Introducing Competency-Based Learning to My Students

“Can I have a calculator?” asks Dylan, “I want to see what I got.”

“What do you mean, ‘what you got?’”  I ask.

“The average.  What’s my overall grade?”

Inspired by my time at UVEI, I have spent the better part of the last year training my students to think beyond the traditional single-grade system. Though I still have students like Dylan—those who care more about the grade than the quality of the learning—he is the exception.  Most of my students say that they like the change.

This summer, I attended a three-day Competency Design Studio workshop with colleagues, where we worked on moving our school towards a competency-based system of teaching, learning and assessment.  Much of the information we learned there echoed what I had learned as a UVEI intern.  As soon as we arrived at the workshop, my mind flashed back to my first year of teaching, when I first introduced the idea of learning objectives to my seventh and eighth graders.  “These (as I introduced the objectives) tell you what you’re supposed to learn.  Then, on assessments, you can see how you’re doing on each objective.”  At first, the adjustment was awkward for the kids, who were still thinking in the traditional grade-centric model.  As time went on, though, most (but still not Dylan) caught on that they were learning more and integrating what they learned.

As an intern at UVEI, the competencies helped me focus.  Through the fog of new ideas, concepts, methods, forms and jargon, the competencies were something solid to which I could cling.  “I only have to do these ten things,”  I reassured myself.  During the internship, I learned how much more effective  learning can be when it’s focused on competencies, and now, with a classroom of my own, I see how much more students care about their work when they are involved in a process of feedback and reflection, and how much more they learn by demonstrating competency. 

Story by Heidi Magario

Heidi Magario graduated from UVEI in 2014.  She teaches 7-8 grade science at Plainfield Elementary School in Plainfield. NH.