Independent Learning Plans

ChugachSchools

Alaska’s Chugach School District (CSD) is the first district to transform itself full into a competency-based school. In a blog series on CSD, Bob Crumley, CSD’s current superintendent, described their transformation, “We began to talk with community members about what they wanted for their children and their schools. We realized that first and foremost we needed to center schools around our students. We needed to be more comprehensive as we structured schools that would prepare them for life beyond graduation.”

To that end, CSD set out to develop a mission statement that could guide them in implementing this new model of learning. Here’s what they came up with:

“The Chugach School District is committed to developing and supporting a partnership with students, parents, community and business which equally shares the responsibility of empowering students to meet the needs of the ever changing world in which they live. Students shall possess the academic and personal characteristics necessary to reach their full potential. Students will contribute to their community in a manner that displays respect for human dignity and validates the history and culture of all ethnic groups.”

This competency-based model is made up of four interconnected parts:

  • Student empowerment: “Students need to be able to seek out things they are personally interested in, create a plan, and find the resources. We are always looking for ways to students to learn beyond the classroom.”
  • Assessment systems: “CSD uses a common scoring (grading) system with Emerging, Developing, Proficient, and Advanced. Reaching 80 percent on an assessment indicates proficiency and 90 percent is advanced.” – “Before a student moves onto to the next level there is a cumulative assessment based on up to three assessments. The first, described as the analytical assessment, is the student’s reflection on his or her learning. Second, there is a skill assessment that focuses on the specific content. The third, a performance assessment, is often co-designed with students. In this assessment, they show evidence of their ability to apply their skill.
  • Domains of learning (content areas): “ten content domains of standards: mathematics, technology, social sciences, reading, writing, culture & communication (student will understand and appreciate the unique aspects of their own culture, as well as Alaska Native or world cultures), personal/social/service (the values and skills necessary to reach one’s full potential and foster the development of those around them), career development, PE/health (healthy interpersonal strategies that apply in both rural and urban environments), and science.”
  • Preparing for life: “We have to be a slingshot. There is a momentum that builds to propel students forward beyond their graduating high school. They need to have a wide array of opportunities. I don’t know if we have to help them find their specific direction, as it is going to change a lot in their late teens and early twenties. It’s a rarity for teens to know exactly what they want to do and successfully pursue it. We need to help them have the capacity to take advantage of changing interests.”

For an in-depth analysis of CSD’s model, below is the blog post series that I pulled the above quotes from. It’s worth reading the whole series, but particularly the first two posts.

Post 1 – Driven by Student Empowerment: Chugach School District
Post 2 – Chugach School District’s Performance-Based Infrastructure
Post 3 – Chugach Teachers Talk about Teaching
Post 4 – Ownership, Not Buy-In: An Interview with Bob Crumley
Post 5 – Performance-Based Education in a One-Room School House
Post 6 – Teaching through the Culture: Native Education in a Performance-Based System
Post 7 – Performance-Based Home Schooling

To read about other schools that are implementing Independent Learning Plans, click here to read an article from Getting Smart.com. You can read more about the story behind CSD by reading the book Delivering On The Promise.

The movement towards competency based instruction is starting to pick up steam and I am looking forward to seeing the results.

Age-Based Schooling? It Doesn’t Make Sense

schoolkidsWhy do we divide children into grades and classrooms based on age? Niccolò Viviani (@NiccolViviani) of Exosphere writes that it just doesn’t make sense. In an article on Medium.com, he writes:

We all know (it’s true for everyone and each of us!) that what you learn out of curiosity and interest sticks with you forever, while what you study out of threat of punishment will fade away very soon after the test is passed. Given that different people are curious and interested in different topics at different times, if we really care about learning we shouldn’t build a system that force every child on earth to study this when he is 7 years old and that when he is 7 years old and a half, this other thing when he is 12 and that one when he is 13.

Niccolo points out that in the real world, we have to interact with people of all different ages. Various circumstances and contexts lead us to take on different roles in relationship to other people – employee, manager, colleague, etc.. – but in the artificially constructed classroom, there are usually only two roles for students: peer and subordinate. One of the results, Niccolo says, is that school kids become college students who accept everything their professors teach without a second thought. One can see that same problem manifested by people listening indiscriminately to the TV pundit or the smooth-talking politician as well. Niccolo writes that this phenomenon is “based on the assumption that only experts could teach.”

In contrast, here’s the model that Exosphere proposes:

Older and younger students would play different roles in the learning environment and the variety would benefit all of them. Older students relating to younger peers would learn to tolerate and act respectful towards them and teaching them would become their best way to foster self-confidence about what they learned.

Click here to read the whole article.

To compliment this article, here’s Sir Ken Robinson’s world famous TED Talk, Changing Education Paradigms: