Category Archives: Proficiency-Based Learning

Culturally Responsive Instruction and Assessment

At their heart, Culturally Responsive Practices (CRP) are about teaching the way students learn. It is an unfortunate truth of being human that we are biased by our own experiences. As Mahzarin Banaji, a professor of social ethics at Harvard University says,

“The quickest way to define what implicit bias is [is] to say it is the thumbprint of the culture on your brain.”

For educators, this means our internalized notions of what good teaching looks like emerge from our own experience.

Our task then is to think outside of our own ways of knowing, being, and learning in order to meet the needs of our students and build on their cultural ways of knowing, being, and learning.

Hold up… let’s make sure we are on the same page. What do we mean by other ways of knowing, being, and learning? Jamila Lyiscott provides a powerful explanation (video).

Now let’s explore some of the ways we can expand our methods so that all students can exercise and grow their genius.

Culturally Responsive Instruction and Assessment

We are going to use four themes from the research literature on Culturally Responsive Pedagogies to look more closely at instruction and assessment:

  1. Be transparent and intentional about culture.
  2. Take an appreciative stance.
  3. Provide mirrors and windows.
  4. Educate about and for social justice.

Each theme will allow us to tease out culturally responsive practices and examples for consideration as you plan instruction and assessment.

1. Be transparent and intentional about culture

In her seminal book The Dreamkeepers, Gloria Ladson Billings noted, “All instruction is culturally responsive. The question is: to which culture is it currently oriented?”

Unless teachers are intentional, classrooms are likely to parallel the dominant culture. As institutions, schools have embedded and unquestioned structures (the “grammar of schooling”) that traditionally have not centered the needs and assets of students, especially students from historically marginalized populations.

Since most teachers experienced some form of traditional schooling, culturally responsive teachers often seek to look beyond their own experience. They constantly ask themselves “Whose ways of knowing am I centering? How might I incorporate different ways of knowing?”

It is a safe assumption that every classroom represents a range of learner types and dispositions at any given moment. And most youth cultures value novelty. The Education Alliance at Brown University’s site on culturally responsive teaching notes that “instruction is culturally mediated when it incorporates and integrates diverse ways of knowing, understanding, and representing information.”

Thus a hallmark of culturally responsive classrooms is variation in instructional format – independent work, small group learning, direct instruction, self-paced activities, student-directed workshops, whole group discussion, etc. These formats are not used willy-nilly, though. They are carefully chosen for purpose and embedded in routines. A good example is Team Quest at Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, Vermont, who revamped their schedule to increase student voice and choice. The two-person team transformed their approach based on the perceived needs and input of their learners.

Cultural validity in assessment

Assessment validity refers to accuracy. Just like instruction, if the assessment process is a mismatch for a student’s culture, it’s not going to accurately measure what students know and can do.

Trumbull & Nelson-Barber explain it this way in their article The Ongoing Quest for Culturally-Responsive Assessment for Indigenous Students in the U.S.:

“Achieving cultural validity in assessment means, first, recognizing that tests and assessments are cultural artifacts and that the ways in which students respond to them are affected by their cultural knowledge and experiences. It means accounting for students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds, epistemologies, educational experiences, communication styles, and socioeconomic situations in the processes of assessment development and implementation” (para 12).

The article includes an excellent list of research-based questions that teachers can ask themselves at each phase of the assessment process. The overarching idea here is intentionality. Teachers must keep culture at the forefront of their instruction and assessment practices. Otherwise they will default to their own acculturation and biases.

culturally responsive instruction and assessment
Image by Elise Trumbull & Sharon Nelson-Barber, “The Ongoing Quest for Culturally-Responsive Assessment for Indigenous Students in the U.S.”. Licensed via Creative Commons 4.0 (International-Attribution).

2. Take an appreciative stance

“You are good enough. I appreciate you and care for you unconditionally.” A teacher who carries and lives this sentiment embodies culturally responsive practices. These educators are what Lisa Delpit calls “warm demanders,” and they inspire young people to reach their full potential.

In an interview titled “Antiracist grading starts with you,” Cornelius Minor points to three harmful beliefs (what he calls “pernicious ideologies”) in assessment that get in the way of appreciating students.

  1. Should know – expectations and assumptions about what students should know and be able to do based on grade level
  2. Transactional gratitude – I’ll teach you as long as you are thankful for it
  3. Deservedness – intertwining the grading of behavior and academic skills

These ideologies are huge barriers to appreciating where students are and focusing on how to help them grow. Growth-oriented systems such as proficiency-based education (PBE) can help teachers move away from these problematic ideologies. The TIIE toolkit on PBE, for example, includes this core belief: “The goal of education is not to sort and rank learners, rather to help ALL learners grow towards their potential.”

By being appreciative we build student agency. As put in the report Equity and Assessment: Moving Toward Culturally Relevant Assessment, “Our assessments approaches— how we assess and the process of assessment itself—should align with the students we have, empowering them with narratives to share and document their learning journey.”

Culturally responsive instruction and assessment uses assessments that let students author their own narratives, such as portfolios, personalized learning plans, and student led conferences. Students can use multimedia tools to tell the story of their growth from their own perspective. The appreciative stance firmly takes hold when students are supported in appreciating their own learning.

3. Provide mirrors and windows

Rudine Sims Bishop developed the metaphor of mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors to help us understand the importance of diverse representation in literature. This metaphor can also guide us to more culturally responsive pedagogy. It can remind us to make certain that students see their own ways of knowing, being, and learning mirrored in our classroom.

If our instructional practices are only mirrors of the way we learn best they are most certainly not culturally responsive. If, on the other hand, they are intentionally varied, they provide mirrors for all kinds of learners to see their strengths.

Look at the view from the windows in your classroom

As educators we can position ourselves such that our work with students allows us to learn from the windows they provide for us, thus better informing our instructional practices.

Perhaps the most straightforward way for teachers to benefit from student perspectives is to ask them directly. Conferencing allows feedback from students about what is working and what could improve along with direction from teachers about next steps for students. CRP teachers survey their classrooms regularly to check in about the extent to which students feel they belong or how the teacher’s instruction affirms cultural identity (see, for example, the Copilot-Elevate measures).  Teachers may also employ more targeted data gathering through action research.

Other pedagogical approaches, like formative assessment and negotiated curriculum , provide the opportunity to learn more about our students. They provide windows into the cognitive processes of our learners, allowing us to inform our instruction.

Not all windows are transparent

While we definitely want to get to know our students well, we don’t need to know everything about them in order to plan instruction. It is a both/and. Yes, our students provide us with windows into their world, which helps us make our instruction culturally responsive. AND we don’t need to know everything about their lives (or deserve to) in order to plan instruction that is relevant and meaningful to them.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to designing instruction that is accessible and engaging for all learners. It specifically asks educators to identify and remove barriers to learning. This UDL tool (.pdf) for example, pairs barriers with instructional strategies to engage all learners.

Another pedagogical approach that should be adopted outright is trauma-informed practice.

It is safe to assume, no matter where you teach, that some of your students will have experienced trauma. This doesn’t mean you need to know the specific traumas young people have suffered. You should plan for trauma no matter what.

Alex Shevrin Venet, in her book Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education, explains an approach to designing instruction that is culturally responsive and trauma-informed. As she designs a unit she prioritizes predictability, flexibility, empowerment, and connection. This approach, it should be noted, works within the larger context of a trauma-informed classroom and school.

4. Educate about and for social justice

Culturally responsive instruction and assessment engages students in what Gholdy Muhammad calls criticality:

“criticality helps students to name, question, interrogate, understand and disrupt hurt, pain and harm within the world.”

Culturally responsive teachers seek to to “create a better humanity for all” according to Muhammad. They engage students in the work of actively dismantling oppressive systems.

One instructional approach that engages students in this work is critical-problem based learning (Critical-PBL), as explored by Caires-Hurley, Jimenez-Silva, and Harrington.

Critical-PBL uses four pillars to move students toward action for a more socially just world:
  1. Standards that are critical: specifically the Social Justice Standards from Learning for Justice
  2. Problems that are critical: meaningful problems related to justice
  3. Content that is critical: content related to the experiences of minoritized and marginalized groups
  4. Discourse that is critical: includes a variety of voices and moves beyond “academic language”
The four pillars of Critical Problem-Based Learning: Critical Standards, Critical Problems, Critical Content, and Critical Discourse. For culturally responsive instruction and assessment
The four pillars of Critical-Problem Based Learning. Image by Caires-Hurley, Jimenez-Silva, and Harrington, “Toward a Critical-PBL: Centering a Critical Consciousness in the Middle Grades”. Licensed via Creative Commons 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

This approach engages learners in the work of social justice while simultaneously engaging them in academic content and skills. The model units at the end of the article provide examples of these four pillars at work.

Some Vermont educators have been engaging their students in another form of PBL: project-based learning with a critical lens.

For example, Edmund’s Middle School teacher Jeremy DeMink engages learners in addressing social inequities through Hands-Joined Learning. Both PBL and C-PBL provide instructional trajectories that lead students to informed action that disrupts inequity.

Remember that what makes it culturally responsive isn’t just criticality, but also the connection to young people’s lives.  As Alex Shevrin Venet says,

“Students’ lives are full of rich areas for exploration and real problems to solve. We don’t need to give students fake work that is meaningless in the context of their lives.”

Performance assessments for social justice

A well-designed performance task provides an opportunity for students to practice skills, demonstrate critical understandings, and center their lived experience. In the article Keeping Students at the Center with Culturally Relevant Performance Assessment, researcher Maya Kaul explains outlines two critical components:

  • “Put relationships at the center and provide the space for students to share their stories.”
  • “Use students’ personal experiences to drive civic and community engagement.”

For example, she describes districts in California where students graduate based on assembling portfolios. This allows students to center their accomplishments. She also points to another model, where the Hawaiian Focused Charter School network has developed a series of capstone projects that each incorporate skills such as research papers and oral presentations deployed to make social impact. Ultimately,

“Such assessments provide a powerful vehicle for understanding students’ cultural identities, not as tangential to their learning, but as essential to their education and critical to their becoming valued contributors who are poised to serve their schools and communities. Historical trauma is reclaimed as a platform to empower individuals as social and political change agents, transforming and restoring the health and well-being to communities.”

School systems should measure what matters. To produce genuinely culturally responsive instruction and assessment, we must intentionally design assessments about and for social justice.

In search of wholeness

Equity is a process, an approach, and a lens for viewing the world and our work as educators. It is about more than equal outcomes. The ultimate goal is that every person is valued as their whole human selves in all spaces.

This blog series on Culturally Responsive Practices has focused on educational spaces. To properly apply CRP, we need all four of the themes. Many of the aspects seem like “good teaching.” But if we leave out teaching about and for social justice, for example, we won’t have the transformative impact that we need.

Similarly, although it’s helpful in some ways to separately consider the learning environment, curriculum, and pedagogy, we must attend to the whole system. Superstar teachers and isolated classrooms aren’t going to bring the transformation we need, either. The practices are powerful but can only be sustained and reach their true potential with systemic support. The inequities and oppression baked into our systems, through aspects that directly contradict CRP like standardized testing and tracking as well as more nuanced obstacles such as compliance culture, must be disrupted and dismantled.

To all the CRP educators whose work provided ideas and examples for this series, we thank you. For educators who are at an earlier stage of your efforts to become culturally responsive, we salute you. Your students deserve it.

This post is the last in a four-part series. In part one we identified four aspects of cultural responsiveness: cultural transparency, an appreciative lens, windows and mirrors, and a focus on social justice. We used these four aspects to explore culturally responsive learning environments in part two . In part three we took a look at culturally responsive curriculum through the lens of the four aspects. The series is co-authored by Jeanie Phillips and Life LeGeros.

How a classroom newsletter gave my students a voice

Mornings at Mount Holly used to buzz with parents and kids in the cafeteria, in the hallways and in our classrooms. There were so many opportunities for parents to get to know this place where their children spent so much of their day. I knew that was not going to be the case this year: because of COVID times, there are actually stickers on our doors that say, “School Employees and Students Only.” This is a big change for our school community, so as the school year began, I made a commitment to use a classroom newsletter to connect with parents.  

Little did I realize back in September how transformative this one small practice could be.

Our little school decided to basically divide the in-person students equally so that our class sizes were smaller; my cohort this year has nine lively 4th and 5th graders. Newsletters aren’t new, I have written them before. The big difference was I did not intend to write it this time.

Here’s the story of what happened when I turned into we

For the first few editions, we brainstormed things we wanted to share and then wrote the short articles together. I focused on modeling, while I typed up their ideas. I started noticing what a great opportunity this was for reflection on our learning and community. While we were writing our fourth edition, one student asked the questions, “Is this worth doing? Is anyone even reading this?”  

I had a choice at that moment.

I chose to be open and hear those questions as sincere, instead of being dismissive or taking it personally. So we solicited feedback right in our newsletter from the readers. I didn’t really know what the responses would be, but sometimes you have to take a chance.

I shouldn’t have worried at all. Nearly every parent responded, and they were effusive!

I pasted all the feedback into a document and excitedly shared it with my students. Their enthusiasm was palpable, and it felt like the right time to hand over the reins a bit more. We continued to brainstorm article ideas together but afterwards, students chose which article they wanted to write. Some wanted to write alone, others decided to write it in pairs. I became the editor and stepped back as they all stepped forward as writers. 

Margaret Dunne forest newsletter

One of the biggest changes is that I have less control over the content, which sometimes makes me nervous. In the past, my articles would have been primarily focused on our learning. Instead they’ve written about an amazing bike flip someone did at PE, how we celebrate birthdays as a class (which is different during Covid times), why kindness is important, or why masks are annoying. They are more creative because of this freedom and the newsletter is more of an authentic representation of who we are. One student explained their favorite part is that, “It comes out of our minds.  We get to choose.”  

The newsletter gives us a real audience and our writing is purposeful. We are becoming more reflective and there is tangible proof of student ownership in each edition.  

We are continually coming up with new ideas – one student stepped up as a photographer and the joke corner definitely has fans. Another popular addition is making “Kahoots” for the parents, and pasting a link into the newsletter. Interestingly during this digital age, they are asking to make printed editions, which we are considering.

A new favorite moment for me is when I hear a student spontaneously exclaim, “We should write about this in our newsletter!” Each week we share our experience and  highlight parts that we value. We all need more connection right now and this has helped grow our home/school partnership. Instead of being a showcase of our learning, our newsletter is an opportunity to learn in itself.  I am not documenting our time together, we are. 

Taking stock of grading & reporting

In spring 2020, during statewide “emergency remote learning” due to the pandemic, many districts and schools changed their approach to grading and reporting.

The shift was toward a “do no harm” model. In a moment when everybody was reeling from ongoing collective trauma and uncertainty, this made a lot of sense from a purely human standpoint. And with so much variation in student access to technology and other resources, evaluations of performance were bound to be hugely inequitable.

The report cards that families received often looked quite different than in the past. In many cases there were no letter or number grades. Often there were narrative comments and feedback that was new or more detailed than before. And the emphasis was likely to be on student assets, growth, and encouragement.

So how about now? Are these shifts still in place or are we snapping back to pre-pandemic practices? The answer is a bit of both.

Why should grading change?

When some schools let go of letter and number grades last spring, there was an understanding that these seemingly precise measures were crude representations of learning. In the midst of collective trauma, and with so many variables at play, it seemed unnecessarily reductionist to quantitatively summarize students’ experiences.

Yet doesn’t this logic extend beyond the pandemic? Evaluating a student with a number pulls them into a paradigm of comparison. And comparison begets competition. Winners and losers, rather than growers and learners.

In a recent article, Tony Winger and Kimberly Race trace the costs of grading, which include teachers acting as gatekeepers for success, the proliferation of fixed mindsets, and the toll it takes on students’ wellbeing. They cite research showing grades as the biggest factor, by far, in students’ stress levels.

We don’t want to produce undue anxiety. But perhaps this stress is justified because it motivates students to learn? Unfortunately the extrinsic motivation of grades is not a solid motivator for the long term.

Fundamentally, though, grading and reporting reflect our beliefs about the purpose of schooling. As Winger and Race ask: “Do we wish to serve as gatekeepers, sorting and ranking students as they compete for status and resources? Or do we wish to help all students grow to be healthy and happy humans, self-sufficient and creative workers, collaborative problem solvers, and engaged citizens?”

For those pushing school systems to become more equitable and student centered, the choice is clear. Grades gotta go.

Why are grades sticking around?

Based on interviews with several districts for this blog post, it appears that report cards in Vermont this fall will look very similar to how they appeared before the pandemic.

There seemed to be a near consensus among instructional leaders that the long term vision was to ditch grades and focus entirely on narrative feedback. Especially at the elementary and middle levels.

And there was unanimous agreement that the main barrier for going grade-less was culture. The culture of our society in general and of our schools in particular. Families simply aren’t ready for this shift. Especially certain privileged families that want to maintain their competitive advantage.

Andrew Jones is the Curriculum Director of Mill River Schools and President of the Vermont Curriculum Leaders Association. He visited several schools in Maine near the end of 2019 as a follow up to visits he had done during his Rowland Fellowship five years prior. He wanted to understand why Maine had reversed course legislatively on Standards Based Grading.

“For schools where there was a big pushback on proficiencies, we found that letter grades were the thing that broke it. Some schools changed practices and did fine, but schools that changed the outside facing stuff, that’s what sank it. I talked to somebody who sat in every legislative hearing, and it was all about letter grades, transcripts, and colleges.” 

Logistics too

The transition from high school to college is the ultimate sticking point. There is a logistical dilemma of how to transfer information so that colleges can run an admissions process. There are some models emerging but they are not yet proven or widespread.

In her article A Perfect World is One with No Grades, Susan Brookhart noted that “administrative functions that come with doing education at scale” may require some level of sorting and ranking. Even a strong proponent of going gradeless like Brookhart acknowledged that doing so at a systems level may be a bridge too far at the moment.

Some promising shifts

There may not be dramatic changes to report cards this year. But instructional leaders around the state are adamant that proficiency based learning practices have accelerated. Here are a few areas that jumped out across several interviews:

Narrative reporting

Grades in the form of letters or numbers are still present. But the emphasis on descriptive narratives from the spring has carry over benefits.

In Two Rivers Supervisory Union, teachers engaged in the “GPS model of feedback,” so called by the former Curriculum Director Michael Eppolito. “What’s your goal? Where are you now? And what’s your next step?” Teachers wrote a Student Growth Report for progress reports in the spring and at the end of the year. This practice allowed them to “change their practice and move toward a more proficiency based mindset,” according to Michael.

grading practices

Mike Moriarty, Curriculum Director of Orleans Central Supervisory Union (OCSU), similarly cited the benefits of teachers experiencing a full cycle of purely narrative reporting. Although OCSU will be bringing back their 1-4 scale on performance indicators for this year, they are keeping the narratives. “We received a lot of positive feedback in the spring about our reporting and about overall communication with families. We are going to build on that this year.”

Guaranteed and viable curriculum

Many districts reduced the amount of content that teachers are being asked to cover.

As described by Jal Mehta, Harvard professor and co-author of a prominent paper on creative solutions to schooling during the pandemic, “The key idea is to just focus on the essential knowledge and skills that kids need to learn in a given year, and then let go of some of the rest… Focusing on essentials allows opportunities for teachers to go deeper, create space to form relationships, build communities, support social emotional learning, extracurriculars, and all the other things that are going to be critical in this upcoming year.”

Andrew Jones noted that “it is absolutely crucial that we get to a guaranteed and viable curriculum. That we set a limited number of learning targets that we can realistically teach and assess in a school year.” Emily Rinkema, instructional coach at Champlain Valley Union High School, pointed to this as a major shift: “all courses have reduced the number of learning targets… Last year, full credit courses had between 8-12 learning targets; this year, they have between 4-6 learning targets.”

Fewer learning targets = more depth. And that’s a good thing.

Beyond content knowledge

Transferable Skills have been part of the plan for implementing proficiencies since the passage of Act 77 in 2013. Reducing the amount of content that needs to be covered opens up time and energy to incorporate Transferable Skills meaningfully.

In addition to Transferable Skills, Emily Rinkema explained how the pandemic brought socio-emotional learning (SEL) to the fore. “Teachers are so much more focused on SEL and have been willing and eager to let go of some of the things they worried about in the past. For example, there was a lot of talk last year pre-pandemic about how we can ‘grade’ executive functioning. And now, they are more interested in how to support executive functioning skills.”

Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union (OSSU) is putting SEL at the center of professional learning this school year. Superintendent Adam Rosenberg noted that, “We worked hard to lay the SEL foundation at the beginning of the school year with the understanding that it’s not just for two weeks and then move on, but that these strategies will become habits of practice.” 

Student-centered instructional models

Teachers moved mountains in the spring to transform instruction at the drop of a hat. Instructional leaders are hoping to build on some of the successes that emerged in those extremely challenging circumstances.

Mill River Schools has started the year fully remote. Curriculum Director Andrew Jones has asked teachers to organize instruction using flexible learning modules. These are one week cycles that end in a “formal formative assessment” which guides remediation and enrichment. Modules are developed using a common template to make things easier to follow for students and families. The focus is on feedback and student growth, which Andrew expects will continue with face-to-face learning.

grading practices

In OSSU, although most students opted into face-to-face learning, Superintendent Adam Rosenberg asked teachers to “teach all students through the lens of remote learning.” The district had been working on “cultivating learner agency through reflective practice” for some time, but serving students remotely has strengthened the rationale for putting student self-direction and agency at the center. The district’s recently developed Learner Agency Teacher Rubric is being used for reflection and collective implementation in a way that is beyond where the conversation likely would have been otherwise.


While grading and reporting may not look hugely different than a year ago, there seems to be movement in the right direction with some acceleration in key areas. It is worth noting that many often cited “best practices” are already fairly widespread practices in Vermont. It is common to find learning scales, opportunities for retaking assessments, and separate evaluation of Work Habits from academics.

In a recent article Tom Schimmer emphasized the incremental nature of changes in these areas: “Grading reform doesn’t happen overnight; we aren’t simply going to snap out of habitual practices… Short-term wins can add up to a seismic shift in grading and reporting.”

Andrew Jones pointed to eight years of implementation as a threshold where “the real work can begin.” From conversations with schools in Maine, Washington, and Oregon, he consistently heard that it took about that long for communities to get past active resistance to the transformations inherent in authentic proficiency based learning.

By that measure, most Vermont districts have a few years of this first phase of implementation. If we keep moving steadily ahead, hopefully the culture of schooling will reach a point where equitable gradeless feedback rich practices are not only accepted, but expected.

How do you center descriptive feedback rather than grades?

Hunter education in Vermont

In this episode of The 21st Century Classroom:

I don’t think a lot of people think that I’m a hunter. I feel like when I have like a good connection with my teachers, they will get to know me and realize that I hunt and fish and do a lot of outdoor stuff, but like the teachers that I’m not really like always with and I don’t think they know like I hunt and stuff.


Whether for sport or subsistence, hunting is a big deal in Vermont.

And doing it safely is an even bigger deal.

In Vermont, fishing and hunting license sales have taken off since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Turkey hunting license sales increased by 26% for the recent start of the spring turkey season. Combination hunting & fishing  licenses are up 24%. It seems like since the Stay At Home order, where our work, school and social spheres got smaller, Vermonters have been heading outdoors to hunt. Not just adults but whole families.

Which bring us to two questions:

  • What does it take for a young adult in Vermont to get a hunting license?
  • And what do young Vermonters find so engaging about hunting? Especially as it’s an activity they do with their families?


end mark

Meet Henry.

Henry: My name is Henry Parent.  I’m 13 years old and I go to Dorset School.

Henry’s a seventh grader in rural Dorset VT, and he has a new interest in hunting.

Henry: I kind of like it, because you’re just like you’re out in the woods usually, not always though.  We were outside walking around sometimes, but usually walk to a spot or something.  And – yeah, and then once you get some – then once you like get something or shoot something then its like – I don’t know, I don’t know how to describe it. One time I shot – well, first time I shot a pheasant and it was… Well, it was kind of cool, because like you shoot and then when you see it go down, it’s kind of like you feel relieved like you didn’t miss it and then you got it. It’s a good feeling.

Henry’s also the son of returning podcast contributor and Vermont educator, Rachel Mark.

Rachel: Hello!

And Rachel’s here to tell you about Henry’s emerging interest in hunting, and her own experiences in a hunting family.

Rachel: I’ve been an educator in Vermont for 20 years, and it’s taken me this long to realize how much learning takes place when young people earn their hunter safety certification. Students do a ton of work, both online and in-person, to get certified to hunt. Now let me tell you about my son.
Henry loves to be outside. He is creative and adventurous, often building things outside or whittling objects from wood. He came to me about a year ago and asked if he could learn how to hunt. Among the people in our two extended families, only my father has any experience with hunting. But when we asked him, Henry’s grandfather happily agreed to mentor him in small bird hunting.

The next step was to find a hunter safety course in Vermont.

Rachel:  Okay.  So what was it like to get a license to hunt?  What – tell me about that process?

Henry:  It was hard.  I did the online course where you have to do a lot of reading and there is this test and it takes a lot of time.

Rachel:  What do you wish your teachers knew about you and your hunter training?

Henry:  That it takes a lot of reading and it should count for like, if you have to do a reading at home.

end mark

In 2019, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department issued almost 71,000 hunting licenses.

And of those licenses, 13% were obtained by Vermonters 18 years of age or younger.

That works out to just under nine *thousand* young Vermont hunters. 9,000 young Vermonters who choose to complete the State’s hunter education course.

So how does that course work?

In order for a young Vermonter to obtain a hunting license, they must first complete the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s *free* First-Time Hunter Education course. The course is recommended for every first-time hunter, regardless of age.

The first half of the course is an interactive online class.

Units include:
  • Know Your Firearms Equipment
  • Basic Shooting Skills
  • Basic Hunting Skills
  • Preparation and Survival Skills
  • Be a Responsible and Ethical Hunter

Materials include videos, quizzes and interactive animations. And all are geared towards a sixth-grade reading level.

The online course as a whole is pass/fail: you must get 80% or better on the final exam. But the quizzes all feature unlimited retakes. Or what we from the pre-digital era would refer to as “open book”.

The second half of the course takes place in person, at locations around the state.

They feature an outdoor shooting component along with a demonstration of tree stand safety, blood trailing and a module on survival skills. And these in-person courses are all taught by volunteer educators.

Volunteers like John Walker.

John Walker:  Yeah. Hello, my name’s John Walker.  I’m the enrichment teacher at the middle school. I’ve worked at Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington now for about seven years and we’re looking at hunter safety education. On my free time, which I don’t have much of, I am a hunter safety instructor for the state of Vermont.

In order to become a volunteer, Walker had to go through the course himself. Then the other instructors checked off his skills against a master list. He’s been teaching hunter safety now for four years.

John Walker: Now anyone hunting in the state of Vermont has to pass a hunter safety course. They have to. That’s mandatory.  Hunting is a portion of it, but a large course unit portion of it is first aid, CPR, how to survive in the woods, what to carry with you in case you get lost, if you get hurt, you know, the basic first aid techniques so that you can save yourself or someone you’re with.

And of course, there’s another test to pass.

John Walker: Once they have done that, they’ve gone through the obstacle course, passed all the questions, then I usually administer a 50-question test. It is a standardized test. We can’t modify it. It’s a multiple choice test and they have to get a passing score on that to go forward. Now there are times where we might read some of the questions to someone who is maybe 10 years old because they obviously aren’t at a sixth grade level yet, but as long as they understand what to do and can show us under certain situations they know what they’re doing, then we’re fine.

In 2020 across the state of Vermont, educators and school communities have been wrestling with how, exactly, to implement proficiency-based education.

And one of the major questions around proficiency-based education concerns assessment. It’s one thing to get an A or a B, or 90%, 80% on a test, but what does that look like in the real world?

Hunter education and certification specifically address proficiencies along with a valuable real world component.

John Walker: Compass work is a big thing. We show them and a lot of this ties into school. I know in the sixth grade one of the classes here the sixth grade class does a lot of work with orienting and compass work. And we do all of that. We go through a complete compass course with the kids. And I say the kids, the adults too. The adults also have to do it. And so we go through it. We show them how it works. You know what true North is. We show them the whole thing.

end mark

What can we take away from hunter education about making learning engaging?

Let’s ask Rachel.

Rachel: Great question! Now, I’m an educator, not a hunter. I’ve never been through hunter safety before. But my hunch is that the real world authenticity of the task — get certified to hunt —  is what makes this so compelling to young Vermonters. Because there’s a very clear goal to taking a hunter safety course: get your license and be able to hunt. Everything that you are learning is going to be literally tested in the field.

As a student, you’re not sitting in a classroom wondering when you’re going to use the skills. You’re sitting in a classroom knowing you want to use the skills this coming weekend, when you head out to the turkey blind, hoping to bag a big tom.

You pass the course when you get 80% on the test, and get your certification.

And you’re proficient in hunting when you successfully bring home the (turkey) bacon. So to speak.

It’s the job of schools and educators to support students as they gather information about their interests and think about how it might impact themselves, their world and their future.

My next door neighbor, Liam, is also a certified Vermont hunter.

Liam:  My name is Liam Walsh.  I’m 14

He’s also a freshman at Burr and Burton Academy.

Liam:  I don’t think a lot of people think that I’m a hunter.  I feel like when I have like a good connection with my teachers, they will get to know me and realize that I hunt and fish and do a lot of outdoor stuff, but like the teachers that I’m not really like always with and I don’t think they know like I hunt and stuff.

I’ve always been in the outdoors and then one of my friends really wanted me to get into it.  So I just kind of followed him along on one of his hunts and that got me hooked.

Rachel: How old were you when that happened?

Liam: I want to say 12 I think.

Rachel: Okay, so like in 6th or 7th grade?

Liam:  Yeah.

Rachel:  And what was the class like?  How would you describe it to other people?

Liam:  You learn a lot not only from the information, but from the experiences that they tell you about, because most of the people are hunters and have been around guns and stuff.  So they have experiences that they taught us about and like I think that really helped.

I took like a little thing online before like going into the classes so that I like knew some stuff which I think helped and that was, I don’t know, it was probably took me like an hour or two.  I spread it out, but yeah, an hour or two.  And then I also read – like read a book on it about it.

Rachel: Was that required or did you choose to do that?

Liam:  It wasn’t required, but it was definitely nice to go into the class knowing stuff.  So yeah, it was definitely nice to know like going into the class like some of the stuff about it.  So I wouldn’t say it was required, but it was – I’m happy I did it.

Rachel:  Has it influenced any of your thinking about careers or jobs?

Liam: Definitely. I want to be a game warden when I get older now, because I have so much fun outside in hunting and fishing and I know the local game warden, he’s talked to me a few days.  Nothing bad, like he knows me by name now, just to like talk to me when I’m fishing, so that’s something I definitely want to do.

What is it about Vermont’s hunter safety courses that make them work for students? Are middle schoolers really up to the challenge?

We asked our expert, John Walker.

John Walker:  What I observed from the middle school kids is that they are very aware and very up on all the material. When you tell them it’s important and if they have a test at the end, they understand that because they are from middle school and they’re used to having exams and multiple choice and so on. So, they’re very up on it. They are honestly better than the adults in most cases. They will know what’s going on and they’re taking it very seriously.

John Walker:  I go through things and just highlight and I go around and randomly pick on people in a nice way to answer the question. And it’s usually the youngest people who answer the questions. The older people think they know sometimes more than they do. And I’m guilty of that. We’re all guilty of that. But usually it’s the younger people, “No, no, I know what that is. I read that.” I mean they’re really careful to read their questions.

John Walker: The middle school kids, what we find, the middle school aged kids we find are usually one and done. They can go right through it absolutely fine. You have a little trouble with the younger kids. Sometimes you just can’t let them through because they just don’t learn. But the middle school kids are very sharp. They’re probably the sharpest group that we have.

But hunting is about more than online courses, certifications and readings.

It’s also about family, and community connection.

Rachel: Since Governor Scott closed schools and issued Vermont’s stay-at-home order, I’ve noticed that Liam and his dad have been spending more time going out into the woods together. Whether it’s for scouting potential hunting spots or actually getting into the woods for turkey hunting at the crack of dawn, they log some serious hours of time together.  And they aren’t alone.

Rachel: I myself am the child of an outdoorsman, and I recall heading outside with my father on many occasions. I’m quite sure he is part of the reason that I love being outdoors. As a young person, I didn’t love to fish, but I liked being outside with my dad. I would sometimes tag along with him to a local brook where I would sit on a large rock and read my book. I didn’t even get a pole out myself, but I liked listening to the babbling brook and watching his line dip in and out of the water. It was like this wordless meditation, and we got to experience that together.

And other Vermont families have similar experiences:

Pete Kelley: My full name is Pete Kelley.  I was born and raised in Poultney, Vermont.  And I call Bellows Falls home now.  I grew up in a farming family.

Pete Kelley: Growing up where I did by default, I just hunted the way my father and my grandfathers did on the same piece of property, the same farm, the same mountain with the same types of weapons and methods.  It just was what they taught me because that’s what they had always done.  So, for the first half of my life, probably more than that, the first 25 years or so, I just used the same methods that have been passed down through my generations.

Pete Kelley: And actually, even though I had got turkey before, I never really got into the strategy aspect of it until my oldest son decided that that was something that he wanted to do.

Pete Kelley: So, I actually have three kids.  They all have in different methods, found things that they enjoy about it.  Some like to do certain aspects, some don’t.  But it’s a kind of fun to watch them learn and find their own passions. There’s something fulfilling about teaching something to someone that you know and passing it along and seeing them take enjoyment in it.

Kelley remembers the process of getting his son certified to hunt, because he was right there with him.

Pete Kelley:  He was in a really great class.  And part of what I loved is right in the beginning, they made it clear to the kids: it’s not a reading test.  It’s not a writing test. They’re not grading their handwriting. And if they have trouble with words or phrases or terms, they’ll coach them through it. Their job is to make sure they would be safe in the woods. I looked around the room at that point, saw a lot of kids. To me seem like they breathe a sigh relief at that point.  It wasn’t one more academic test to them.  They just need to prove that they could be safe.  It was a really, really good experience.

My son loved it. And my daughter doesn’t even really hunt all that much.  She really only likes to hunt turkeys.  So, she doesn’t spend a lot of time after deer or anything else.  She doesn’t fish a ton.  But if you ask her about it, you can still see that she’s somewhat proud that she passed the course and got her card.

But some of the best lessons Kelley’s learned about hunting have come directly from his children.

Pete Kelley: But I love seeing them relate some of the things that they’re learning in science.  Some of the things they see out in nature in the field that aspects really fun to me.  Seeing them make discoveries out there, things that they’re interested in on their own, fascinating, I love that.

Pete Kelley: My daughter to this day she’s about to turn 13. And I asked her if she wanted to go out for youth weekend, which is this coming weekend. And she said, “Yeah, absolutely I want to go.”  She said, “I don’t want to shoot one this year, but I definitely want to go,” which I thought it was awesome. My kids love to go at night in roost one.

They love to walk out on the edge of the pasture stand quietly as that sun is setting, is getting dark and hear me owl hoot.  And then listen for the directions to hear that the times gobble. They get really excited and cheer when they hear one almost as if they’ve really accomplished something.

end mark

As we live through this pandemic, we’re realizing how much we value our relationships and bonds with other people.

And it’s important for young people to feel those roots and sense of belonging, now more than ever.

The question for Vermont education has become: how do schools find a way to give students credit for the work they do out-of-school, in becoming proficient?

Not just the 9,000 young Vermonters who currently hold a hunting or fishing license, but the ones who learn to sew for a scouting badge, or the ones who can tell you exactly what your soil needs to make tomatoes grow and squash bugs vanish.

Educators in Vermont and around the nation strive to make in-school time engaging and compelling, and talk about igniting students’ passion for learning. But shifting the lens of education in Vermont also requires knowing what our students are passionate about when they’re not in the classroom. And why.

Here’s Liam again.

Liam:  I would say it’s definitely like a big thing to get your family onboard with it.  Like I could not have like got my hunter safety or anything, my license without my dad or mom.  They’re like… I don’t know. They bring me to everything, sign stuff.  So it’s definitely good to get your family onboard.

Rachel:  What do you like about hunting?

Liam:  The thrill of it.  It’s also like super fun when I go out with my dad.  It’s good bonding time

Rachel:  Tell me more about that bonding time.

Liam:  Well, I mean, we talk a lot, because we’re out there for quite some time each day early in the morning. And it’s really nice spending time with him outdoors and something that we both like doing now.

Rachel:  So in a way, it’s kind of a special connection that you have with your dad?

Liam: Yeah, definitely.

Rachel: Because he goes with you?

Liam: Yeah, he goes with me.





This has been an episode of The 21st Century Classroom, podcast of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont. This episode was produced by Rachel Mark and Audrey Homan, with additional material from Life LeGeros. A huge thank you to Henry and Liam for sharing their stories with us, to hunting dad Pete Kelley for his reflections, and to Hunter Safety educator John Walker, for his time and expertise. And thank you to Christ Saunders at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department for providing us with accurate statistics around young Vermonters and Vermont hunter education.


#vted Reads: The Standards-Based Classroom

I’m Jeanie Phillips and welcome back to #vted Reads: books by, for and with Vermont educators. Today is a little of all three, as we welcome instructional coaches Emily Rinkema and Stan Williams to the show. They’re the authors of The Standards-Based Classroom: Make Learning the Goal, and have been working on implementing and assessing proficiencies at Champlain Valley Union High School, in Hinesburg Vermont.

Proficiency-based education is something of a hot topic in Vermont.

In 2013, the Vermont legislature passed Act 77, which required schools around Vermont to implement personal learning plans, flexible pathways and proficiency-based learning for students in grades 7 through 12 by 2020. That. Is. Now. (Or at least it was at the time of recording.)

Anyway, Stan and Emily are old hats at the proficiency game, and their book is a valuable resource for working with educators who are new to proficiencies, especially as they relate to assessment.

This is #vted Reads: let’s chat.


Jeanie: Thanks for joining me, Emily and Stan. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Emily Rinkema: We are proficiency-based learning coordinators. That’s our current title, in the Champlain Valley School District. We have been in this role but with many different names for approximately 10 years, I think, now. We also teach.

So, we’ve been teaming together as humanities teachers for 22 years, a long time and we still teach a course together now at the high school. We each spend half of our jobs at the high school supporting the continued implementation of standards-based learning, and the other half of our jobs are now at the middle school, supporting the implementation there.

Stan Williams: Yeah, we’ve taught from the ninth grade core program to this job and are now teaching a course called Think Tank. So, that’s been our fun new challenge.

Emily: We also about two years ago, wrote the book for Corwin, and since then we’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of schools and districts not only in our state but around the country. And then most recently even internationally working with a few schools. So, that’s been really amazing to see how different school districts interpret the same principles of learning.

Jeanie: Yeah, I went to a workshop with some of the teachers I work with that you two had, on proficiency-based learning or standards-based learning. And one of the questions I know you must hear and that I hear all the time is:

How long will it take before we get there?

And what I’m hearing from you in your role as coaches in this work is that it’s not a one and done but it’s an ongoing process to getting there.

Stan: Yeah, I think that any time if you actually ever think you’re there, there’s probably a misunderstanding, because I’m not sure there’s ever going to be a “there”. But yeah, that’s one of the big things that we’ve had to grapple with and that especially adults, as educators, have to grapple with. The fact that it is *not* “here’s the box, open it up, take it out, and now you are a standards-based teacher!” And I think that’s often what the thought is” give me the program, give me the answer, and I’ll do it. Or: give me the sheets and I’ll do it. Which is not the case.

I think that also is one of the things that leads to some difficulties. People will look to change the grading and the reporting, but then not get to the fact that it’s the instruction, it’s the assessment — it’s all the work in the classroom that needs to change as well.

So yeah, I think that’s the biggest part of our job, probably, dealing with that other part.

Emily: Yeah, it’s really changing the fundamental beliefs about teaching and learning. I think we often hear teachers will say, “Oh, it’s another initiative coming along,” and thinking that we can have some professional development around it and we’ll just add it to our bucket of other initiatives.

But it’s really changing the foundation of learning.

It’s not adding strategies or practices on to what we currently do. It’s actually *shifting* what we currently do, which takes a long time and a lot of mistakes, a lot of iterations — before we start to feel like it’s effective.

Jeanie: It feels to me like it’s a mindset shift. And that if you shift your mindset in this way, then what you realize is that there’s always room for growth.

Emily: You know, it was funny we were just talking about mindset versus skill set yesterday. And there’s a lot of research that says that in any large second order change, you need to shift mindsets first — before you can actually start to see any positives or start to change your skills?

When we change mindsets… prior to actually being able to support the new mindset? Then we can run into some real problems. So, we’ll see teachers who will shift their mindsets about teaching, so that the idea is: learning becomes more important than teaching, right? So, what students learn becomes much more important than what we’re actually teaching, because it’s irrelevant if they don’t learn what we’re teaching. But if we don’t change the systems and structures of our classrooms and schools to support that new mindset, then very quickly that mindset runs up against a wall.

Jeanie: So, what I’m hearing from you is a chicken-and-egg kind of scenario where we need a mindset shift, but we need the skills that support that, but we need the skills in order to have the mindset shift.

Emily: *laughs* Yes.

Jeanie: It seems like they go hand in hand.

Emily: Easy.

Jeanie: I can tell that you’re both systems thinkers by the way the book is organized and particularly the thing I admire about the book is that you are proponents of backwards design and you organized the book that way, that as you begin with articulating desired results and developing KUDs (“Know, Understand and Do”) and learning scales and learning targets, you also create learning scales and KUDs and targets for your readers.

And I found that to be so powerful. You’re not just talking about what you can do in the classroom, but you’re modeling what it looks like as you developed your book. And I wondered how that emerged. What inspired you to organize the book in that way?

Stan: Yeah, as far as I can remember, it started as the planning structure and an organizational structure we had developed kind of categories and learning targets and skills for our work with the faculty and for the faculty at CVU.

Again in thinking if we were going to try to help lead adults to use learning targets and skills, then it made the most sense not only to have them experience that, but for us to work on that and refine what we’re really looking for. And so I think at first we really used it to [ask]:

  • What would we say about these things?
  • What would we say about this?
  • What do we have to talk about this?

And then again, it quickly became apparent that, wait a minute, this makes the most sense as far as the organization. So, I’m not sure it stayed in organizational strategy for long. I think it pretty quickly became the book itself? But I think that is how it began.

Jeanie: I just have such deep appreciation for that. I detest professional development that doesn’t walk the talk. Like, I really dislike sitting in professional development sessions that are disingenuous, I guess. It feels like to me like: do as I say, not as I do. And the one that sticks out for me the sort of counterexample that always is in my brain is many years ago, sitting in a very large school cafeteria with 150 other teachers learning about differentiated instruction… in a way that was completely undifferentiated. Pot meet kettle, right?

Like that was the height of hypocrisy for me. And so I just had this deep appreciation as I started engaging with the book in how you treat the reader as learner, right? And how you respect the reader as learner and use the structures that you know work for good learning, with the reader. So, kudos for that.

Stan: Thank you.

Jeanie: One of the questions that I have as a reader and I really have been using this work with districts I’m working with, and with a district in particular that I’m working with — they’re reading it and it’s been a great tool for us in helping them to develop the skills they need to make the shifts — but one of the things that I still question, or I still have questions about, is the congruence of this with personalization. Like how do we leverage KUDs and learning scales to… sort of, meet the other pillars of Act 77, flexible pathways and personalized learning?

Emily: I’ll start with I think there’s a big misunderstanding, misconception, that standard-based learning is standardization. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Unfortunately I think in some places, those are a little closer together than others, so it can sometimes get that bad name. We’ve taken an approach in our district of using skill-based learning targets. And our content is communicated through KUDs (as we have in the book), but what that allows is a lot more freedom and flexibility. So, we know what our end goal is, but how we choose to get to that end goal is where we can have a lot more flexibility.

I think it provides us a lot more autonomy, but also for students so we have a lot more flexibility about what content we use, what content we go into depth with different students?

There’s a greater opportunity for students to design their own learning, because we can head towards the same outcome, but they can propose how they want to get there.

Stan: Yeah, I think in reality when we look at a couple of the seeing that in the classroom, a couple of examples again. For instance, I think in our Think Tank class.

Students have common learning targets — four to five — that we really use throughout from the iterative process to summary of multiple resources to use of media and some others. But the idea is though, in our class we have a common theme about improving education and learning and engagement within our school district? But they allow us to let students personalize based on their, based on kind of their wants, their desires, where they get kind of drawn into the class and into the reasoning.

And so what’s great is you can have students working on something around standardized testing or something around the architecture of school or the arrangement of classrooms or around mental health or around wellness or around starting a student congress. And all are focusing on the same learning targets and scales? But with really ideas and issues that they care about and that they’re able to go with.

I think the other thing we found is that with, as Emily spoke to, with the transferable ones, that great help for differentiation.

When we first started this years ago, when we did 10 years ago or so we took a sabbatical that was focused on differentiation. And one of the first things we came to was what people were trying to differentiate tended to be content and second to be: are you getting the answer right or wrong? And that was pretty difficult because that’s where you get a lot of people. Yes, people were slowing down because we were waiting for other people to get it right. And so that’s when we realized we needed these transferable targets and scales.

And then, you know, again, now we’re coming back to I think the need for more and more training with differentiation. But yeah, I think they go hand in hand with the personalization.

Emily: I think there’s also a misunderstanding about personalization a lot of times? That personalization is just allowing students to do what they want, when they want, where they want, how they want. And I think that standards bring integrity to personalization. So educators can ground the personalized work in particular skills or skills that a student chooses, but I think it reduces the risk of the sort of fluffy personalization that gives personalization such a bad name?

So, just as I think the standards-based practices can get a bad name when they become too rigid. I think they offer a really nice balance to each other. Without personalization, standards-based learning could be pretty… regimented. Could be pretty… well, standardized. Which is not what it should be. So I think they need each other.

Jeanie: You’re making me think a lot about how we talk about personalization, flexible pathways and proficiency here at the Tarrant Institute.

Which is we think of them as not separate but as like DNA strands wound together.

And so I think in order to provide flexible pathways, you have to know your students well. In order for those flexible pathways to be meaningful, you have to know what the targets are.

And the proficiency-based system helps you develop flexible pathways that matter, and that’s what I’m hearing from you as well.

Emily: Yeah, absolutely. I like the visual of the DNA strands.

Jeanie: Yeah. And that leads me to your section on summative assessments. And so I really one of the things that I’ve noticed as I — both when I was in a school library and I was designing proficiency-based units of study, and collaborating with teachers in the design of proficiency-based units of study, but then also as I coach teachers now — is using this kind of a framework, the backwards design framework with the learning targets first, allows you to find where misalignment happens, right? Like where your instruction is actually not instructing on the things you’re assessing on and is not related necessarily to your targets.

And I think there’s this big a-ha moment that happens for teachers the first time they do this where they realize, “Oh! I’m not… Wait a minute, this doesn’t always hang together well.” And so I really love that about your framework and I wanted to know, specifically as we work with middle school students about: how do we do what we were just talking about, which is use these learning targets and these learning scales, to open possibilities to young people for how they show what they know what they can now do. It’s a convoluted question.

Stan: Yes. Funny, the word that comes to mind obviously when you talk about that is “intentionality”, right? And I still remember years ago I think when we first started this, we were at a Carol Tomlinson workshop. And at the time I believe she was introducing or focusing on the KUD.

And I still remember, like you said, the a-ha moment as she was talking about and kind of had a calendar under it and was showing how this was the time they were going to address this and then they were going to have time to get into this understanding, this understanding is where they were going to use this content to drive this understanding and that oh my gosh, like, this is so much more intentional than, “this is going to be a unit on X” or “this is going to be a unit on Y”.

And so I do think that that intentionality is such a huge part of this. And I think that’s the thing that’s probably hit us the most, is that intentionality that does get driven from that summative and from that endpoint.

I also think that there are times where that summative is something that’s predetermined? But then there’s also that time where that summative is around a concept. It’s around an idea, it’s around a theme. We know the targets that we’re going to be getting at to get to that, or how they’re going to be demonstrating some of the skills at the end, but that there can still be plenty of choice around what that summative looks like.

So, I think that is one of the keys is: do we know what are the skills we’re going to try to get better at within this unit? But then, how do we have flexibility at the end and along the way, but if we’re talking summatives, how do we have flexibility at the end to allow students to demonstrate those in different ways?

And again, I think going back to what Emily was saying earlier, that standardization is where I think sometimes that it’s a misunderstanding.

Again, it gets back to what we said in the very beginning; it is not just a grading mechanism.

It is not that now I’m going to take the old test that I have always had and I’m just going to change how I grade it and I’m putting a one through four on top of it rather than an 87 on top of it.

We still see that happen and I think that’s where programs, schools get in trouble is they try to is just a conversion. And so but that’s where a lot of our work is, how do we make sure that our summatives are driving our work forward and that the summatives are opening up the learning rather than kind of narrowing the learning?

Emily: That was very well said.


Jeanie: It made me think about my own growth as an educator and when I shifted over time from, — I’m getting vulnerable here — when I shifted over time from sort of a checklist approach of “your slideshow will have this many slides and it will have this” right? Like this checklist approach or rubric approach to scoring work to thinking about what the learning is, right?

And what I love about learning targets, whether you use them in a learning skill or a single point rubric, is that there are so many different ways to express that you’ve learned that? And that’s that opening I think I heard from you, Stan? Instead of that confining — you must have three sources, you must list five descriptive words about your topic or whatever it is, right? The date of birth and the date of it, like silliness. As opposed to like, what’s the real skill we want kids to be able, what’s the real thing we want them to be able to do?

Emily: One interesting change with summative assessments and our own teaching is I think in the first 10 years of our teaching, our summatives looked almost exactly the same. And that was the intent, right? So, we had a clear idea of what this would look like whether it was a kind of conventional test where we actually literally wanted them to be the same because we wanted the same answers, which were the correct answers. Whether they were essays that would come in and we would, you know, have a stack of 100 essays and those looked almost identical to each other and they might have selected different evidence, but our requirements were so strict that they pretty much looked the same.

Now, since we shifted to a standards-based classroom, I can’t think of a time when we’ve had any summative assessments that did look the same or that we wanted them to look the same.

Stan: No, and what’s funny about that is, I can think back to when you’re teaching in the ninth grade and you’d have 110 students and you were getting 100 and then — going back to the vulnerable pieces you’re talking about — you’re getting 110 of the same thing. Try grading 110 of the same thing as we all know, right, what that does!

And I remember a few years back Emily saying to a group of people how she looked forward to getting summatives in now because it was exciting to see. And I remember a laughter from some of the people.

But that’s absolutely true there is now there’s something so exciting because you’re getting all these different, you know, whatever it happens to be products that you’ve been working with and helping along the way, but there’s personality to them, there’s a voice to them, there’s an individuality to them and a uniqueness to them, which makes them exciting to see and to learn from rather than kind of feeling obligated to go through. So, that has been a really fun shift from our end.

Jeanie: It’s interesting to me because I’m a doc student now here at UVM. I’m in the education policy leadership studies program and I have this professor, Kelly Clark Keith, who’s really interested in other ways of knowing and other ways of being, right? And so she’s really pushing us to think about that you don’t have to just choose the standard research model, or the standard way. We could do our dissertation in the form of a poem if we wanted to, right, like she’s really encouraged. (I’m not going to do that. Nobody wants to read my poems.)

But and so I’m taking a class with her this coming semester called Modes of Inquiry. It’s really about thinking outside of that box and honoring other ways of knowing. And being and it seems to me when we open up summatives and give kids possibility and choice, we’re honoring the many ways of knowing and being there are. As opposed to forcing everybody to conform to one way of knowing and being. And I there’s just something really… caring about that. Sorry to take you down my mental path.


Emily: We’ll, read your poem.


Jeanie: An “Ode To Formative Assessment” is next. I really love the chapter on formative assessment and it’s all underlined and highlighted. It was my favorite section. You really helped me —

Emily: That’s the chapter with the murder, right?


Stan: Like the car crash.


Jeanie: I just found that to be a really rich chapter both in thinking about ways of orchestrating timely feedback for students and also just some of the strategies you share about how to do that. And I specifically carry around in my head as a tool this idea of short, specific and sortable data that you can get from students, to determine what needs to be taught or where students are.

So, I wondered if you could talk a little bit about how you go about that in your class. Maybe give us an example.

Stan: Yeah, I’ll start with a little bit and maybe I’ll throw it to you for an example. But I do I think formative is probably — I probably shouldn’t say the most important because I would probably end up questioning myself. But the formative assessment is in many ways the most important, but also then the most misunderstood, or underutilized. I think one of the things, you know, we see is old the assignments are used and then they say, well, it’s formative. Well, actually formative towards what? One of the biggest things going back to that intentionality that you were speaking of earlier is that ability to shrink the field to a point where I can get that quick, usable information about where you are on that scale, on that kind of learning journey.

And so for us, you know, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to create more time in the universe? But where I think we have shifted our time; the time we used to spend grading and going through and writing and all these things, on endless amounts of homework — and some of the homework which may have been sitting in a pile for two weeks before I could get to it to kind of maybe not even get it back to you, but get it recorded in some books so I could write that you did nine out of 10 on this — that time has gone away. And instead, we’ve really worked hard to craft, like you said, small, really intentional formative assessments that are done in class. All the time done in class. We never let those go out. And with an intent to give us some quick, actionable feedback.

I think one of the biggest changes for us was that idea of it’s not about if I’ve taught it, it’s about if you’ve learned it. And that also that assessment is really for the teacher.

I think we used to think that assessment was for the student; here’s how you’re doing for maybe for the parents back home, here’s how they’re doing, when in reality assessment is for the teacher. And if the teachers aren’t using assessment to then drive their instruction and their practice, then they’re, I would say, misusing or underutilizing the assessment.

So, for us formative assessments are really made to be one specific — in our class and in our terminology — one specific learning target scale.

Again, we can get something that’s quick and by sortable meaning we can sit together and we can very quickly look and place them kind of in the same piles that would match up with the scale ensure a time there might be outliers on either side, and that’s something we could talk about later, but that we can now spend the time really focusing on how are we going to address the people that are at these levels of this. Because what this group needs is different than what this group needs and maybe different with this group needs. And then what this person needs is different, which obviously gets us back into the differentiation. But it allows us the time to focus on our planning and the structure of our class, versus the recording of information that wasn’t really driving us anyway. So, I think that’s kind of been the impact on us. I’m going to hope that gave you time to think of a good example.

Jeanie: Before you give an example, I just want to say: what I’m hearing from you, because as you’re sorting through that data, those quick exit tickets you’ve gotten and saying, “Oh, these people are at this place in the learning scale, or these folks don’t get it at all, these folks get it a little bit, these folks really have got it and they’re ready to move on”, right? A lot of times when I’m working with teachers, they’re like, “What, do I have to have like 22 lesson plans?”

And what I’m hearing from you is that these, that formative assessment allows you to group kids, so that everybody is getting what they need based on where they are, but that it’s still not one size fits all. It’s also not 22 different sizes.

Stan: That’s a great distinction and thank you for making that. Yeah, and again, not that it always works out perfectly like this, but that idea that again, where we’ve all in the past written more or less the same comments on 12 different papers or on 12 different assignments and then gone and record that. Whereas as we had that pile, we know that some direct instruction perhaps the next day maybe five minutes that gets that group on whatever that next task is or that work with it. And so yeah, there is often that thought that it has to be 22 different ones.

There’s also often that thought that I have to make it all up the night before. And what we’ve tried to get at is, you know that there will be kids in these groups. Now you may not know ahead of time what kids are going to fall in these groups, but you can still have plans about:

  • How will I differentiate for the evidence target?
  • How will I differentiate for my claim target
  • And how am I going to differentiate for my relationships target?

Again, I might not know the numbers and who’s there, but it doesn’t mean that it has to be I can’t plan some of it prior to having those piles and I think that’s an important distinction as well.

Emily: Yeah, and the scales are really essential to that. So, having really well written, kind of tested scales that have, you know, fully articulated levels? That really helps us with the sorting because it’s not about comparing work to other work.

So, when we go to when we get that pile of 50 formative assessments in, it’s not saying, well, this student’s work is better than this student’s work and then putting them in a line of 50 of them compared to each other. We have four very distinct articulated skills or levels of a skill. We’re sorting the work into those four levels.

And again, as Stan said, there may be outliers as well that don’t fall on the scale for some reason? But the better our scales, the faster that process is. We often use that process to revise our scales as well. Because we’ll make our piles and then look at what does all the work in this pile have in common? So, what can these students do? Which then helps us write the language of the scale at that level?

But I think with without the clearly articulated scales at those levels, not only is the sorting harder, but the planning for the differentiation is harder. Because then we think well now what do we do? I know these students aren’t at the target, but I’m not quite sure what to do for them. Whereas when we have the language of the increasing levels of complexity of the scale, then we know that we need to design practice or instruction in order to get students to be able to do what’s in each of those boxes.

Jeanie: So, I’m hearing a couple of themes emerged in my brain and one is iteration again, that you create scales, and then you look at student work and you revise your scales.

Emily: Absolutely.

Jeanie: As well as re-teaching the students if they need it, right? And so this is an ongoing process of always fine tuning your scales.

Emily: Our courses have a limited number of learning targets which allows us to be able to dive in and revise and spend time with each target and each scale. Some schools are working with hundreds of learning targets and immediately think, “You mean, I have to have a scale for every one of these learning targets, and then I have to revise it and then I’m sorting work based on it and then differentiating based on it?” So, it becomes quickly overwhelming.

Stan: Yeah, I think if I had to give people advice who are at a school if you’re getting into this and starting some work with the faculty around this, again, it’s this it can’t be seen that these scales are for assessment and assessment only and for putting something at the end and getting teachers to actually live and feel the scales and getting them to try to do the work at these levels/ We just shared an article we’d seen on Twitter about, was it called dogfooding? A tech term right, about what do you actually do:

  • Do you do what you’re saying?
  • Are you doing your assignments?
  • Are you doing your homework?
  • And are you actually so you can figure out what are some of the stuck points?
  • Well, how can my directions be better?
  • What parts are going to be confusing for people?

And so I think that for us, yeah, that was where it takes a lot. I can think of a graphic representation learning target and scale that we had and we struggled and struggled with the class. We would get things back and like this isn’t what we’re looking for and we ended up taking it off of an assessment because we just we realized we hadn’t gotten kids even close to where they needed to be. And that was on us. That certainly wasn’t on them. And so we took it off that assessment.

And we worked with them and by the start as the next year, we had really figured it out and with because we knew the scale, because we understood kind of what it meant and what we meant by it and how to instruct it? Within two days, they had gotten far beyond what our group had gotten over the course of about two months, the year before.

And that had nothing to do with the students. That was purely that we didn’t really understand what we were asking for.

Which again, sounds silly or strange, but going back to it, I think when, again to that vulnerable piece, when you look back and try to talk to people, we don’t really always know what we’re asking for or what we’re looking for. We may have an idea or a topic or an assignment, but what are you really, what are you trying to get better at? What’s this skill I’m trying to get? What do you want people to understand from this?

I think that’s often a little bit either misunderstood or people haven’t thought about it as much as they could. Or should.

Jeanie: So, I’m hearing from you — what’s ringing for me is clarity and intentionality again, right? And I love that idea of dogfooding.

I’m a School Reform Initiative facilitator, and there’s a great protocol where you ask a group of people to complete at least part of an assessment before then having a conversation about what are students actually working on here? What is it that we’re…?

It’s I think it’s a great tool for standards-based or proficiency-based or competency-based education systems to really get at that.

Because I can’t tell you the number of times my kid who’s really good at thinking about current events or social studies, would work really hard on a paper, an essay, always an essay. And come back with a B or a C because of his grammar usage and mechanics, right? Like he’s being scored on one thing when he’s supposed to be thinking about themes or causative factor or some other thing, right?

And then his grade is always about whether or not he used commas appropriately.

Stan: Yeah, I think that goes back to that shrinking the field. That idea with a lot of those formatives. And so, you know, cause and effect is important. Being able to see relationships is important. There’s grammatical stuff that’s certainly important, but how do you parse those out so that you’re sure you’re focusing. Not only you’re focusing on the right one, but the student knows what we’re focusing on and what we’re trying to work with?

Emily: Yeah, I was working with a teacher yesterday, a middle school teacher and science teacher and she was working on evidence and reasoning. So a learning target. And she was showing me examples of student work and was getting frustrated the students were getting stuck before the reasoning. So, they were nailing the evidence, but were really getting stuck on sophisticated reasoning. And so she was explaining what she was doing and she said, “Well, I asked them to come up with a claim. So, we watch it, we view a phenomenon, they come up with a claim, and then they do their evidence and reasoning around that claim.”

We started looking at some of the claims and some of the claims they were coming up with were not sophisticated enough to allow for or require reasoning to require a sophisticated level of reasoning, right? So, they were these simple claims that really led to a student being able to prove it with one or two pieces of evidence. And they were so obvious these claims that there was no reason for the student to have to reason. So, she quickly came to the like, wait a minute, what if I were to provide them with the claim that was more complex, then what would happen to their ability to reason? So, she was able to seems, as Stan said, shrink the field and think about what is it that’s getting in the way of their ability to do the skill I’m actually trying to instruct and assess? So, the coming up of the claim isn’t one of the skills that she was trying to instruct and assess and yet it was the thing that was getting in the way of their ability to think more critically.

Jeanie: So, I want to poke at this a little bit because I have some curiosity about something. So, what I’m hearing from you actually is that that the teacher’s job, the educator’s job is really to engage in: what’s the pattern of learning that happens? And to experiment with that a little bit, right?

Like what I heard you just say is about a teacher experimenting with “What would happen if…? And they’re not doing this, so what if I…?” And I love that. For me as an educator, that’s way more interesting being like, that level of engaged — than doing the same thing, teaching the same thing in the same way all the time.

But. I’m also thinking about this book you may have read, The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness.

Emily: I’m familiar with it, but I haven’t read it.

Jeanie: So, we did an episode on it this fall. This book has stayed with me a lot, because one of the things he points out is that there isn’t one path  — and he’s talking a lot about how average has impacted our lives in this country and in the world and how that came to be. And that like we have this notion of having had an infant I remember this that that kids would gain a certain amount of weight, that they crawl before they walk, right?

But that when we look worldwide, actually there are tons of different ways to get to walking. That there’s not one universal path through development.

And so this is where I have a little bit of a struggle, there’s a push-pull for me with learning scales, because I see the benefit of really thinking through what are the steps somebody has to take — or not even steps, but like what do you have to be able to do before you can do the next thing?

But what if there are multiple paths? How do learning scales account for the multiple paths that there might be through the learning?

And so that’s like just a really genuine struggle that I have when I’m thinking about this in my work with teachers and students.

Emily: I think that’s a great question. One of the first things that comes to mind is… that… the way we define scales and again, they’re defined in many different ways and you’ll see examples all over the place that they’re written in many different ways, but that the scale is not a procedure, right? So, it’s not steps to learning that you have to follow in order to get there?

I think the way we look at it is it’s the most kind of, common experience of the increasing complexity of the skill we’re looking for.

We often have students who will kind of blow us away with the approach that they take to meeting or to reaching or often going beyond these skills. It’s another reason that we believe strongly in the transferable skill scales and the transferable scale skill learning targets. Because they allow students a lot more freedom about how to express, how to get there, where to go beyond the target. So, that’s the first thing that made me think of is the difference between procedural, and kind of increasing complexity?

Jeanie: That’s helpful. Thank you.

Stan: Yeah, and I can think of, for instance, our claim target and scale that we’ve used where it’s about the increasing complexity of a claim which the more complex claims show relationships and other factors involved.

But again, to your point, I can think of a class a few years ago when three distinct students right now and as you said, to get to know those students as part of that learning journey, I can think of the one student who needed a table full of just blank white paper so that she could write all over the place and that she could come up with ideas and mind-map and web in order to come up with that idea that claim.

I can think of the student who was two tables over, and who needed boxes and short pieces and maybe some guiding questions to get to that. If you gave that student open, big blank white paper, they would push it back at you or throw it at you or who knows what.

And then I can get the student who writing it was not, but if they would sit and you would say talk to them, but if you would just sit there as your period piece and let them talk to you? They would eventually talk their way to it. So, I do think you’re right. There’s I think for us there’s we have an idea and again, it’s probably still an imperfect one of what is that complexity look like? But then figuring out what is it that’s going to help each person get to that? Is, again, like you said, unique and different, and there is absolutely no average way, so to speak. Yeah.

Jeanie: Thank you so much for thinking about that language of complexity. You’ve shifted my thinking on that. I really appreciate that. I also really love in this section The Big Blue Head which I know is a graphic that comes from CVU, was that right?

The Big Blue Head, of The Standards-Based Classroom

I wondered if you could just give us an overview of The Big Blue Head.

Stan: There’s no grand story behind it other than the first time it got printed off, it was on blue paper and someone said, “It’s a big blue head!” And so it’s stuck. But that was years ago we brought in some people from our core program, I believe it was maybe two different teachers from each core from various subjects and really just trying to get at: what does learning look like?

At the end of my class, what are the things that I hope kids have gotten better at? What do I hope that they’ve learned?

And after some activities, with kind of, they almost created tiles, as they’re writing all down, we started some of those and started to look at it and eventually after some work, it really started to break out into three kind of broader areas.

There’s input: how do we get the information into somebody? Maybe it’s reading, maybe it’s listening, whatever happens to be, how are we getting information into somebody?

Then there’s obviously the output: how did they eventually get their information out to others, but then all that stuff that happens in between the thinking. And as Emily again said earlier, we don’t want it to be one size on this equals this size, and now that you’re just parroting back one to the other. How your output should be in some ways larger than your input or maybe smaller because you’ve synthesized and made meaning.

But it needs to be different, it needs to be yours. But how do we get at that thinking? How do you get at that middle part?

And so we would have The Big Blue Head on the wall and really tried to be aware of when we were planning a lesson:

  • Is this part right now about input?
  • Is this about output?
  • Or is this about the thinking?

And tried to be really intentional with the students and talking about that as well, just to get them to think kind of metacognitively like what am I doing now and which part of it is this? And also maybe going back to your reflection piece to help start to figure out like are there parts of this that I struggle with? Are there parts of this where we can really start to narrow down some of this?

And so that’s where it came from. Again, it’s kind of morphed over time and I mean eventually it was really used at CVU to create some of our graduation standards what are those things we’re looking to make everybody kind of be able to do and get better at.

But it really, I think, had a big impact on our instruction and again, on our differentiation. Because differentiating to help somebody get the input — am I differentiating the reading so that everybody can get access to this content information?

Am I differentiating something on the output side? And maybe that’s by choice or who knows what it’s by.

But then also, how am I helping scaffold any of that stuff in the thinking piece?

And so I think that’s been…  it’s funny as the as the episode goes on, I’m finding more and more of these terms keep coming back, right? That intentionality piece of what part of this is that and how do I best help a student with that?

Jeanie: I love this conversation. My husband is also an educator. He’s a curriculum director in Southern Vermont and he’s been working really hard on proficiency based learning with his teachers and he’s been thinking a lot about alignment and intentionality, and he talks a little bit about what he calls “black box teaching” or “black box learning” which is like,

“Oh, I put this in and then this comes out and there’s or it’s like what do you wave a magic wand like what is the step in between?”

And then thinking about a conversation we recently had in the two rivers supervisory union about self direction and that we have been having about what is self direction specifically?

And part of what self direction is, is being able as a student, as a learner to say, this is the learning strategy I need, right?

And it’s what happens in the Big Blue Head or the black box, right?

This language comes out of a document called the essential skills and dispositions which the Two Rivers Supervisory Union uses instead of transferable skills. And one of their definitions of self directed is tinkering with learning strategies. And so I’ve been thinking, when do we give kids opportunities to tinker with learning strategies? And for me, that’s what’s happening in the Big Blue Head and that’s what’s happening with tiles when you say it makes the thinking visible.

And I’m just thinking about the magic of that and how complicated it is to make all of that that’s happening in the head… apparent to us. Visible.

Stan: Yeah. And I think right back to again to a student. It’s fun doing this because all of a sudden, all these old stories and students come back popping up, but Emily will know where I’m going with this. But that so often thinking was purely judged by your output. And as she said, often it was an essay, right? Or maybe even going back to what you were saying earlier about your own child.

But this I can think of this one student where especially the writing output was a struggle. No question she had struggles with writing and is working to improve those, but that was a struggle. But so often I think her thinking, her level of thinking was undersold or not appreciated.

And it wasn’t until we were able to start to try to figure out: how do you see the thinking and how do you honor that and how do you get into that part? It was some work we were doing around morality and ethics and categorical thinking and consequential and utilitarian thought and all these different and she had some of the most complex ideas and understandings and connections.

There’s no way she could have written those, but I think at the time because we were trying to figure out how do we get in there, all of a sudden, this light bulb I think went on for us with oh my gosh, you know, this one student in particular has so many brilliant thoughts that are being, I guess not being honored because traditionally we haven’t had a vehicle for those to come out.

And so I think that one student has driven so much of our work around that and even our own current course is called Think Tank. And it’s really just trying to spend most of the time dealing with how do I think and what does it mean to think and how do I develop ideas and spend as much time as we can in that center part? But I think a lot of it came back to that one student and realizing this, oh, my gosh, what have we been missing? Again, going back to the vulnerable part, what have we been missing all these years with students because we’ve kind of been jumping over that middle section.

Emily: I think also that we’ve used The Big Blue Head with students a lot, and when they have the language to understand what’s happening in each of those three categories — so the input, the thinking and the output, I think that really opens up their thinking as well.

Thinking can be this sort of magical thing that students think they’re either good at or bad at, but when we were able to break it down with students and show when we’re talking about thinking, here’s a whole bunch of thinking skills, and students started to be able to identify what they were doing. I’m evaluating or I’m synthesizing right now. I’m recognizing relationships or showing the relationships between things. I think it opened up a lot more confidence for them with their thinking and allowed us to push things further because we had the language to push it further. So, it wasn’t just we need you to think more, but we were able to actually say, let’s take a look at your ability to synthesize right now or something more specific.

Jeanie: I think that’s really powerful. And so when I think about when I’m working on learning targets or learning scales, I use the thesaurus a lot, because I’m trying to really get it what do I mean? When I ask somebody to synthesize, what am I actually asking them to do? And the other thing I’m thinking about is an article I read for a class last semester about embodied learning.

I want to challenge you: I think your next graphic should be the big green body. I think we don’t just think with our brains, right? Like the we know now that there’s this brain-belly connection and brain-heart connection and so just spit-balling.

Emily: I think that’s a great idea. We have a colleague who said it’s missing its heart that it’s not just the head the heart needs to be there.

Jeanie: And I think about young children, and well, and I think as adults too that we maybe have lost the ability to do this, but we really do think with our whole bodies. I do my best writing when I’m walking. Unfortunately, I have not yet mastered the art of the voice memo, which is my next my new year’s resolution is to start like recording myself when I’m walking because I write amazing letters while I’m hiking in the woods, but I never get them down.

So, I usually ask this question in the very beginning, but I’m going to ask it right now since we jumped right in. We had so much to talk about. What are you reading for fun?

Emily: Oh! So many things. Right now ,I am reading my fiction book for fun right now is a young adult novel. And that is, let me see if I can get it, Erica Sanchez I think is the author, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Which I’m loving. So, I think that I’m a huge Lee Child Jack Reacher fan as well. So, I just finished the new Jack Reacher novel, which I always like.

Jeanie: Have you read The Poet X?

Emily: No.

Jeanie: Ooh, you have to. You will love it.

Stan: I wish I could say I had a triple f read, was that fiction for fun? But I think the current book, it was just given to me over the holidays and so I’ve just kind of got into it. See if I can get this right I think it’s called The Rise: Creativity, The Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, Sara Lewis, I believe.

Jeanie: Nonfiction can be fun too, Stan.

Stan: Right! Thank you. Thank you.

Jeanie: I just want to thank you both so much for this conversation. I feel like I could talk to you four days more about this book, about your work, about teaching and learning. Thank you both so much for coming to UVM and spending time talking about your work with me.

Stan: Yeah, thanks. It was great.

Emily: Thank you. It was a lot of fun.

How to change assessment & grading practices

…in a middle level math classroom

Deirdre Beaupre, a 7th grade math teacher at Lamoille Union Middle School took a deep dive into proficiency work. And she invited her students to join her along the journey. Deirdre participated in Learning Lab VT last year to explore how best to change her practice in a proficiency-based and personalized learning environment. How to change assessment and grading practices?

Continue reading How to change assessment & grading practices

Knitting, algebra, & the promise of proficiencies

What could it look like to get credit for real world math proficiency?

Here’s something you should know about me: I knit furiously.

All the women in my family do. I learned to knit when I was six, lovingly coached by my grandmother, my mother, and my great aunt, a magician who could turn anything into a child-size sweater. And now, mumblety-three years later, I design and make my own knitting patterns. I hack existing patterns for size and gauge. And I spin my own yarn.

Here’s something else you should know about me: I failed algebra II. Twice.

But maybe I shouldn’t have.

Continue reading Knitting, algebra, & the promise of proficiencies

The powerful practice of documenting learning

How do we know what our students know and can do?

What, when, and how are we asking them to show us?

In recent conversations with my colleagues, we’ve been considering shifts in assessment required of us in proficiency-based education. Now, let’s explore how to put those shifts into practice.


When we consider those shifts, a theme emerges. We begin to see students involved in the assessment process in meaningful ways. Leading me to wonder: how do both students *and* teachers know a concept or skill is learned or mastered?

The power of documentation

Let’s explore one of these shifts. How might teachers create conditions for the ongoing gathering of evidence of learning in a digital portfolio or personalized learning plan?

Angela Stockman, educator and professional development provider, asks, “ How do we truly know what our students know? Dissatisfied by the potential for quantitative data alone to address that question, many of the teachers that I support have begun embracing documentation for learning.”

Among the advantages she describes, are the following:

  • Students and teachers have the opportunity to study why and how learning happens rather than merely evaluating the product of it.
  • It’s easier to weave feedback loops through the experience, increasing the likelihood that learners will reap the greatest rewards from the assessment process.
  • Capturing a wider vie]ew of learning invitees teachers and students to discover the unexpected and form hunches and theories that testing cannot inspire.

Note the active role students play here.

What might documentation look like in practice?

Special Education Functional Life Skills Teacher Kelli Ohms shares How I Use Seesaw to Create a Learning Journal in my Classroom. Documentation using Seesaw increased motivation. “Students can independently see their own progress. Now that they have several months of posts in Seesaw, they can look back and see how they are improving; they say, “look how I did today? It’s better!”.”

Ohms built student documentation of learning into classroom routines. She reports “At first, my biggest challenge was teaching my students to add items independently, but now they enjoy adding new items to their journals, and even request to post unprompted!”

Documentation as learning

Janet Hale argues the act of documenting learning is indeed a mechanism for learning. Documentation as learning focuses on the process of learning using metacognitive thinking.  “Documenting learning is a shift from the traditional documentation of learning, which focuses on the end product, to documentation for learning and documentation as learning (Making Thinking Visible by Documenting Learning).

Shifting to documentation for learning

Over in her 5th grade class, Melissa Anders Thompson values documentation as a means for students to take more ownership. Because of this, when her school adopted a “bring your own device” policy, she added new weekly classroom jobs. You guessed it. One is the Documenter.

“This summer I read, Who Owns the Learning by Alan November. In his book, he talks about the Digital Learning Farm, and how by giving student’s jobs within the classroom that are integral to the learning, they will take more ownership of their learning and become meaningful contributors to the class culture. The Documenter captures the learning happening in the room and in the school. They take pictures and videos of important learning. This is great practice for when we launch our Student Blogs.”

Documenting outside-of-school learning with digital badges and micro-credentials

Informal learning opportunities can be rich interest-driven experiences for students. Yet, that learning often goes undocumented outside of the context in which the learning occurs. In Digital badges in afterschool learning: Documenting the perspectives and experiences of students and educators authors Davis & Singh argue digital badges can increase the visibility of learning pathways in informal and out-of-school learning. This gives learners a sense of control and ownership. “As micro-credentials documenting specific skills and achievements, badges are well positioned to highlight the intermediate phases through which individuals pass as they deepen their expertise in a domain. By documenting where learners have been, badges can signal where they should go next.”

Vermont middle level educator Don Taylor uses micro-credentials to help students document progress through self-paced learning. When collaborative committee work ends, students can opt to work toward their Climate Change badge. Students earn certificates for completing levels. These certificates of progress get displayed on their PLP portfolios.


Portfolios fall short without documentation of progress

As educator Allison Zmuda says, “The simple act of having digital portfolios for your students doesn’t necessarily mean they are working. The learners need to own them and see benefits for #documenting4learning.”

And we couldn’t agree more. Learning more about documenting for learning with this excellent book A Guide to Documenting Learning: Making Thinking Visible, Meaningful, Shareable, and Amplified by Tolisano and Hale. And consider following the #documenting4learning hashtag.

How might you begin introducing documentation as a key component of your assessment practice?

How to use data to inform progress

Involve learners with actionable data

Wondering how to use data to inform progress for users in proficiency-based education? Assessment provides both learners and educators with data. One of CAST’s Top Ten Universal Design for Learning Tips for Assessment  is involving learners in their learning progress through assessment data:

“Communicate with learners about their progress towards the intended learning goals through formative assessment data, mastery-oriented feedback, and providing guidance for possible adjustments or new strategies that may support the intended skill. This allows learners to become active advocates and take ownership their learning.”

These questions provide an effective guide for educators:

  • Have I offered timely, goal-related feedback on the assessment?
  • Have I offered learners the opportunity to assess individual learning progress and process (for example, through regular check-ins)?
  • What about sharing options, strategies, and background knowledge needed to build the necessary skills and expertise for achieving the targeted learning goals?

How can we involve students in formative assessment so they can be empowered to take next steps?

Technology allows us to build assessment opportunities with our students. And those opportunities generate data. Students can then make informed decisions about how to move forward. Let’s look at some ways technology can help us answer the CAST questions.

Have I offered timely, goal-related feedback on the assessment?

Consider Google Forms. A form can become a self-grading quiz providing instant feedback that allows for review, reflection, and retakes.

My colleague Scott Thompson walks you through how to set up a Google Form quiz so students get both immediate feedback and resources to learn from on each answer they select.

Have I offered learners the opportunity to assess individual learning progress and process (for example, through regular check-ins)?

Padlet is a versatile tool for assessment purposes, especially when learners use the KWL template  (Know, Want to Know, Learn) to track their growth. Ask students to create a Padlet during a project or unit. Build in routine times for them to update it as a means of tracking progress.


Check out this how-to create a KWL chart video to create your own.

And, Common Sense Media provides some sound advice about how to make formative assessment more student centered.  “To unlock formative assessment’s full potential, go beyond the bar chart and get students to reflect on their own progress, areas for growth, and next steps. In the end, it’s not the quiz that counts but the thinking that happens after.”


Have I shared options, strategies, and background knowledge needed to build the necessary skills and expertise for achieving the targeted learning goals?

I’ve written about one of my favorite edtech tools Nearpod in the past. Nearpod invites learners into active participation with content. The power of this tool lies in the ability to easily include formative check-in activities in content delivery directly. And, the results are easily shared with students – data that then the class can act on. 

Want another example in practice? Consider using Nearpod to introduce peer instruction as a collaborative learning strategy so students can receive immediate feedback on developing concepts.  Interested in more?  Pedagogue Padawan offers other similar technology tools for peer instruction and peer critique . He shares his search for tools that allow sharing student responses with all students in the class.

Consider where you are on the continuum

The folks over at Ed Elements share a helpful continuum on how teachers can move toward adopting effective formative assessment and data-driven decision practices:

  • Getting Started: “Teacher uses formative assessments to check for student understanding”
  • Going Deeper: “Teacher shares data with students on a periodic basis; students review their data individually.”
  • All In: “Teacher uses data to provide immediate feedback to students; teacher and students consistently review data together to identify needs and teacher adjusts instruction accordingly.’

Teachers can harness the power of technology to generate easily shared data to help all learners grow. Want to know more? Visit our Formative Assessment Toolkit. And check out these 75 Digital Tools and Apps Teachers Can Use to Support Formative Assessment in the Classroom

What can we learn about proficiency from special education?

 Equitable access for each & every student

assessment in proficiency-based classroomsMany of us doing proficiency work in the state see it as a means of ensuring equitable access for all students. A proficiency-based learning environment asks the learning community to partner together. The goal: to make certain all learners meet clearly articulated targets for success.

And, the VT Agency of Education agrees. As articulated in the Proficiency-Based Learning Team’s  Why is Proficiency-based learning Important?  proficiency-based education is a means to reach equity for each and every student:  

“A proficiency-based education system benefits all by allowing students to progress at their own pace and creating the space and time to do so. Students are given sufficient time to finish assignments and meet learning targets. Educators respond to individual learning needs by providing timely, differentiated feedback and support. If students do not initially meet expectations for proficiency, they are given additional opportunities to demonstrate proficiency without penalty. Those who progress quickly might dig deeper into the content or move onto learning new concepts. Students eligible for special education services are expected to meet the same requirements as their nondisabled peers in an accommodated and/or modified manner. Proficiency-based learning must exist in a learning environment that fosters strong social and emotional development and encourages high achievement for each and every learner.”

Special education implications: shifts in practice

Let’s look at how one Vermont special educator embraces proficiency-based teaching and learning.  

Meet Angela Spencer, a special educator at Lamoille Union Middle School in Hyde Park, VT. Spencer describes the shifts in practice needed to support students’ growth in a proficiency-based system. 


Key ideas in shifting practice for equity

In the past, much of Spencer’s work with students occurred in silos during intervention time. She says students feel more integral, like they are part of the school now. 

A key benefit: “utilizing the transferable skills and their habits of work scores to develop life skills goals and behavior goals because before they were all so accuracy based. I can come to class and sit for 80%  of the time might now be I can come to class and be a participant following a habit of work. Or, getting a job would be a transferable skill so now we have more of those we can play with to make those goals.”

Here is an example of Spencer’s Behavior Goals with Proficiency Tracking scale.

Collaborating with teachers

With proficiency-based teaching, Spencer is now able to use teacher-created rubrics. And these rubrics support calibration during progress-monitoring.

Spencer shares how she and the classroom teachers on her team work to create learning targets and scales that meet individual learners’ needs and mark growth. They do so by backing out targets for instruction and assessment. She concludes that proficiency-based teaching and learning “finally gets to the point of what individualized plans were, making it about what the individual students needs.” This work took her there.

Sara Crum, Champlain Valley Union High School

Learn more about what Spencer describes in the video about backing out targets with this blog post from Sarah Crum, special educator at CVUHS.  Standards Based Learning and Special Education on the CVULearns blog (excerpted below):

“Again, this type of modification requires taking the classroom target and backing it out by articulating the two, the one and below. Then, like using a ruler, the teacher assesses the student on a different set of 1-4, but using the same targets and skills so that the ultimate goal is to get back on the classroom targets.” 

–Shifted Scale: Backing Out Targets for Instruction & Assessment

Supporting all learners through targeted professional development

Remember the VT AOE article Why is Proficiency-Based Learning Important? I referred to earlier? In it, the authors make explicit that special education students are “expected to meet the same requirements as their nondisabled peers in an accommodated and/or modified manner.” The National Center for Disabilities agrees. “CBE allows students to demonstrate mastery of competencies in many ways, and by allowing such broad differentiation, it has the potential to increase access of students with learning and attention issues to the general education curriculum.” 

Our Vermont context

Among the 10 National Center for Learning Disabilities recommendations is “general and special education teachers must have on-going CBE professional development.”  Here in Vermont, the recently passed Act 173 can be a means to help us meet this goal. Act 173 aims to enhance the effectiveness, availability, and equity of services provided to students who require additional support. It also changes the distribution of special education funding in our state in order to do so.

This year, the VT AOE will work with the Act 173 Advisory Group. Together they will develop a state-wide, coordinated professional learning plan for anticipated stakeholder groups. The Instructional Strand supports supervisory unions by providing instructional staff, including general education and special education teachers, professional development. The goal: to adopt best practices to meet the needs of all learners.

Learning from and with our special educators

In Sally Allen’s article Is it Special Education or Proficiency Based Education? Yes  she argues that proficiency based learning is synonymous with what special educators have been up to successfully for years:

“Teachers provide multiple pathways for students to demonstrate mastery.  In many classrooms it’s difficult to tell the special education classrooms apart from the regular education classrooms, especially at the younger levels. There is student responsibility and accountability, students are grouped and regrouped according to skills that need to be targeted and learning is celebrated.”

We’ve got a lot to celebrate here in Vermont!

Explore further

I recommend reading Designing for Equity: Leveraging Competency-Based Education to Ensure All Students Succeed. The equity principles in the report help districts and schools to create an equity agenda. “Equity is an intentional design feature embedded in the culture, structure and pedagogy” to ensure success for all.

How might you leverage the proficiency work in your context to expand access for all?


8 ways feedback makes proficiencies work

Meet Grace Gilmour, and her proficiency-based classroom.

assessment in proficiency-based classrooms“Oh yay. I was like: yay, my heart.”

This was Grace Gilmour’s response to a student’s honest appraisal of her class: “I love it in here because I always feel like I know the next steps on the road to improving.”

Grace teaches social studies to 7th and 8th graders at Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, Vermont. Like teachers across the state, she has been working hard to implement proficiency based learning in her classroom.

If you ask her how it’s going, Grace will likely smile and whisper, “it’s working.”

Continue reading 8 ways feedback makes proficiencies work

Getting started with cooking videos

A recipe for video-making proficiency

"Video in the Classroom"The ubiquity of the digital camera, whether mounted in smartphone, tablet or Chromebook, is getting everyone excited about making videos in the classroom. But it can be hard to translate the squealing, hand-flapping excitement of POWER into concrete, finished products. But making videos gets so much easier when you have two things: purpose, and structure.

Enter the cooking video. Now, at this point in time, the humble cooking video is a type of 21st Century lingua franca. Blame Alton Brown’s long-running Good Eats, or Tasty and their immaculate white-tiled backsplash, or simply admit that you’re off watching Tiny Kitchens videos on twitter when you should be paying attention in a staff meeting. Ahem.

So let’s jump in and get those spoons stirring. The purpose! A short, manageable student-produced video project that showcases student learning and builds video skills.

And the structure? A shot-by-shot approach. There is no need to re-invent the wheel, people. Steal from the best– Take inspiration from the wealth of cooking videos already existing out there. Note down what shots they use and be reassured that you and your students can get this done in two class periods. We teamed up with 6th graders at Currier Memorial School, in Danby VT, to test what it’s like to give students:

And you guys? THEY DID AMAZING.

Let’s tuck in. Starting with the gear:

We loaned Currier’s 6th graders the standard kit everyone here at the Tarrant Institute uses for shooting video: an iPad held in an iOgrapher case, with an external Rode Video MicPro, and either a tabletop or full-size tripod. They recorded their footage using the iOS native Camera app. Videos were edited in Apple iMovie on MacBooks. And there were three kits shared between 18 students.

The shot-by-shot approach:

Getting an iPad on a tripod is half the batter– uh, battle. After that, it’s a matter of writing a script and shooting some of the key components of the modern cooking video. You can go in order, or mix and match.

1. Introduce Your Host

A huge part of the appeal of cooking videos is that the default format centers on a friendly host, someone informed about food and cooking. When you watch a cooking video, you’re essentially welcoming that person into your home to show you how to make tasty food. And as video becomes more and more common for reflection, a key skill for students is getting comfortable on camera.

2. Currier’s innovation: The Ingredient Montage

Giving students the tools, the purpose and the structure and just hitting the deck almost nearly guarantees innovation of one form or another. In Currier’s case, they came up with the stop-motion ingredient montage as a key component of their videos, and it is simple but glorious.

3. The Action Shots: Pouring, Mixing, Whisking, Stirring, Adding, Filling and Checking Temperature

Overhead shots are your bread and butter of cooking videos! (Okay, I’ll stop.) But they actually do serve two functions in your video. One, they illustrate the step the host is describing, and two, they provide visual interest. That’s right: overhead shots are your cooking video B-roll!

4. Updates from the host

As your cooking is coming together, having the host continue to provide updates and small tips about the cooking process makes a watched pot much more interesting and informative.

Looking for a lesson plan?

Currier Memorial School educator Carrie Maus-Pugh designed this planning worksheet and checklist for students as they worked through their videos. BOOM.

Putting it all together

Amazing, right? We can smell what the Currier Kitchen is cooking and it is some glorious video work from the classroom.

The assessment rubric

Of course, as we all know with assessment, the proof is in the pudding. In this instance, the teacher was trying to integrate many concepts into this one cooking video; it combined geography, communication, poetry, science — so much good stuff!

Let’s say you just want to start with this video as a performance demonstrating clear and effective communication. Here’s a rubric that might support students and help them understand how to demonstrate proficiency:


Results! Delicious, delicious results.


And some surprises!

Sure cooking videos have their own narrative and format, that’s what the post’s about. But! Have you ever wanted to hear dumpling poetry? Good morning. Day: improved.

Have you tried shooting cooking videos with your students? How did it go? What did you learn?


Paths to proficiency

Choose Your Own Adventure with 3 easy tech tools

practice for proficiency, paths to proficienciesStudents in blended learning classrooms benefit from taking control over the path and pace of their learning.

Their teachers design learning paths which include:

  • clearly articulated learning targets,
  • readily available instructional activities via digital playlists, and
  • built-in benchmarks so students signal when they are ready for an assessment.

But how do busy teachers do it?

Here are three digital tools to create these pathways / playlists. Go ahead and give over some control to your students. Create a “choose your own adventure” pathway to deliver instruction with:

  • Google Slides & branching choices
  • Hyperdocs
  • Deck Toys

1. Google Slides

Gail Moore (@GailKMoore) shares a way she uses Google Slides to create choices along a path for students with interactive student-led lessons. In this short video, I show how she does it using her Mission Possible slideshow.



Try it for yourself by going to her slideshow below.

Make your own copy. Then start branching out with choices. Intrigued by the possibilities, then take a minute to see how you can extend this idea by using If-Then Adventure Stories with Google Slides from Googles Applied Digital Skills curriculum. Encourage students to work collaboratively and build their own branching stories.


2. Hyperdocs

Heard the hype about hyperdocs? Here we go.  A hyperdoc, according to the Hyperdoc Girls, is much more than just a google doc with hyperlinks:

HyperDocs, a transformative, interactive Google Doc replacing the worksheet method of delivering instruction, is the ultimate change agent in the blended learning classroom. With strong educational philosophies built into each one, HyperDocs have the potential to shift the way you instruct with technology. They are created by teachers and given to students to engage, educate, and inspire learning. It’s not about teaching technology, it’s about using the technology to TEACH.”

Let’s look at an example of an American Revolution hyperdoc (we are on a mission) created by Mandy De Groote.

Mandy shared it on the Hyperdoc website for others to use. Following the clear flow of instructional activities, students both collaborate and work at the team’s own pace. Search for other topics and themes using the Hyperdoc website search tool. Or, simply google your topic with the word ‘hyperdoc’ after it to get ideas and borrow from the generosity of others.

paths to proficiency


Learn more about how to give students choice through path and pacing from the Jennifer Gonzalez’s (Cult of Pedagogy) excellent post How Hyperdocs Can Transform Your Teaching. And, if inspired by Google’s If-Then Adventure Stories from above, check out this Choose Your Own Adventure Stories hyperdoc from Maria DeCicco.


3. Deck Toys

Hang on to your hats! If you liked Google Slides and Hyperdocs, you are going to love Deck Toys. This easy-to-use digital tool creates visually appealing instructional pathways. These paths can be both teacher-directed and student-led, depending upon the need. Check out this Deck created by Chris Bologna to introduce students to parts of a map.


While Deck Toys might take a little more effort to build, what might make it worth it is teachers can track students’ progress while students play the Deck. Teachers then can respond to student feedback needs if necessary based on the results.

Scott Dossett, McCracken County Schools created this 5-minute quick look at Deck Toys that will make it easy for you to build your own.

According to iNACOL’s definition of blended learning, “The most important component of the definition is the “element of student control” emphasizing the shifting instructional models to enable increased student-centered learning, giving students increased control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of their learning pathways.” 
Take a chance at creating and sharing one of these tools to engage your students.  In doing so, you’ll free up instructional stand-and-deliver time to provide formative check-ins and supports as students make their way through the learning paths. 

What kind of proficiency-based learning activities can you and your students design with these tools?

Battle Physics at Green Mountain Union High School

Come for the math, stay for the slingshots!

practice for proficiencyGreen Mountain 7th graders and HS physics students apply math and science to a real-world problem: hitting targets.  They collaborate in multi-age teams to design and build projectile launchers.  Then they calculate trajectories and calibrate their creations before taking aim.

Each spring the students take over the Green Mountain Union High School cafeteria to stage an epic competition: Battle Physics. The tournament is a test of their skills: designing, building, computing, and calibrating. The winning team will have to do all of these things well to hit the most targets.

Continue reading Battle Physics at Green Mountain Union High School

4 key concepts for families about proficiency-based reporting

Parenting students in a world without grades

proficiency-based teaching and learning in VermontProficiency reporting is a set of legal requirements that all Vermont high schools must meet before 2020. In essence, we’ll report only on what a student knows and can DO, with no ultimate judgement about how well they can do it. A? B-? C+? Out the window.

Here’s a primer on four of the biggest concepts around proficiency.

Continue reading 4 key concepts for families about proficiency-based reporting

Using PearDeck in a proficiency-based environment

Looking at tech tools for formative assessment

Chrome apps and extensions for differentiationIn a proficiency-based learning environment, frequent, flexible, and transparent assessments become cornerstones of the practice. The importance of formative assessment can’t be understated, and these tech tools make it so much easier.

Continue reading Using PearDeck in a proficiency-based environment

Looking at proficiency-based assessment for students with disabilities

Making sure Proficiency work includes all students

practice for proficiencyRecently, I was in a middle school team meeting walking folks through some proficiencyb-based learning scenarios and one teacher said “I have a student who is performing at a 4th grade level, what do I do?”

Sound familiar?

Continue reading Looking at proficiency-based assessment for students with disabilities

Winooski’s Graduate Proficiencies & Graduate Expectations

What proficiency-based learning looks like

proficiency-based teaching and learning in VermontWinooski Middle and High School, in bustling Winooski, VT, has been quietly making the journey to proficiency-based learning and proficiency-based graduation requirements for the past six years.

And the resources they’ve constructed along the way — to support students, teachers and families — celebrate cultural and ethnic diversity and challenge inequity.  They provide clear and solid guidelines around proficiencies.

Continue reading Winooski’s Graduate Proficiencies & Graduate Expectations

J-Term at Hazen Union

Personalized, proficiency-based PBL or bust

three pillars of personalized learningDuring a faculty meeting in late December of 2016, educators and staff talked about the need to provide personalized learning options for students at their small, rural Vermont school. They wanted do so in a way that  honored the students’ need for passion-based, independent projects, as well as the desire of the faculty and staff to provide structured supports.

But what could that look like in action?
Continue reading J-Term at Hazen Union

Flexible pathways in proficiency-based learning

Choose Your Own Adventure

practice for proficiencyIn Sam Nelson’s classroom, students choose what they learn, and how. Through the use of learning scales and targets, Nelson sets guidelines for students to demonstrate proficiencies in whatever they choose to study. Between the two systems — flexible pathways and proficiency-based learning — students negotiate a curriculum that keeps them engaged and satisfies their curiosity about the world around them.

How does it all work? Let’s take a look.

Continue reading Flexible pathways in proficiency-based learning

The great Brian Eno-powered STEAM PBL caper

Wondering how to blend project-based learning with STEAM?

Real World PBLYes, STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. Earlier this year we profiled The Cabot School’s amazing public exhibition of sound sculptures highlighting water conservation. They were a big hit with the Cabot community, the students who made them and, it turns out, a fair number of you guys, too: our readers.

In this episode of The 21st Century Classroom, we talk with Cabot School educator Michael Hendrix. We hear about what it takes to pull off STEAM-powered PBL and why Hendrix feels you can’t ever really teach science without art.

Continue reading The great Brian Eno-powered STEAM PBL caper

The crucial role of practice in a proficiency-based environment

Practice makes proficient

practice for proficiencyWhat’s special about a proficiency-based environment? Practice, that’s what.

I know, it sounded weird to me too. As a former math teacher, I thought of practice as the mind-numbing repetitive stuff that students had to do in order to attain fluency. Practice was for straightforward procedural skills.

But Sam Nelson, a social studies teacher at Shelburne Community School, has broadened my perspective on practice to encompass all formative assessment, including complex skills and concepts.

Continue reading The crucial role of practice in a proficiency-based environment

Tracking proficiencies in Schoology

3 ways Schoology supports sustainable Proficiency-Based Learning

tracking proficiencies in schoologyA learning management system (LMS) can be used to manage classroom workflow, create self-paced differentiated units, and collaborate within or across classrooms and schools.

As teachers in Vermont and elsewhere grapple with how to create proficiency-based learning environments, they are looking for new strategies and routines. Let’s explore some of the features of the Schoology LMS particularly suited to proficiency-based learning.

Continue reading Tracking proficiencies in Schoology

Assessment in Proficiency-Based Classrooms

3 examples using blended learning

assessment in proficiency-based classroomsLet’s explore how some Vermont teachers are shifting their instruction and assessment practices to move all students toward proficiency. Three different educators have changed the way they assess proficiency in their classrooms. Each has created a way for students to have control over the pacing of instruction and have included students in monitoring progress and growth, using a blended learning environment.

Continue reading Assessment in Proficiency-Based Classrooms

3 visualization exercises for proficiency-based learning

Outcomes, process and automaticity

proficiency-based teaching and learning in VermontI worked with a group of teachers this summer to re-think goal-setting with their students. We know it’s a key component to developing Personalized Learning Plans (PLP), but students reported little engagement in following through on and reflecting about their goals.

In our attempts to think differently about goal-setting and reflection, we decided to approach goal-setting as a visualization exercise. Each of us set a learning goal for ourselves and experimented with visualizing the end result of those goals.

So how can this work for students?

Continue reading 3 visualization exercises for proficiency-based learning

4 ways to begin using scales for assessment

Getting started assessing proficiency

proficiency-based teaching and learning in VermontSchool systems in Vermont and elsewhere are in the midst of a shift to proficiency-based learning. At the early stages, this transformation can feel overwhelming even for educators, even if they’re excited by the idea.

Where to start?

Start with scales for assessment.

Continue reading 4 ways to begin using scales for assessment

Proficiency-based teaching and learning in Vermont: who, why and how

Two examples of implementing proficiency-based scales of learning

proficiency-based teaching and learning in VermontVermont educators and their students are on a journey. Let’s look at how one school is implementing proficiency-based learning in a way that ensures all learners have the opportunity to thrive.

When we clearly articulate learning targets both for and with learners, the end is clear to all and learning can proceed along a progression with multiple opportunities for demonstrating growth and mastery. 

Continue reading Proficiency-based teaching and learning in Vermont: who, why and how

How proficient are you with proficiency-based learning?

#vted weighs in again on twitter

proficiency-based learningIs your school implementing proficiency-based learning?

It’s an idea that’s taking hold all over, so some folks from Vermont’s education community wrestled with the opportunities and challenges presented by implementing proficiency-based learning.

Continue reading How proficient are you with proficiency-based learning?

Creating a self-paced Spanish class

Experiment with flexibility: tech + assessment

creating a self-paced Spanish classAt Edmunds Middle School, in Burlington Vermont, Sarah Wright is rethinking assessment to create a self-paced Spanish class. Students can re-take exams as many times as possible, and work towards proficiency as it’s defined in the real world; the ability to communicate is what defines mastery of the subject. A stellar example of experimenting with schedule/assessment/instruction changes to meet proficiencies.

Continue reading Creating a self-paced Spanish class