One of the first things teachers and teams ask for when we begin talking about student-centered proficiency-based learning is an example of what it looks like. I tend to go here with teams and teachers after learning targets are in place; I think having something in place makes it easier to build the rest of the vision. (See Step One: Separate the Baby from the Bathwater.) To help people picture what a student’s day might look like in a competency-based system, I share this narrative with them:
Bobby walks into his team wing ready for the day to begin. It is early October and he has settled into his team and schedule. They spent the last few weeks building a team culture and working to understand where they are in their learning. At this point, Bobby feels like he knows where he belongs and is ready to jump in to his learning.
At the end of advisory, Bobby heads over to his numeracy workshop class. When he walks into the room his teachers, Ms. Brown and Ms. Green, have posted a problem on the whiteboard. He and his classmates work on it independently for a few minutes, then they are told to get into groups and share their answers and how they solved it. Ms. Brown and Ms. Green walk around and check in with each group.
After some whole class discussion around the problem and how it relates to the target they have been working on, Bobby’s class splits up into different groups. Some kids will spend time on Khan Academy or IXL practicing different skills. Another group of kids will work with Ms. Brown on multiplying fractions, a skill they need some extra help with. Bobby joins a group with Ms. Green; she is giving a mini-lesson on dividing fractions. Before the end of class, he also has time to practice his skills on the computer. At the end of class, Bobby reviews his work for the day and records it on his progress tracking chart, and quickly thinks about what he needs to do during his next math class in order to stay on track.
Bobby’s next class is literacy workshop with Mr. Blue and Ms. Red. A few classes ago, his teachers asked the class to write a narrative about anything they wanted,using everything they knew about writing narratives. Since then, they have been looking at different stories as if they were writers themselves, pulling out tricks and ideas that they could use in their own stories. Today, Bobby’s teachers are going to help them set their own writing goals using the narrative they wrote and some of their work from last year. Tomorrow they will start generating ideas for their own stories.
After his morning of workshops, Bobby heads to lunch and motor-break. He finds his friends in the cafeteria and makes plans to play four square. Once motor-break is over, Bobby goes to band while the rest of his team has target time.
When Bobby and the other band students return to the team, it is time for applied learning. Bobby and his teammates are working towards answering the question, “How does where we come from impact who we are?” He knows that the project is addressing the social studies targets related to culture and geography, and will incorporate narrative writing targets as well as reading targets. Since it is very early on in the project, Bobby knows he will still be spending time with his teachers to take in and process information related to the learning targets the project will assess. He also knows that since science is not a main focus of the current project, some of his afternoon will be spent working on science targets separate from the project. There is some math in the project, and today Ms. Brown is going to pull two groups for an intervention on scale. He is on track for the scale targets, so no intervention session today. Bobby is really thankful that his teachers have posted out in the team gathering a schedule for today’s applied learning time:
It took a few days, but now Bobby and his teammates are in the swing of the shifting schedules in applied learning time. There are usually some required mini lessons and work times. What they are and what he needs to be doing during work time can change depending on where he is in his target work, and what the focus of the project is. Today, as part of Group B, Bobby decides to do the geo mini-lesson first, so he heads to Mr. Blue’s room. After science time, he will go to Ms. Red’s room for the reading mini-lesson.
Bobby pulls out his matrix for the social studies target he is working on. His teachers have really thought about what the students need to stay organized, and given them plenty of tools and strategies to help. In addition to the posted schedule in the gathering area, Bobby has a progress tracking tool for each of his learning targets. He uses those all the time to keep track of where he is and what his next steps are. Bobby also relies on his daily and weekly goal setting sheets to keep himself on track and plan his time.
At about 1:40, Ms. Red wraps up the reading mini-lesson and Bobby notates his progress tracking tool. He finds his buddies working in a corner, and he joins them for the last half hour of applied learning time. Bobby looks through the work he needs to do, and decides to watch the video about cultural diffusion before working on summarizing the reading about the aspects of culture he needs to do. He gets through the video and partway through the reading before it is time to check in on his goal sheets. Bobby and his teammates all look at what they had planned to do this week, and make adjustments to their plan depending on what they got done today. Tomorrow, there is going to be a group discussion Bobby wants to participate in about cultural diffusion, so he decides to finish his summary for homework. The bell rings, and Bobby heads back to his homeroom for the end of the day.
This is only one version of what a student’s experience might be. There is no one right way to do it. The key is to imagine what you want your class, or team, to look like and feel like while aiming for the goals of a learner-centered, proficiency-based philosophy. Once you have the vision, start pulling out the things that need to be planned, created, and put in place to make it happen.
Courtney Belolan works at RSU 2 in Maine where she supports K-12 teachers with performance-based, individualized learning. Courtney works closely with teams and teachers as a coach, and with the school and district leadership teams as an instructional strategist. Courtney has worked as a 6-12 literacy and instructional coach, a middle level ELA teacher, an environmental educator, and a digital literacy coach. Her core beliefs include the idea that the best education is one centered on student passions and rooted in interdisciplinary applications, and that enjoying learning is just as important as the learning itself.