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Aurora Institute

Threshold Concept: Pedagogical Innovations Based on Learning Sciences

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Susan Patrick, , ,

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction

This is the twentieth article in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

Learning models should be rooted in the research about how students learn best (the learning sciences), with any redesign putting student success at the center. One way to to design a system based on learning sciences research is to consider how educators are engaged in teaching as inquiry where “inquiry is the state of identifying student learning problems, hypothesizing on causes, investigating and testing causal links, and acting on the findings to improve outcomes,” according to Dr. Linda Bendikson.1

Using research and evidence as a foundation for ‘inquiry’ allows all levels of the system to engage in deep conversations around what is working in student learning and how educators are central to systemic improvement. It is important for educators to question how they are using an inquiry approach to improve culturally responsive teaching, as well.

In competency-based systems, we must engage in tough conversations around outdated pedagogical approaches. It is time to critically analyze how the current time-based models may be barriers to addressing learner needs. We should examine how we assess and determine whether our assessment strategies are consistent with the learning sciences research on how students learn best. In addition, we need to determine if our pedagogical approaches align with research on student motivation and meeting kids where they are at the appropriate level of readiness, whether the learning strategies employed are truly fit for purpose. We must ensure we are designing for equity using research on how students learn best, youth development theory, and evidence-based approaches.

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1Linda Bendikson. Inquiry – A Much Abused Word. The University of Auckland Centre for Educational Leadership, September 2014.–a-much-abused-word#.WQNbP1PysXo.