"By documenting each learning experience, project or lesson connected to each goal, you and your students are creating a robust paper trail that displays both student learning and teacher accountability."
Competency-based learning provides students with the opportunity to gain skills and knowledge through authentic experiences, targeted coaching, and goal-oriented thinking. However, many teachers and administrators transitioning toward CBL have concerns about documentation and grading since the approach is so different from what they’re used to. Here are a few tips and tricks to help tie CBL and the Common Core standards together in a way that demonstrates how you and your students are using classroom time for learning.
Begin the Year with Goal-Setting
Anybody who’s been in a classroom for more than five minutes knows the crucial importance of answering the question, “Why are we doing this?” If students don’t have a clear answer, it can be a challenge for them to buy in and engage with learning. On the other hand, when administrators and state officials who are years removed from the classroom see engaging, authentic learning experiences in action, they often ask, “What’s the connection to the curriculum?” Goal-setting is a great way to answer those questions for both sets of stakeholders while ensuring that high-quality learning is taking place.
As a teacher, you can create general grade-level or subject area-based goals that all students have to pursue in their own way. Each subsequent learning experience, coaching session or student project can be tied to one or more of those overarching knowledge and skill targets to show learners and administrators alike that you’re focusing on key standards from the Common Core and any other local curricula. However, some of the most powerful and leverageable insights come from student-generated goals. By encouraging students to articulate their own academic, professional and personal goals, you create an accountability system that’s much realer for them because they’re the ones who set the targets.
Once students have established goals, those documents should be housed securely in a Learning Management System (LMS) or another form of indestructible, loss-proof storage to be referred to and referenced throughout the school year. By documenting each learning experience, project or lesson connected to each goal, you and your students are creating a robust paper trail that displays both student learning and teacher accountability.
Create a Culture of Regular Reflection
Competency-based learning isn’t about learning the material to pass the test; it’s a mindset of experimentation and that often draws its power from internal takeaways and revelations rather than external evidence like a high numeric score. Obviously, that presents a major adjustment to the grading scale that’s been in use for the last 50 or so years. If you’re concerned that CBL reduces the number of small assessments that you were previously using for benchmarking or forming the foundation of a cumulative grade, reflection is the answer.
Student reflection is incredibly powerful because it gives you a direct line into how learners are thinking, feeling and engaging with material without creating the anxiety and high-stakes feel of a traditional test, quiz or graded assessment. As a teacher, you’ll gain better, more direct insights than you would from analyzing which questions they got wrong on a test or what they seem to be raising their hand about. While asking your students to reflect on their work or learning experiences might seem awkward to both you and them at first, it’s basically like instructing them to lift small weights: through repetition and persistence, they will quickly build the metacognitive skill that they need to succeed in the CBL environment and strengthen their approach as a learner.
For you, the teacher, these reflections provide opportunities for daily or weekly check-in assessments that you can check for completion, score if you want to and respond to in order to clear up student questions, provide useful coaching or build motivation. Housing these reflections in some kind of permanent database, such as an LMS, ensures that you, your students and any administrators or auditors have a clear, documented narrative of skill- and knowledge-based learning. In this way, student-generated reflections can actually serve as a holistic backbone to the results-oriented approach of competency-based learning.