Flexible grouping is one of the best ways to meet learners at their readiness level, or Zone of Proximal Development. In order to figure out a learner’s readiness level in any given subject, there needs to be a pre- assessment. Given at the start of new learning, a pre-assessment helps both the teacher and the learner determine where to begin and are essential in learner centered proficiency based education. We cannot assume what learners do, or do not know, based simply on their social grade is school. Nor can we assume that performance in one content area or topic will indicate performance in others. In order to be truly learner centered and proficiency based, we need to use pre-assessment strategies to determine what our learners are ready for.
One of the core questions in creating a learner-centered proficiency based environment is “who has the control?” Posing this question in a variety of circumstances can help teachers and staff in a learning environment take steps to increase the learner-centeredness of any place or experience. Today I want to talk about this question in relation to handing out papers or materials for assignments and tasks.
When working in a learner-centered proficiency based system, it is really important that members of the learning community have some common understandings. I can’t think of any place where this is more important than with proficiency expectations. We’ve spent a good deal of time working on learning targets and assessments, and much of that work has focused on score 3 and foundational elements. It is equally important that we spend some time building common understandings about what it means to work a score 4, or exceeding levels of targets.
An essential component of learner centered proficiency based education is being able to meet learners at their particular readiness level in any area. Readiness level is another way of talking about the Zone of Proximal Development, the sweet spot of learning. In a personalized learning environment there should never be a moment when a learner is disengaged because they are being expected to work at a level that is either too hard or too easy. This is where flexible grouping comes in.
Have you ever visited a classroom, or a team, or a school, and felt like there was some kind of secret code the members all shared? Perhaps the learners and teachers were using hand signals, or using specific words and phrases which clearly had a meaning that was understood by all the learning community members. The communication took very little effort, and happened quickly and smoothly. Classrooms and schools that have successfully shared and sustained a common language are special places with an environment prime for powerful learning.
Last week we thought about the importance of revisiting the initial work around culture we engaged our learners in at the start of the year. It can be helpful to have some protocols at the ready to use, since visioning and setting codes of conduct can be messy work! Here are two protocols, which many of us have used in different contexts, that are great for supporting vision setting:
January, the start of a new year and at the same time the middle of a year. In the rest of our lives outside of school we are all thinking about new starts, reflecting on the successes and struggles of the previous year and laying plans for embracing what we have learned in order to grow and move forward. In contrast, many of us in school are picking up with a new learning opportunity and continuing along the content marathon of the school year. This year, why not take some time for reflection in school as well?
I cannot think of a subject area, or class, in schools today in which we are not working with learners on articulating thinking. We regularly ask learners of all ages to put forth an idea then explain their reasoning in support of that idea. In English Language Arts we might ask readers to say what kind of person they think a character is, and use evidence from the book to explain why they think that. In Science classes we ask learners to form a hypothesis then use observations and data to prove their hypothesis correct or incorrect. In Social Studies we might ask learners to argue why a particular historical figure was a strong leader. In art and music classes we ask artists and performers to critique works and performances, using observations and knowledge of technique to support their judgements. I’m sure you’ve thought of an example from other contents in which learners are expected to share, or exchange, ideas and why they hold those ideas. This is very important work, and sometimes difficult work.
Choice in learning is an essential element of the Applied Learning philosophy. When learners have a say in the what, where, when, and how of their learning both engagement and autonomy flourish. Sometimes when we start thinking through choice in the learning environment our minds swing to the extremes. We imagine a place where the learners direct everything.
There has been some confusion here in RSU2 as of late about what Applied Learning is. So, let's take a few moments to clear some things up. First, Applied Learning is NOT an IT. Applied Learning is a philosophy, a set of principles for instruction and includes some specific filters for instructional decision making:
Students working their way through a well defined continuum of learning using their passions to create a path and choose how they will demonstrate their understanding of the learning. Applied learning opportunities include:
- inquiry based in driving questions or problems
- choice in learning process (input, process, output)
- learning put to use, not simply tested
- reflection on learning
Courtney is the Instructional Coach for KIDS RSU #2 in Maine. This blog is one way she works to support the teachers, schools, and district as they move towards a vision of learner-centered proficiency based education.
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