Making Personalized, Competency-Based Learning a Reality for All Students

Topics: 101, Systems Change, Vision and Culture

By Jesse Moyer

Many school districts have a vision to implement personalized learning, but making that vision a reality for all students is far from easy. When most people hear about personalized learning, they start thinking about the changes that must happen in the classroom to make it a reality for students. While teachers are on the front line of implementing personalized, competency-based learning, not all responsibility rests with those leading classrooms. District leaders are also key in making systemic, sustainable change.

What does personalized, competency-based learning mean for kids? Personalized, competency-based learning helps to create a more equitable education system, empower educators to meet each child where they are and prepares students for whatever is next for them.

When getting started with personalized, competency-based learning there’s a lot to consider – from what it means for your students, what it means for teachers and what it means for the systems that facilitate teaching and learning. Systemic areas to consider when implementing personalized, competency-based learning across a district include:

  • Curriculum consisting of consistent and easily understood standards and learning targets, though the ways in which students meet these standards can vary
  • Instruction focused on teaching students how to learn, shifting from teacher-led instruction to student- centered learning that may incorporate differentiated instruction, direct instruction, mastery learning, project-based learning, etc.
  • Comprehensive assessment systems that provides data to inform day-to-day learning activities and accountability including formative, interim and summative assessments.
  • Flexible learning environments that foster a culture of trust, support, equity, voice and inclusiveness
  • Just-in-time learner supports to help students right when they need it, not only after an end-of-year summative assessment.
  • Job-embedded professional development for teachers that is aligned with the district’s vision and creates a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement.
  • Comprehensive data systems that are accessible to students and families at all times, including learning management, assessment and student information.
  • Leadership development to build the capacity of classroom, school and district leaders to lead vision, culture and systemic work across the district.
  • Technology policy that enables safe internet access for all students
  • Partnerships with business, community, higher education, government, youth organizations, etc. to advance learning outside of the classroom.
These are systemic areas to consider when implementing personalized, competency-based learning across a district.

As I’ve toured schools across the country, I have seen many examples of these systemic shifts in action. My favorite example comes from RSU 2. When I pick my own kids up from school, I always ask them what they learned. I get one of two responses, “The usual” or “The usual and some science.” On one of the tours of RSU 2, I asked a fourth grader what she was working on. Her response almost floored me. The student told me exactly what learning goal she was working towards, and the specific activities she was doing to achieve mastery. This student knew exactly what was expected of her, and at what level, to achieve mastery and move forward in her learning. Simply put, personalized, competency-based learning was real to her.

Our new publication, From Vision to Reality: Personalized, Competency-Based Learning for All Kids©, is designed to help school districts take steps toward personalized, competency-based learning, and equip leaders with support and resources to do this critical work.