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Aurora Institute

Think of Competency Education as a GPS System

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

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

GPSWe still haven’t fully conquered the communication challenge regarding competency education, although we are getting closer with the help of Achieve’s Communication Toolkit.

Although this explanation written by three school board members from Chittenden South Supervisory Unit in the Shelburne News is focused on standards-based learning I think it is worth sharing because it can help us strengthen our communications. They start off with the analogy of a GPS system—helping students to reach their destination with lots of ways of getting there and then emphasize three important points. If we were to use the GPS as a metaphor — what are the 2-4 things we should emphasize in competency education? – how about making sure students get the learning they need for the next level; able to build and develop skills anywhere; schools responding to students when they need help; able to apply what they are learning to real-world problems?  Or would you start with pace? Is flexible pace really the most important aspect of competency education? How do we communicate that flexible pace doesn’t mean letting kids fall behind?

What is standards-based learning?

One way to think about SBL is through the metaphor of a Global Positioning System (GPS). Our goal as educators is to help students reach their destinations—the standards. In a standards-based system, education focuses on three areas:

Articulate: Educators design Learning Targets for their classes aligned with national, state, and local standards. These targets clearly articulate what students should know, understand, and be able to do for each unit of study. The targets are like the “destinations” in a GPS. We decide where we want to go, and we enter the location—we need to be specific about our destinations in order to get the best directions. Teachers, students, and parents are aware of the destinations, so there is no mystery about where we are headed.

Differentiate: Educators examine the strengths and needs of each student and determine strategies to help all students meet or exceed the articulated standards. Think of this as the actual map to the destination. Not all students are starting from the same location, so the routes they take may differ. It is the teacher’s job to know the map (and students) well enough to anticipate roadblocks, determine alternate routes, or to suggest scenic opportunities. In most cases, the students have the same destinations, but how and when they get there may vary.

Communicate: Educators report student progress and achievement at the end of each unit of study. These reports are aligned with the articulated Learning Targets. Think of these reports as the “blue dot” on a GPS. At any given time, we know our exact location towards the destination. The blue dot tells us where we are and how far we are from where we want to be. This is what the standards reports do as well: they let teachers, students, and parents know where the learners are in relation to specific destinations.

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If you have great examples of definitions, explanations, or messages that work please share. We need to find the very best there is out there to make it easier for us to engage our communities and stakeholders.