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Aurora Institute

Summer Reading on Competency-Based Education

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

Is it summer yet? It feels like the rate of districts turning to competency-based education is increasing (I just returned from a meeting in Michigan where I learned of at least eight districts advancing toward a competency-based system), and certainly our rate of learning is. Although I actually hope that everyone disconnect for a few weeks during the summer and not think about competency education, I did promise to provide an updated summer reading list. I’ve organized the list into categories: learning sciences; for newbies seeking to understand what competency education is; building commitment; preparing for implementation; and thinking ahead on the issues and challenges in the field of competency-based education.

For Everyone: Let’s Become Experts on the Learning Sciences

The more I delve into the learning sciences (I’m in my third year and just starting to feel that I know enough to be able to critique, question, and apply it), the more I realize that it might be a valuable entry point into the process of challenging the underlying beliefs upon which the traditional system rests. We created a summary of some of research informing competency-based education in Levers and Logic Models. However, my recommendation is to take the time to read NeuroTeach. It is structured to help you become conscious of the practices aligned with mind, brain, and education (MBE) research.

I also recommend that everyone become familiar with the framework of Building Blocks for Learning (I think this will become a common language before long). It organizes the skills and mindsets for healthy development, school readiness, mindsets for self and school, perseverance, and independence and sustainability into one framework. These are the skills and mindsets that we need to develop for students to take ownership and be advocates for their education. These are the skills for lifelong learning. These are the skills for making a successful transition to adulthood. You might want to start with the white paper. However, I think anyone who considers themselves a leader in a district or school or in the field of competency-based education should become familiar with the research in the two papers upon which Building Blocks for Learning is based:

You’ll keep hearing about Building Blocks for Learning at CompetencyWorks, as we have incorporated it into the logic models and in how we define lifelong learning skills. Thus the skills and mindsets in Building Blocks for Learning are both foundational skills and outcomes.

For Newbies Trying to Understand What Competency-Based Education Is

The best resource to understand competency-education continues to be Delivering on the Promise by a team that was involved with Chugach School District. I also suggest reading a few of the mini-case studies based on our visits to districts and states. To help you build deeper understanding you might neet a framework to gather ideas across the case studies. You could either use the quality design principles found in Quality and Equity by Design or the frameworks in Levers and Logic Models. For example, you could list the ideas you hear that are examples of the principles of creating a culture of learning and inclusivity or transparency. Or you could select one of the logic models such as professional practice and list exemplars of the practices when you discover them in the case studies.

For Districts Moving to the Commitment Stage

Engaging the community in thinking about what they want for their students is an important step in building the shared purpose needed for launching and sustaining the transformative process. However, a preliminary step is engaging school board members and leaders (organizational and natural) to consider personalized, competency-based education and build their support. Consider Delivering on the Promise or the story of Lindsay Unified in Beyond Reform: Systemic Shifts Toward Personalized Learning.

Preparing for Implementation: Understanding the Core Components of Competency Education

In the last two years, there have been several books written that delve into the core components of competency-based education. All of the books are rock-solid, with at least one author who has been involved in actually implementing competency-based education. There are loads of helpful information and stories, and you will find nuggets of insights in each of them. However, be forewarned: none provide a complete look at competency education. We still need a book that provides rich insights into the issues related to creating a culture of learning and inclusivity, including integrating culturally responsive education and challenging bias.

You might find the earlier paper Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders helpful. I do think it could be updated to reflect the different entry points now being used and how the shape of that initial doorway shapes the implementation pathway.

Thinking Ahead On The Issues And Challenges In The Field Of Competency-Based Education

Since the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education in 2017, we have been updating/finalizing the papers on the key issues facing the field of competency education (the last one that looks at quality design principles will be released in early September). If you have been working in competency education for several years and haven’t read them yet, please do so. We need everyone thinking and working together to figure out these challenges. You could start with Quality and Equity by Design, as it provides an overview of the four challenges. However, I think the papers themselves are so rich that it is well worth your time to read them. Don’t just read them. Engage with them with your pen in hand to scribble questions, critiques of the ideas, and where the ideas spark A-HA! Moments.

Just a Few More

Here are a few more resources that were helpful in enriching my understanding or challenging my assumptions during the past year that you might find useful. We’d love to know what you have found helpful during the year. Please forward to me so we might share them with others.