Tag Archives: VT AOE

Hitting learning targets in Vermont hunter education

My twelve-year-old son is becoming a hunter.

Myself, I’ve never even fired a gun, but Henry has been interested in learning how to hunt for several years. Given that he was born in Vermont and has a doting outdoorsman grandpa, his lifetime Vermont fishing and hunting license was purchased when he was 6 months old — despite zero input from the infant. Twelve years and many conversations later,  Henry enrolled in an early September hunter safety course in Southern Vermont.

The sticker, the patch and the handbook: Henry is an officially certified Vermont hunter.

Hunter safety courses in Vermont propose two options. Given our family’s other time commitments, we chose to enroll Henry in the homestudy program. It’s an online course which has two in-person dates once you finish your coursework. The other option is a traditional series of classroom courses — usually in the evenings and in select locations. You can find out more about Vermont Hunter Safety courses here.

In our case, Henry had until Saturday, September 7 to pass all units and the comprehensive hunter safety exam. That meant he had some significant homework to complete during the summer in August. And our goal was for him to finish all coursework before school started on August 29.

Hunter education is real learning

When we registered and logged him into the portal on my computer, I showed him how the course seemed to be set up. It was easy enough to follow, since the materials automatically advanced from lesson to lesson in each unit. As we looked closer, we realized that Henry had nine online units to complete. And sometimes, one single unit could contain as many as 13 lessons. Holy smokes! This was an enormous amount of work!

But Henry was up for it.

Even though he was committed and super motivated by the looming deadline, this online coursework took serious effort.

Each lesson required close reading.

Each lesson required comprehension of both text and video resources.

Topics ranged from hunting history to hunting ethics and responsibility. After each unit, a test demanded a demonstrated application of knowledge. As a parent, I was learning how to support my son in his most ambitious learning experience to date. But the most surprising part? None of it was done in school.

16 days of serious, rigorous out-of-school learning.

Henry receives his official certification. Photo credit: his proud grandpa.

When Henry passed the course, I saw pride and accomplishment wash over his face. My middle-schooler son set himself a goal, worked hard at the learning, and achieved his certification. As a proud mama, there are few feelings that can compare to seeing your child succeed like this.

Valuing every learning opportunity

My son’s work in hunter education moved and impressed me. Yet I can’t help but think of the large scale of this learning across the state.

In my sixteen years of teaching young adolescents, I have likely had several dozen boys and girls like Henry pass through my sixth and seventh grade classes. How many of my former students had participated in Hunter Education courses?

I vaguely remember memory a student in my literacy class asking me if his Hunter Safety course workbook could count as his nightly independent reading. And I shudder, because I know that my answer was not a resounding, “Of course it does!”

And that makes me wonder: just how many of my student hunters pushed themselves to learn this way?

Regrettably, I as their teacher knew nothing about their Herculean feats. Only now as the mother of a similar child, can I acknowledge the important and real-life learning that was taking place.

Hitting targets

Throughout this home learning scenario, I saw my son demonstrate many of his grade level proficiencies. As a seventh grader, his teachers set learning targets around reading comprehension, like: “(I) can determine the central idea of the text and recognize the development of supporting details throughout  the text and provide an objective summary”.

I watched him nail those reading targets through this Fish and Wildlife assessment.

I learned Henry is not just a dedicated student, but a good shot as well. (Photo credit: still his proud grandpa).

Don’t even get me started on how many Transferable Skills learning targets he touched. I think about this learning target, for Self-Direction: “I can demonstrate initiative and responsibility for learning” and then this one “I can persevere in challenging situations”.

Henry took complete responsibility and ownership of this learning. The course tested his attention span; he had to experiment with new comprehension strategies. He had to muster more self-direction and persistence than I’d ever seen from him. Henry hit the targets in the shooting range as well as the learning targets; he’s actually a very good shot.

But how do his teachers know about his proficiency?

Does he have opportunities to inform his school about his learning out of school?

How do we as a state implement structures to document and acknowledge the learning that children and young adults do outside of school walls?

Hunter education in a Flexible Pathway environment

When Vermont committed to the ambitious outcomes of Act 77 in 2013, the state agreed to provide flexible pathways for learning in grades 7-12. What better example of a flexible pathway experience than a Hunter Safety course?

Inviting conversations between schools and parents about learning is a key component, so I plan to share stories about his Hunter Safety education with Henry’s teacher at his upcoming student-led conference. His interest in and exploration of Vermont Hunter Education truly fits the definition of what we hope young adolescents pursue in personalized learning environments.

Additionally this September, the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE) published the Flexible Pathway Implementation Kit. This kit provides important tools to help schools develop and communicate profiles for flexible pathway opportunities.

Across the state, students like Henry are engaging in real-life learning outside of the classroom. A Vermont Hunter Safety course is just one clear example.

  • And how can teachers be informed about this learning?
  • How do they recognize and acknowledge the hard work?
  • Whose responsibility is it to manage the communication between out-of-school and in-school learning?
It’s a start, but I’d love to hear some thoughts both from #vted teachers and leaders, and also Vermont Fish & Wildlife and VT’s AOE. We’re one of the most innovative and vibrant education communities in the nation. Let’s figure this out.
a super-proud mama & Vermont educator

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?