Empowerment-Based Learning: Putting Students in the Driver’s Seat

 “A student who understands what it means to own their learning has an internal drive to get things done.” This comes from an Idaho rural school administrator who has unlocked the key to powerful learning. Empowering students to take an active role in their own learning is often referred to by many different names:

 

Using terms like these interchangeably can be confusing but here’s the bottom line:

With empowerment-based activities, students are more able to take control of their own learning.

They achieve success not because someone is forcing them to move at a certain pace, or memorize a set of dates for a test the next day–they learn because they want to. And, teachers are empowered to provide richer, more meaningful feedback to their students because they can customize learning experiences as needed. School leaders are empowered to make more thoughtful decisions about schools and school systems while parents/caregivers see their children enjoying school in a way they never did before.

All students deserve the opportunity to learn.

Many state departments of education have regulations that haven’t been updated in decades and most don’t even mention student-driven learning models. Contact (clock) hours mean far less than learning time–there is a big difference! Just because someone may be sitting in a seat with an open textbook for 50 minutes does not mean they are engaged, motivated, and focused. Most of all, it doesn’t mean they are comprehending, applying, analyzing, evaluating, solving problems, or synthesizing new information.

Students deserve the opportunity to take greater control over what they learn, how they learn, and how quickly they progress through material.

This can have a positive impact on motivation, attendance, student retention, graduation, satisfaction, and college enrollment. Likewise, learners who can demonstrate they have a solid foundation of content knowledge–and they can apply that knowledge to solve problems in real-life situations–are particularly valuable to employers. After all, employees must demonstrate their proficiency on-the-job everyday; why not help prepare them for success by using an empowerment-based learning model in our P-12 schools?

Empowerment-based learning is not limited to a particular school environment.

It can be implemented in public and private P-12 schools, in colleges and universities, and in homeschools. It can also be used quite effectively in online learning environments at all levels. That’s another beautiful aspect of this model–it’s not limited to a particular type of school or location--it can be implemented anywhere, at any time, for any level. 

This isn’t an easy, 1-2-3 step approach.

Despite all its advantages, creating such a model is not as simple as following a few easy steps; setting it up correctly requires a lot of preparation and some foundational knowledge. Moreover, the model is not intended to be static. After it’s in place it still requires periodic review and updates based on student learning data.

Success stems from preparation, communication, and stakeholder buy-in.

While the design can be highly effective in a variety of learning environments the one constant is that it requires a shared commitment to academic excellence on the part of educators, administrators, parents, and learners. In order for this to take place, school leaders must thoroughly educate themselves in empowerment-based learning. They must connect one of the models to their school’s vision, mission, and purpose. School leaders must also be adept at communicating to stakeholders throughout the process, seeking their input and active involvement. It is only when everyone shares a commitment to empowerment-based learning that it can be truly successful, but the results can be incredible.

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

###

Regardless of What It’s Called, Empowering Students to Take Charge of their Own Learning is a Good Thing.

“A student who understands what it means to own their learning has an internal drive to get things done.” This comes from the administrator of a rural school in Idaho who’s unlocked the key to powerful learning. This approach is often referred to by many different names, such as:

  • personalized learning
  • proficiency learning
  • demonstration learning
  • individualized instruction
  • competency-based learning

 

However, while these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not all one and the same. Here’s an at-a-glance chart that may help:

Approach

Questions to Ask

Sample Classroom Applications

Personalized Learning

Individualized Instruction

 

What do my students need to know?

What are my students intrigued by? What sparks their curiosity? How do each of my students prefer to learn?

How can I provide each of my students with the kind of experiences they need to learn and thrive?

–Curriculum could be based on specific learning standards for each content area, but in its purest form it could be based on the mission of the school or even each student’s learning goals.

–With guidance, students actively participate in setting their own learning goals.

–Project-based, theme-based or interest-based learning

–Experience-based learning opportunities (including internships & apprenticeships)

–Pairing students with a mentor who has expertise in a given area

–Small group or individualized meetings with learning coach, advisor, or mentor

–Work products can take many forms (portfolio, blog, video, book, music, event, etc.)

Proficiency Learning

Competency-Based Learning

 

 

 

What do my students need to know?

How will I know if each of my students has met academic expectations?

What should I do if I have an advanced learner who breezes through the material?

What should I do for learners who are struggling with specific concepts or skills?

–Curriculum is typically based on district-adopted learning standards for each content area.

–A specific level of proficiency (or competency) is identified for key learning goals and objectives.

–Student learning is measured through carefully constructed formative and summative assessments.

–Proficiency/Competency is determined by performance on those assessments.

–Students can progress onward after demonstrating proficiency/competence.

–Struggling students are provided additional instructional support, and then are reassessed. Cycle is continued until proficiency/competency is demonstrated.

Demonstration Learning What do my students need to know?

How will I know if each of my students has met academic expectations?

How will I know if each of my students has met academic expectations?

 

–Curriculum is typically based on district-adopted learning standards for each content area.

–A specific level of performance is identified for key learning goals and objectives.

–Student learning is measured through a combination of formative and summative assessments.

–In many instances, students can select from a menu of assessment choices.

–Depending on age and grade level, examples of culminating demonstrations of learning could include: portfolio, blog, video, poem, art show, recital, podcast, write a letter to the editor, etc.

Mastery Learning

Mastery learning was purposely left off the chart. This approach is often used interchangeably with proficiency and competency-based learning, and while it does share many attributes to those approaches, it is not the same. There is a difference between demonstrating one’s proficiency or competency in a given skill and mastering that skill. For example:

  • I am proficient in using Microsoft Excel, but I have not mastered it.
  • As evidenced by my harvest this year, I am a competent gardener but most certainly not a master gardener.

Mastery learning represents a much higher bar of expectation—it goes above and beyond that of proficiency or competency. To master something means you have become an expert in a given skill, and that approach doesn’t seem to fit within an empowerment-based learning model.

While terms can be confusing, here’s the bottom line:

Students should be empowered to take an active role in their own learning. As a result, they achieve success not because someone is forcing them to move at a certain pace or memorize a set of dates for a test the next day–they learn because they want to, and they learn in a way that feels comfortable. Furthermore, teachers can provide richer, more meaningful feedback to their students because they can customize learning experiences as needed. School leaders are able to make more thoughtful decisions about schools and school systems, and parents/caregivers are elated because they see their children enjoying school in a way they never did before.

Regardless of what it’s called, an empowerment-based approach can lay the foundation for all students to stretch their minds in a rich and meaningful way, experience success, and develop a lifelong love for learning.

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

###

Competency-Based Education to Support P-12 Student Success

The competency-based educational (CBE) model has been used successfully in higher education for the past two decades, and it is starting to gain national traction at the P-12 level. Several states, particularly on the east coast, have already come to appreciate its benefits. The Marzano Academy at Lomie G. Heard Elementary School, a new magnet charter school focusing on STEM will open its doors this fall under the CBE model. The state of Illinois currently has 10 school districts that will begin a pilot in academic year 2018-19 under the Illinois’ Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements Pilot Program.

Within CBE, learners must demonstrate what they know and are able to do through carefully designed and calibrated assessments. Expectations are clear and well-defined, and there is thoughtful, purposeful alignment between curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

It’s All About Learning

This model is truly learner-centered: Seat time becomes less important than learning time. Students are able to drive their own learning and work at their own pace within structured guidelines. They are supported through meaningful feedback and mentoring.

Parents and caregivers feel more informed about their child’s progress under the CBE model. They know what their student is learning, their learning goals, progress, and their level of proficiency in each skill set. This helps them to partner with teachers to provide additional support at home.

Teachers recognize the positive impact the CBE model has on student learning and development. They are able to easily track the progress of each student on a daily basis, and they know exactly when a learner needs additional support.

School leaders are able to support teachers more effectively when they know exactly what their needs are. With the CBE model, they can provide strategic assistance through forming a mentoring network to support struggling students; through building school-community partnerships; through offering targeted professional development support, and the like.

Before making a decision to develop one or more programs based on the CBE model, educators must consider the following major questions:

  • Would CBE align with our school’s mission and vision?
  • What are the benefits of CBE for our students?
  • What are the challenges and caveats of CBE?
  • What are the basic steps needed to convert our current curriculum to the CBE model?
  • How can we train and support our faculty and staff so they could implement the CBE model successfully?
  • Could our school commit to a pilot lasting at least five years so we can fully measure the impact CBE has had on our learners?

The Bottom Line

Competency-based education is NOT a shortcut nor an easy fix to serious school challenges. However, if built correctly and maintained properly, the CBE model can prove to be a powerful way to increase student learning, achievement, and satisfaction.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in accreditation, quality assurance, teacher preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as quality assurance, accreditation, competency-based education, and educator preparation.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

###