“What are the essential practices that we want to get across?”

 “Are these the right things to focus on?”

“How would a competency-based approach shift things for you and your learners?”

At reDesign, our internal meetings involve a good deal of iterating.  There’s always a steady stream of new learning tools and resources being designed and shared among the team, and an equally steady stream of framing questions that drive the implementation of those tools across varied learning communities.  So, we reserve time twice a month to put our virtual heads together and gather feedback that will inform the refinement of whatever innovative tool we’re in the midst of working on with our educational partners. This might be a reimagined concept map for learning about the life sciences, an internal theory of change document, or as was the case today, materials for a professional learning session.

During today’s team Learning Lab, we split into two groups in order to address the topic at hand – supporting educators in learning about the essential practices that contribute to a competency-based learning (CBL) environment.  One group considered how to help teachers focus on the “action” piece of our “Ready, Set, Go!” framework for developing CBL within a learner-centered community.  The other group came up with a game plan for addressing the needs of the school leaders and coaches who would be guiding their teachers through developing those practices and conducting observations in their classrooms.  While the broader framework addresses the elements of learning environment and instructional planning, the following graphic gets right to the heart of the five key instructional practices that are essential to competency development, or, as we like to say, helping kids get good at things they care about!

The particular practice that we were zooming in on (over Zoom!) was “explicit skill and strategy instruction”, or the modeling of cognitive and metacognitive skills to make learning processes transparent.  In many contexts, this is simply thought of as direct instruction, but as one of our team members pointed out, “not all direct instruction is created equal”.  Although we’re big believers in making thinking and learning processes visible to young people, we tried to tease out some important considerations for coaching feedback, like the reason for the direct instruction, its place within the inquiry cycle, the appropriateness of the methods used, the teacher’s responsiveness to students in the moment, and how this would all tie into the school’s core understanding of what good teaching and learning looks like.

As each group sketched out a plan for their professional learning session, there was a bunch to balance – “thinking about high flyers” but also “those who need more resources to refer to”.  Wanting to draw from educators’ learning contexts and “lived experiences”, but also wanting to provide foundational expertise and guideposts.  Offering interactivity, but recognizing that a choice of modalities might better suit the needs of a range of participants – especially after a demanding school day!  We have great respect for our partner educators and their critical role in applying the resources that reDesign creates, so our goal is to harness our latest and greatest thinking while offering meaningful entry points for shared understanding and development.

By the end of our team Learning Lab, we had rough plans for both sessions, which included the opportunity to sketch out and then revise an instructional scene, providing observational tools and frames for offering feedback, and chances to calibrate around sample lessons and examples of CBL in action.  Although these were only beginning points for curating a cohesive, salient learning experience, common themes around drawing from our partners’ teaching context, providing practical tools for unpacking pedagogical strategies, and weaving in reflection and self-assessment were beginning to bubble to the surface.  

 If you’d like to take a peek at our approach to implementing a competency-based framework for learning, check out how we frame entry points to this work for educators.  If you’re a state, district, or school community in need of professional learning support around competency-based learning design and implementation, check out our data on the impact of focusing on these key instructional practices to support competency development and reach out to [email protected] to tap into our innovative team of curriculum and professional learning designers!