entire learning environment, and what students are learning beyond school.
  • Learning Targets and Beyond: When we focus only on specific assessments, we are asking the question, “Did you learn this or that?” However, if there is robust, inquiry-based or “deeper” learning, then we should also ask the more open question, “What did you learn?” A good caution for us – we want to be intentional and we want to include learning beyond the anticipated. Deeper learning positions us to learn more about our own learning and to be generative in our learning.
  • Do Students Feel they Belong?: Disciplinary rates are an indicator of how engaged students are and how much they feel that they belong (in other words, how inclusive the school is). Robust personalized learning in a competency-based environment should be resetting the power dynamics in a school and in the classroom. In traditional schools, sanctions are compliance-based. In PL/CBE, our goal is to help students to commit to their own learning. So if students are resistant to power, then there is something going on and we need to listen to the students. When there is nothing to fight or resist against, because the goal is for you to take ownership of your own learning, then there is some other pain that needs our attention. Rickabaugh mentioned that he had heard of schools repurposing the position of assistant principal because discipline problems had so dramatically reduced.

Evidence of Learning, Not Assessment: At the discussion on emerging issues, David Ruff of Great Schools Partnership raised the idea that what we need to be focusing on is having students provide evidence of learning rather than taking assessments. He suggests that our system is assessment-based rather than focusing on how we know students are learning. Susan Patrick added that in order to do this we need to be investing in teacher judgement – the ability for teachers to assess proficiency, identify misconceptions, and intervene as needed. Furthermore, we will need to invest in mechanisms that help calibrate (tune or moderate) so that teachers in different schools in different districts (and maybe in different states?) will assess proficiency in the same way.

Focusing on evidence of learning rather than as a system of assessments seems to me to be a profound point and will open up very meaningful doors to re-creating an education system focused on learning rather than time.

Implementation Decision Trees: On Friday morning, I bumped into Tom Vander Ark, Getting Smart, who is always, always thinking. We dived into a conversation about how we had to make implementation easier for districts. For some, enterprise approaches, where one model is selected for a district, will work. For others, portfolio approaches, using a common competency infrastructure (big competencies and sets of standards), will be preferred. He suggested the idea that what we need are decision trees for districts and schools that can accommodate different overall approaches and entry points. I think he is onto something – although it requires a highly interactive product to accommodate the different entry points.

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