George Lucas Educational Foundation

Competency-Based Learning: Developing Mastery of Skills and Content

At Pittsfield Middle High School, students choose how they will show what they have learned.

This is part of a series that features key practices from Pittsfield Middle High School in New Hampshire.
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Niklas: As people are willing to buy more, they're making more and they're charging more for it.

Erin: And how does that relate back to our free market principles?

Niklas: As demand goes up, supply goes up.

Kisa: Because we assess student Mastery of Competencies, we have a better understanding of exactly what the student can do. It's a more equitable system for assessing student understanding. And it also puts the ownership of the learning into the kids hands.

Daniel: You're being assessed on Competency Number 3, Presentation of Learning.

Kisa: Competency-Based Learning is the idea that students are trying to meet certain big picture understandings. Not complete a bunch of tasks and jump through a bunch of hoops and average a bunch of scores out.

Erin: I want to make sure that you guy are aware of the Competencies.

Danielle: The Competencies are anywhere between five to seven statements that say, "These are the focus areas for this course." This is what you need to demonstrate that you know to have mastered this course.

Kisa: The most fundamental shift an individual teacher could make is to just pick those traditional categories you used to have in your gradebook, Quizzes, Tests, Homework, and shift them to the Enduring Skill Sets and Habits of Mind for your discipline.

Student: We're going to have like two of each--

Kisa: And the kids, because that's how they're being assessed start to think about things a little bit more in terms of the Enduring Understandings you're trying to get at.

Erin: Good morning! I'd like you to start working on your project today. It goes with Competency 2. It is over here on the walls.

Erin: I think the Competency-Based approach is better, because it gives students the ability to demonstrate competence in a variety of ways.

Niklas: In Economics class, the Competency that we are demonstrating is Supply and Demand Systems.

Niklas: So they charge 100, 200, 300, up to 600 dollars for it, because it's fairly cheap to make them.

Niklas: We have individual freedom when it comes to the work that we can do.

Kaylee: We can do a test, or we could do a project. Either like a PowerPoint or a poster.

Erin: So you're still set on this SpongeBob idea?

Student: Yes.

Erin: I have two students who have been hounding me about a SpongeBob episode.

Student: He has to buy the chocolate bars, and has to buy bags to carry the chocolate bars.

Erin: Is that part of the episode? Okay.

Darin: The whole episode really talks about how there's different ways of selling things. There's different styles of how you sell them.

Erin: So your product that you're going to focus on are the chocolate bars.

Erin: They believe that selling chocolate bars demonstrates the concepts of Demand and Supply very well.

Student: Consumer tastes and preferences, definitely demonstrated.

Erin: Right.

Erin: So I challenged them to create a series of graphs, and then analyze each graph and look at that interplay of Demand and Supply and the prices.

Erin: What could you look at?

Kaylee: The preferences.

Erin: Okay.

Kaylee: And then like the number of sellers.

Kaylee: I'm not a very good test-taker, but with the project we're able to say, "This is what I need to do, and this is what I need to work on, rather than just trying to cram it all into our minds.

Erin: So it sounds like you've got two ideas, but we need to come up with two more.

Kaylee: Okay.

Erin: Choice allows them the opportunity to be cognizant of their learning style, and how they learn best.

Erin: We'll continue with this tomorrow. Have a good day!

Daniel: Ladies and gentleman, when you start to think of your procedure from the lab, remember you are in charge today.

Julianna: Since this is completely our decision how we do it, we have to write our materials, procedures, all that stuff that we did.

Daniel: The whole idea of Competency-Based, it puts ownership in the students' hands, to demonstrate that they were able to master that particular competency.

Daniel: As close as you can.

Daniel: You can have one area of the room on something that other students have already finished.

Student: See this right here.

Daniel: Sometimes you'll have in a different corner students going back to revisit something.

Student: Which one's this? Sugar.

Student: Sugar. And then this is NACL.

Kisa: They have to meet each Competency.

Student: Procedure 1 was get--

Student: Get the chunks of candy.

Kisa: So they could do a really good job with the concept, but not do a really good job with their science process. They don't redo that assignment, but in the next lab that we do, maybe that student does a formal lab report.

Student: Here.

Kisa: Or they could take a written test instead. They could do an essay on something. And you don't just move on with a big gap in your understanding. We don't let you do that!

Student: Drop, drop.

Kisa: Because you're assessing the student in a way that fits the student--

Daniel: Excellent, good job.

Kisa: You're getting a better assessment of where the kid really is.

Student: You have your price, and then you have like the supply.

Kisa: Competency-Based education is just, in general, much more fair for every student.

Julianna: Ready? Go!

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Marilyn Otter's picture
Marilyn Otter
Middle School Language Arts

I wish all schools would adopt this model with a caveat, which would be, students cannot keep choosing the same way to show what they understand. I particularly like that the students in this video are using academic language of the discipline.

Dr. Tonya Garcia-Arnold's picture
Dr. Tonya Garcia-Arnold
High School Science Instructional Coach

This strategy is highly effective in helping students to develop persistent learning. It is imperative that teachers have adequate and appropriate professional development and training in this strategy. How do we help teachers to become intuitive in creating classrooms where this strategy is prevalent?

Play2Health's picture
Educator and Parent

Hands on learning extends the experience. More schools need to adopt this methodology. Memorization fails to develop critical thinking skills, curiosity or creativity, which are skills that employers today and in the future demand. In today's technology driven work, the ability to innovate requires skills that can only be taught through experimentation and trial and error, this needs to be embraced.

Melissa Koncar's picture

I like how the students use academic language while creating a product to prove understanding. I think it is incredibly important for students to "show" their learning, rather than just simply taking a test. Students can easily memorize information and lose it the following day. If they actually work towards building an item they will retain that information and be able to incorporate it in real world experiences.

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