Competency-Based Education: Quotes and Notes
Competency-Based education is another opportunity for educators to speak in acronyms. This makes us feel fancy as we retreat to our windowless hovels in the basements of countless 1960′s-era, anti-riot buildings.
Seriously, though, CBE is a way of individualizing education by keeping track of individual competencies and allowing for asynchronous projects and learning. Teachers change into project managers, and students are forced into the role of project leaders. I use BlueHarvest to keep track of it all.
Competency-Based education (CBE) in my classroom looks like this: There’s a line of students about 5-6 long that are waiting to have a conference with me. I have a copious list of questions connected to each standard ready to go. The other 20 or so students are buried in computers, posters, calling contacts for their projects, or working somewhere off site. None of them are working on the same thing, and all projects have been initiated by students and vetted by me.
Here’s a flow chat I made for parent-teacher conferences!
Competency-Based Education is a natural offshoot of the standards-based grading philosophy. If we’re going to make it explicit what kids are to know, and we’re going to put a heavier weight on communication of progress on those standards, it stands to reason that the timeline and method by which these standards are met is arbitrary.
At its core CBE allows students to approach material in their own way. Many students are uncomfortable with this at first and often feel that the instructor has “left them to flounder” or that they’ve been “forced into an independent study.”
I would argue that these sentiments are remnants of a system where students are used to being led from idea to idea with little concern for the narrative arc of the course — by teacher or student.
Traditionally, students spend very little time in the planning stages of learning. As all adults figure out, the success of any endeavor–whether it be learning, building something, or throwing a party–lies in equally in the planning and the execution. I want to help students through this realization.
Take this quote from a recent convert:
This [CBE] is way harder because you always make me connect my previous projects to the one I’m doing. I have include more than one standard in a project, no matter how hard I try to stay on task.
This student seems to have a negative emotion tied to this. I have effervescent glee:
Here’s another gem:
Yea, my friends say they don’t like you as much as they did last quarter, but they feel like they’re doing more work and learning more than they ever have in other classes.
I can’t vouch for the trustworthiness of that comment, but I’ll take the connotations.
It takes roughly 90 minutes to administer 10 oral examinations that are deep enough to determine whether a student is competent. If my students aren’t working in groups, this means about 10 other students did not get to talk with me that day. So it takes about two blocks to give students the time they need to either: get an assessment of the negative space between them and mastery, demonstrate mastery, or simply talk over some content.
Here’s a cherub talking about project design:
I was just planning on making PowerPoints for everything, but after the first two didn’t really teach me anything, and you kept making me go back and answer harder questions, I made this children’s book about a hot dog that gets digested instead.
The student then went on to ace the question-and-answer portion of the examination, whereas he normally faltered even being able to refer to his hamstringing PowerPoint slides.
Finally, I caught myself chastising a student who was sitting in the back of my room being a bit too loud as I was giving an oral exam.
“Work on something! Anything!” I snapped.
Normally for me this would be a classic poor teacher-ism. Students generally have no idea what “something” is.
Today, the student knew exactly what to do, because he was in control of how, when, and what he was learning about. He got to work, and had something to show for his time at the end of the block.