Talk to any veteran educator today and they will likely tell you that educating today’s youth comes with unique and pressing challenges. Rising poverty, opiate addiction and too much screen time can all converge to provide a challenging educational environment. Luckily, there are also important aspects of educating today’s students that make teaching more fulfilling and successful. We have a deeper understanding today than we ever have before of how students learn. This knowledge has led to a definition of success that is not measured simply by what students know, rather by what students can do with what they have learned. This results in more effective teaching and ultimately more effective students.
Over the past couple of years schools in Stowe, Morrisville and Elmore have been implementing a Proficiency Based Learning (PBL) framework. The practices and beliefs in the PBL framework draw from decades of brain research and our deeper understanding of how students learn. Our work to incorporate research and best practice, using PBL as a framework for changes in instructional practices, is squarely rooted in our commitment to improving student success in college and careers.
We are encouraged that our transition to a PBL framework is resulting in increased student accomplishment. State and local assessment and GPA data show early evidence of student achievement.
This, however, is only a part of the story of success. We are seeing a larger number of engaged, self-directed learners almost every day.
For example, in elementary schools, the concept of “I can” is permeating the classroom culture. Our students are increasingly able to approach learning opportunities with a clear definition of what they are supposed to know and be able to do. They are also increasingly able to articulate and reflect on their progress toward a learning goal.
In our middle schools, this is evident in student-directed deep dives into what we call “Scholarly Habits.” LSSU’s Scholarly Habits describe the research-based dispositions of success and include Perseverance, Mindsets, Social Skills and Learning Strategies. They represent the skills and dispositions of successful life-long learners.
And at the high school, new and different evidence of student engagement is emerging. More and more we are able to identify and support students who might have “gotten by” based on averages in the past, and targeting areas where they need more work to truly meet expectations for proficiency. Both Peoples Academy and Stowe High School are developing processes and strategies to ensure that students who are not on target in a particular area are able to access more practice and instruction. Students and teachers are also better able to articulate what it takes to demonstrate distinction in a particular area. Students are beginning to think about the learning, not just getting the grade.
Much attention has given to the feedback, assessment and reflection aspects of PBL. Particular focus has been applied to how these changes will impact the college application process. Our students have continued to be successful with their college applications. We have worked closely with higher education and sought input and insight from many voices to ensure that students are not disadvantaged in the college application process. We have accomplished much in this area, and have received positive feedback on our transcript and school profiles. We are pleased and proud of our successes in this area and appreciate the hard work of faculty, staff, parents and many in higher ed in helping us to ensure a strong, successful process.
PBL is not a checklist to complete. It is not a task that is done by a specific deadline. It is a way of thinking about instructional design and learning that is grounded in research and best practice. The incorporation of PBL into our schools has and will continue to result in more engaged, thoughtful and accomplished learners.