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Competency-Based Ways to Show Grace in Virtual Learning​

Competency-Based Ways to Show Grace in Virtual Learning​

While both competency/mastery learning and virtual learning have been on the landscape of education for a while, the immediacy of virtual learning in schools today intersects with the values and positives of competency-based learning (CBL). CBL is demonstrated by the mastery of a skill rather than time spent in a classroom. This mastery allots for the varied readiness of students to the academic standards and the technology capacity of learners, families, and schools as well. The ability to facilitate learners’ pacing, strengths and gaps, and proof of mastery can comfort families during a new or transitional learning environment. Competency-based systems are supportive of teachers and families in the 2020 digital learning world and can leave all parties satisfied with the experience.

Social, Emotional, and Equity Support

Classrooms today (virtual and blended) are veritable, gradient spectrums of student readiness and social-emotional need. Individual students show gaps in prior learning, in varied social and emotional support at home, and in 21st century experiences and skills. Whether returning to the school building or learning at home, support decisions are made on evaluation of need.

Yet, students went into the COVID-19 school closures with different needs already, and then time away from the classroom and summer learning slide compounded them. Some students lacked services, others lacked family support, and still others lacked technology. However, some families were able to provide all three of the aforementioned resources, and those students are on or above grade level.

Let us remember that the innovation of CBL derived from a desire to counter the inequities of other school systems by fostering the differentiated needs of all learners. The charts below from Competency Works, released in the paper “Designing for Equity: Leveraging Competency-Based Education to Ensure All Students Succeed,” explore educational equity, where each student receives what he or she needs to develop his or her full academic and social potential. They show ways to work toward achieving that equity in schools, serving all students.

Competency-Based Ways to Show Grace in Virtual Learning​ 1

Competency-Based Ways to Show Grace in Virtual Learning​ 2

Positives of Competency-Based Learning

In serving students in a CBL environment, several positives come to light.

Time, such as the number of hours spent in the classroom, is not the issue. Flexibility of where and when the students learn is a key plus for virtual learning. CBL empowers students to complete activities as they master prior curricular pieces, instead of on a calendared schedule. For learners and their families, where the move to virtual learning is totally new, this flexibility of pacing can assuage collective anxiety.

Learning standards and scaffolded skills are supported via learner engagement. Because learners have agency in their learning, teachers and families note greater engagement with the activities. Students gain empowerment and meta-cognitive connections from lessons and skill sets embedded and mastered. This concept applies to skill gaps across subjects for students as well. The CBL ability to cater to gaps as a part of the growing process puts teachers, students, and families at ease.

Neither formative assessments nor student work/study habits affect grading. Student achievement and grading are not rooted in the process of learning with CBL but in the outcomes proven by the student. Students are learning how to learn, particularly in the new virtual space with multiple websites, apps, turn-ins, and meeting tools.

To learn more about the benefits of CBL, check out our blog post, Competency-Based Learning: 6 Things Educators Should Know.  

Mechanisms of “Grace”

Perhaps the primary conscientious way to show families grace, leniency stemming from goodwill, is to maintain proactive and supportive communication channels. An open feedback loop that solicits continuous improvement and personalization requests of the family is most likely to be supportive of individual learners. Additionally, communication with families and learners on student progress, positive outcomes, and intervention activities provides the transparent and collaborative support community needed.

A curricular mechanism of grace is to refocus the subject’s scope to power standards, social-emotional skills, and 21st century soft skills. Now many schools, states, and curriculum have undertaken the academic task of creating power standards, essential elements in core subjects, but the social-emotional, and 21st century skills are just as valuable in the continuous development of all learners, especially to those new to virtual learning.

Allow students to redo mastery tests, only don’t give them the same version of the tests. Maybe you have a bank of standard or skill aligned questions, or maybe you have a way to create your own; either way, the process of allowing students to retest until mastery is attained via aligned, but varied, tests is a great way to remove test anxiety. In CBL, stakeholders agree on the outcome being the most important, not the number of tries or hours spent studying. Some schools utilize partial credit in retests, either averaging test scores or with a maximum possible, and these ideas work well a new program like virtual learning at a school.

Some schools include test corrections that require students to reflect on where they stumbled in an assessment, how they could have done the activity correctly, and how they will apply that lesson in the future.

Switching that logic, pretests are great mechanisms for students to prove that they already know topics. Perhaps those pretests could grant exemption of the learner from a topic in order to work more expediently in closing any gaps. Other schools use pretests to aid teachers in differentiating student instruction or assessments to personalize the experience. Additionally, teachers may use a date prior to testing to pair or place students in peer groups for workshops or projects. Students can increase understanding when placed in targeted learning groups, including from one another.

Alternate or enrichment assignments given to individual students or groups is another way to show grace to students. On one hand, these assignments may be an alternate way for students to show mastery, and on the enrichment side, they serve as ways for students to demonstrate a greater depth of mastery. Such success stories add to the momentum and meta-cognition of the individual.

Closing the cycle on the above ideas, any of the aforementioned CBL graces should be communicated with the family of learners to keep communication collaborative and to suggest ways to potentially support the learners.

 Interested in learning more about CBL? Check out our blog Grading Strategies That Replace Letters and Numbers.