Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.


Competency-Based Education: Learn From My Follies

I had a conference with a parent this morning. I love meeting parents and talking with students, and I try to avoid the typical rhetoric that goes along with these interactions in favor of rawness.

xkcd explains feedback perfectly.

This student hadn’t really done much towards meeting his competencies. He was a in-and-out kind of student. I called him on it, and his behavior totally changed today. I hope tomorrow bodes well also!

There’s a fine line between expecting students to fill in competency gaps using feedback and just mailing them a bobcat. I haven’t found that line perfectly yet, but I can’t help but believe that a more psychologically-sound how-to-teach-responsibility has to somehow distill out of this zaniness.

Will students truly learn to value feedback as the currency of learning rather than points or grades? As I leave something like 75-100 text/video comments each day, I have to hope so.

And then you get this email:

Mr Cornally, I uploaded a paper I wrote last night to BlueHarvest. I’m going to be gone the rest of the week for state Jazz, and I’m bummed because I think my paper is really good and I want to talk to you about it and maybe get something check off [marked proficient, in our parlence]. Can you please leave me some feedback before Friday so I can revise it at while we’re at contest?

This student has crossed the Feedback Threshold (FeedThresh, as we call it). He:

  • Knows that first attempts are rarely perfect, and often require serious revising.
  • Wants expert feedback on work that is established and based on research and the literature.
  • Knows that his learning is not tied to class time or any other arbitrary unit of time or space.

The small victories, right? I feel kind of like Hawkeye shooting arrows at the end of The Avengers. Look at me, I’m helping! right? Right?

Shawn Cornally • May 8, 2012

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  1. Tesha Wiater July 17, 2013 - 7:59 am

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  2. Tosca Necoechea December 21, 2012 - 9:56 pm

    I’m having a really hard time with this right now. I’m experiencing major push back from parents and hard comments from an admin. My thought is, “Why do I have to report at the semester. This is a year-long game.” My sense is of the reality: If I were to soften my grading policy (see below) the students would soften their resolve. I want them to work it out, like I want to optimize my worst-case scenario in the 2-egg problem. It doesn’t help that I’m a Spanish teacher who sorta likes math.

    To earn an A students must do all of the following:
    earn a minimum of 3 in core standards.
    earn an average of 2.5 in advanced understandings.
    earn an average of 3 in spoken Spanish.
    To earn a B students must do all of the following:
    earn a minimum of 2.5 in core standards.
    earn an average of 2.5 over advanced understandings
    earn an average of 2.5 in spoken Spanish.
    To earn a C students must do all of the following:
    earn a minimum of 2 in core standards.
    earn an average of 2 in advanced understandings.
    earn an average of 2 in spoken Spanish.
    To earn a D students must do all of the following:
    earn a minimum of 1.5 over all standards.
    earn an average of 2 in spoken Spanish.

  3. Trace Pickering May 18, 2012 - 7:49 am


    This on-line journal of your journey is amazing! This blog clearly shows that it takes patience, perseverance, courage, and a good moral compass to make significant change happen – but happen it does!! We are so caught up in this illusion that cause/effect are supposed to be nearly immediate. The response you are starting to get from parents and students are key indicators that the worm is turning. Your student’s comment is refreshing – they’ve finally broken free of the ridiculous pattern of grade-addictive credit-chasing for some real learning.

  4. iMath May 9, 2012 - 4:19 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful post- I have those conferences that result in significant change afterwards and others where nothing seemed to resonate with either the student or their parents. What do you think about student led conferences with the parents present? I just watched one recently on video and it was quite interesting. I am not sure how our administration (and parents) would feel about this. Do you have any experience with this or thoughts about pros and cons using this method?

  5. pshircliff May 9, 2012 - 7:21 am

    Feedback…the most important thing never taught/discussed in education college. I have read (somewhere) that the students who thrive in school are the ones who understand feedback (what it is, where & how to get it from teachers/peers/self) and the ones who struggle do not understand feedback (ever talk to a student for 5 minutes about what they did wrong & how to fix it and still get that blank stare)
    We want all students to get that trifecta— first attempt will need revised, find feedback, learning is 24/7. Many of my Advanced Seniors in Physics have not attained those (frown).

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