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Design—The second phase of this process should be approached with a design team.
During the Design Phase you:
Since you know the scope of change you want to see, choose the appropriate type of team and then find the right people to play on the design team. It is not expected that you employ multiple teams. One carefully slated team is often more effective than three large inclusive teams.
When considering a transition to a competency-based education system, it is critical to understand what students are expected to know and what they are expected to be able to do. Ensuring that curriculum is vertically aligned in a continuum is critical since students may be completing curriculum above or below their traditionally assigned grade level and may progress faster or slower than in the typical time-based system. For competency-based systems, vertical alignment is more important than determining how quickly students should pace through the curriculum. What should students know and be able to do, and in what sequence should they master skills and concepts?
Describing how and when students will be assessed is critical. Knowing that assessment should be meaningful, rigorous and relevant, this component of design is an opportunity to clarify why students are assessed, how they are assessed and when assessment takes place. In other words, why will you assess students, how will they be assessed and when will you assess them?
In competency-based education systems, students move on to new topics and courses only when they have demonstrated mastery of their current topic or course. Defining mastery is a critical design component. In other words, what does it mean to master a topic or course?
The role of the teacher and how instruction is delivered is another critical component of design. Not all competency-based education systems use technology or blended learning. For example, many Montessori preschools have sets of curriculum housed in drawers through which student progress at their own pace. The teacher then instructs small groups or individual students. Other schools use online learning management systems to deliver curriculum and track content mastery and the teacher often instructs small groups or individual students, much like many Montessori programs. Since students progress at their own pace, what is the role of the teacher and how will instruction be delivered? How and when will they receive support for this transformation?
How will staff be used to facilitate student learning in a safe, healthy and productive learning environment?
If individual students progress only when they are ready, then it can be assumed that students will progress at different rates. What happens when students do or do not progress?
When will school be in session, and what will a typical day and week look like for students, families, teachers and staff? When will students control their time and how will teachers structure their time?
Time is the most precious resource you possess since it moves at a constant rate, and we can choose how to spend it.
There are several companies that specialize in classroom furniture designed for blended learning. We would suggest that (at least in the beginning) you focus less on furniture and more on the actual spaces you will need to implement a competency-based system. This relates directly to what students will be doing and when they will be doing it. Where will students engage the curriculum, instruction and each other?
What materials and tools will you need to make this change? How many personnel would you need to launch and sustain this change?
How much will it cost over time? Will there be any cost savings?
Public schools considering the adoption of competency-based education systems are advised to revisit local board policies. There may be policies that should be amended or created before the new system is fully implemented. For example, the local board may need to apply for attendance mandates to be counted in hours rather than days. What board policies should be amended or created in order to ensure that students and schools can effectively and efficiently implement a new system?
We suggest that you adopt a model that already exists rather than creating your own from scratch. At the same time, you will need to adjust any model to meet the unique needs of your school and community.
Here we will borrow directly from the book Blended (Horn & Staker, 2015) that outlines four models from which you may choose. Of course, there are other models that are worth investigating, but for the purpose of this guide we will not describe all of the possible models. Instead we will briefly describe the four models of blended learning as Horn and Staker (2015) enumerated them in their book.
This is the point when you decide whether or not to implement the new system your team has designed. Will you implement a competency-based education system or not?
We suggest that after choosing a model, whether its Montessori or an Enriched Virtual Model, you take the time to prototype the idea on a small scale for a brief time. This will allow you to physically interact with the potential adoption before taking the leap to full implementation. For example, you might choose to enlist a small group of students and one or two teachers and take them through a week-long experience. Interview them. Spend time with them and identify potential pitfalls. Then apply what you have learned when you launch on a larger scale.