Dual School, a pilot initiative modeled after High Tech High in California, is becoming a phenomenon in Delaware. This innovative and empowering program exemplifies “learning by doing.”
Instead of lectures and worksheets, students spend a semester digging in on a problem plaguing their community (or the world at large) from immigration to increasing financial literacy among youth. More importantly, students are encouraged to test solutions to their problem.
With a combination of independent research, mentorship, and the space to work on projects they care about, Dual School provides students with the agency to drive their own learning and acquire the skills needed to solve tomorrow’s problems.
Our very own Rodel Teacher Council member, Stephanie Diggins, will be teaching the Dual School course this year at WP. We caught up with Stephanie while she was setting up her classroom and talked with her about this novel opportunity.
1) Can you explain what Dual School will look like at WP? My students will participate in the Dual School course for a full school year (August – June). The students participating had to apply for the course and those accepted will receive credits toward their diploma.
Dual School’s model stresses the importance of providing a space where students can work on projects they care about.
During the first semester, my students will begin brainstorming and selecting their project or issue area. Once they’ve selected, we’ll match them with a mentor and various community leaders that can offer real-world insights into the project or issue area they are trying to solve.
And throughout the second semester, my students will build out and execute on their project in various ways such as running workshops, creating physical prototypes, and/or developing websites. My students will also exhibit their projects at two large-scale exhibitions during the school year.
2) How will this course improve the lives of your students? Dual School is a perfect example of project-based learning. It allows my students to develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills in the context of doing an authentic, meaningful project. My students will be able to build on the skills they are learning in their classes and apply them to other areas.
This process is all very similar to what is experienced at a job or in college. Dual School will definitely prepare them for whatever path they choose after they graduate from WP.
3) Dual School is relatively new to Delaware. Prior to this opportunity, did you know about them? Yes, I attended the final exhibition of the first cohort earlier this year. It was cool to see what the students had done for their projects. I remember there were projects on issues like mental health in schools and the tampon tax. One student even coded a website that I was so impressed by and wanted to use in my classroom.
4) After seeing the results of the first cohort, what are you most looking forward to when it comes to teaching the new Dual School class at WP? Dual School students often work independently and in an environment that does not look like a traditional classroom. So, I am excited to see how teaching this course differs from teaching my other courses. I will not be standing in front of the class lecturing or assigning worksheets but rather having my students tell me what they need and supporting them along their project plans.
5) Sounds like you’re going to have to be flexible. What have you done to prepare for teaching this Dual School course? Recently, I attended a professional development training hosted by Dual School and Blue Dot Education. The training covered project-based learning, which is what my Dual School students will be experiencing and I will be teaching. At the training, the facilitators asked us to build a rocket out of random materials. This assignment gave us a taste of project-based learning from a student’s perspective.
Our first rocket launch failed spectacularly but the experience was one of the most valuable I’ve ever had. We deconstructed the project, process, even the role of the facilitators. We then were able to implement the feedback and our rocket launched successfully. Check it out here!
6) Is there anything else you would like others to know about the upcoming Dual School initiative? We need mentors for my students! Mentors can choose a day of the week from 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. to visit our classroom and advise a student working on a topic related to their work. It’s a great opportunity for both the student and mentor. Interested in becoming a Dual School mentor? Fill out an application here.
Stephanie Diggins is a Teacher Academy and Theatre Teacher at William Penn High School in New Castle, Delaware. She is currently serving her second term on the Rodel Teacher Council.
It was a banner year for the Rodel Teacher Council (RTC). In previous years, we conducted some pretty serious research on personalized learning, and then took our knowledge and turned it into informative briefs, reports, and even workshops for our fellow teachers.
This year was different. We wanted to turn our expertise into action; good ideas and best practices into concrete policy. And that’s just what we did. We started by asking some critical questions: How should I respond to a student demonstrating effects of trauma? Where can I access professional development that’s more engaging and relevant to my classroom needs? Will our school’s internet crash during our state testing tomorrow? Then we went about tackling concrete answers.
Read on below for recaps of the four RTC working groups. We did our best to summarize the teachers’ incredible work, but we still didn’t fully capture all the time, energy, and focus our colleagues poured into every meeting, every strategy session, every important decision. In short, the RTC changed the game this year. Teachers impacted policy decisions in a more direct way than we ever imagined. Our teachers exemplified the belief that collective voices can lead to meaningful action and significant results.
WORKING GROUP MEMBERS:
Karen Eller, Stubbs Elementary School
Stephanie Diggins, William Penn High School
Joyce Lester, Bayard Middle School
Michael Paoli, Hodgson Vocational Technical High School
THE PROBLEM: Many Delaware schools still struggle to provide students with digital learning experiences.
“As Delaware educators, we fully understand the value of technology in education. Technology pervades our daily lives and routines—especially for young people—and its supposed to make our classrooms more streamlined and engaging—but it isn’t always that simple.”-RODEL TEACHER COUNCIL BROADBAND WORKING GROUP
THE RESULTS: After months of advocating, the legislature passed the policy we developed and soon the DDOE and DTI will release the first annual review stating where additional broadband is needed in districts and schools.
But teachers need tools and structures—in the form of a common framework and competencies—to better support students’ social and emotional learning.
OUR GOAL: Kickstart the process for statewide adoption of SEL learning goals and competencies.
THE RESULTS: We not only met our goal by building partnerships with CASEL, Capital School District, the UD Positive Behavior Support team, and others to launch a planning process to develop a state framework, but we’re also proud to share Creating a Common Language for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware, a resource for those interested in developing SEL policies and competencies for Delaware.
“I am so impressed with the thoughtful approach Delaware has taken with SEL, with multiple constituents coming together around this. I see Delaware as so far ahead of other states in terms of all of the resources you’ve created, the thoughtful framing and thinking that you’ve already done. I see you as ready for this work and really excited to see the plan that you develop.“LINDA DUSENBERY, COLLABORATIVE FOR ACADEMIC, SOCIAL, AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING (CASEL)
We knew that local people (including teachers and parents) and local priorities should drive our work, so we began assembling a Delaware SEL collaborative of districts and other partners (such as the DDOE and its Positive Behavior Support project) who were interested in working together on a common language for SEL, including frameworks, communications, and competencies.
That collaboration led to Creating a Common Language for Social and Emotional Learning in Delaware, a shared resource for those interested in developing SEL policies and competencies for Delaware.
What’s next? We’re working with partners now to develop a formal request for assistance from CASEL, which we plan to submit later this summer. By fall, we plan to formally kickoff a Delaware SEL collaborative that will undertake the work of developing a common language for SEL.
Tim Brewer, Hodgson Vocational Technical High School
Kendra Rosner-Moritz, John S. Charlton School Program
Kimberly Neal, Brandywine High School
THE PROBLEM: Professional development offerings for educators are not flexible, engaging, or specific. In order for us to effectively implement personalized instruction for our students, a parallel system of personalized professional development must also exist.
OUR GOALS: Change the state’s education regulations to give educators the option of receiving professional development hours through the use of microcredentials.
Microcredentials are focused, competency-based units of study that outline how educators can demonstrate that they have mastered a very particular concept or skill.
“There is a trend now for personalized learning for our students. We want to mke sure we are as close as possible to giving each student what he or she needs to succeed. Yet, teachers are forced to take “one size fits all” Professional Development, regardless of their needs. This needs to stop. Teachers need to take ownership of their Professional Development. They need to make decisions on where and what they need in order to have a greater positive impact in their classrooms.“-RODEL TEACHER COUNCIL BROADBAND WORKING GROUP
THE RESULTS: Throughout the term, members of our working group completed microcredential courses—on topics ranging from writing publicly to influence policymakers to communicating with families using data—and met with representatives at DDOE and DSEA to share our reflections and policy suggestions.
In the fall, we’ll continue our advocacy efforts by presenting to the Professional Development and Associated Compensation (PDAC) committee, which is convened by the Professional Standards Board (PSB). These groups are currently considering measures to approve microcredentials for Delaware teachers.
WORKING GROUP MEMBERS:
Robyn Howton, Mount Pleasant High school
Kate Bowski, Milton Elementary School
Cheryl Jones, First State Montessori Academy
Jared Lelito, Fred Fifer III Middle School
THE PROBLEM: Competency-based learning (CBL) ties a student’s advancement through school to demonstrated proficiency, rather than an average grade covering a range of topics. It’s already happening in some Delaware schools.
But CBL is a significant change to grading and reporting, and many wonder about competency-based learning transcripts, and whether colleges or universities will accept them in the admissions process. This lack of clarity may hinder schools and districts from implementing a competency-based learning model.
OUR GOALS: To get every college and university in Delaware to sign onto a letter indicating that they will accept competency-based transcripts from Delaware high school students starting in the class of 2019.
THE RESULTS: We met with admissions representatives from every college in the state. They all told us the same thing: They receive applications from all around the world, including from home school students, international students, and students in competency-based models. They were more than happy to put that in writing for us.
“We accept a wide variety of transcripts as long as they meet our stated admissions requirements and provide a full and accurate presentation of what the applicant has learned and accomplished. Competency-based, proficiency-based, or standards-based transcripts can provide us with everything we need and do not disadvantage applicants in any way.“DOUG ZANDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF ADMISSIONS, UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE
Virgel Hammonds and Abbie Forbus are two leaders behind KnowledgeWorks, a group that partners with national policymakers and local learning communities to redesign classrooms to become more learner-centered. The basic idea is progress and grading that’s based on proficiency or mastery, rather than seat time and averaged grades.
Let’s say you’re out at a cocktail party or talking to a family member—how would you describe competency-based learning to someone who is not an education insider?
Abbie: Basically I think of competency-based education (CBE) as bringing equity into the learning experience. It gives all kids a shot, because we know that all students can learn, but at different paces and in different ways. What CBE does is bring a common vision for all kids to learn, as well as a transparent curriculum, so that kids can own their learning and develop their agency, instead of just teachers holding the vision.
Virgel: If it were explaining it to my grandmother—well, first, it would be in Spanish. After that I would say that it’s about moving kids through school based on their actual readiness, not just an averaged collection of grades. And I’d say that it’s about making sure students are working at a challenging level and truly getting ready for the next step in their educations.
Like Abbie said, kids are completely different learners with different types of needs. Grandma would understand that one of her grandkids could walk before the age of one and tie her shoes before four; that all kids have their unique strengths and opportunities for learning that are presented to them in different ways. So what if we could adjust our schools and learning environments so that it works for the superstar grandkid as well as for all their peers?
Abbie: We went to school when things were averaged. The idea of averaged grades means you could have a high school student graduating with straight D’s who has lots of holes in their knowledge. Or you could have a students who got an A, but who now feels like they are done with their learning—they’re not digging deeper, or challenging themselves further. I got the A and I’m done.
If we’re averaging learning opportunities for kids, even the ones who’ve been successful—let’s say 80 percent—there’s still 20 that’s missing. Those gaps get bigger and bigger as they continue through school until the student eventually experiences struggles.
What are some of the myths or anxieties you find yourself having to help people through?
Virgel: That teachers are paramount in supporting kids in reaching competency in truly personalized ways. The myth is that this whole concept of personalized learning and competency-based education is about tech. But teachers are critically important in developing relationships and trust among their students that will allow these models to flourish.
Abbie: Personalized learning existed before students had computers. They’re just a great tool that we have today. People also seem to think that CBE means that class is chaotic or changing all the time. It’s not. All it means is that we want kids to be met where they need to be met. It’s about taking the best teaching practices that have been around forever and making sure that all kids have access to it.
Virgel: Abbie and I have a working relationship as teachers and school leaders that goes way back to early 2000s, so we share a lot of stories. One common one that I love sharing is from when we were first implementing CBE, and we were getting lots of feedback constantly from kids and community members to make sure we were living up their vision of learning. And one kid said to us: “You’re not going to let us fail, because everyone is held to the same standard and you’re making sure all kids are getting to where they need to be.” How perfect is that?
I think of competency-based education as bringing equity into the learning experience. It gives all kids a shot, because we know that all students can learn, but at different paces and in different ways. It brings a common vision for all kids to learn, as well as a transparent curriculum, so that kids can own their learning and develop their agency, instead of just teachers holding the vision.Abbie Forbus, KnowledgeWorks
Tell us about how can SBL help students who may otherwise be left behind in the default system? How is this going to help students who are struggling academically?
Abbie: In our experience, because all learners have to prove proficiency and mastery, the holes in their learning or understanding of a subject become much more obvious much more quickly. We’re not waiting years to find these holes.
Virgel: One critical element where oftentimes people can go astray is when you hold kids to competency standards without a strong competency continuum. Yes it’s important to set expectations for learning, but what carries it through is when you have that well-defined continuum that’s uber transparent.
When teachers work together with an aligned learning continuum, together they can hold students accountable to proficiency before handing them off to the next grade level or learning experience. That allows us to be transparent about what a child knows and what gaps exist…and then provide direct support to close the gap.
We can correlate that data with other kids to let us address those holes in a quicker manner than we have in the past. The starting point is holding our kids accountable to the same standards—the how and when are variables. What exactly does competency and mastery look like? Teachers, kids and the community at large have to understand what competency looks like for every level of learning.
When we’re talking about CBL, what can we do to help spread this concept even wider? What have you seen work well in other parts of the country?
Abbie: Putting a network together. When Virgel and I started, there weren’t many schools doing it. There wasn’t much to learn from. There’s no phonebook for CBE. Trying to connect people and schools together—that’s a huge part of the work. When teachers thrive, they’re often learning form their peers.
Virgel: One critical element that we facilitate in communities and cohorts, is what a portrait of a graduate looks like. What do they want them to know, behave, look like—if all things are ideal? The knowledge, the strengths, the system for how we build, support, and nurture our kids from birth thru graduation. It’s not about what happens at high school, it’s about how do we as a community bring the supports, services, and interventions to all our kids so that they are meeting that portrait of a graduate. Stakeholder groups all have a role in that, and I think that’s a critical first step in terms of connecting educators in understanding how their role shifts. You have great trust and a great network of teachers that you’re nurtured in Rodel. Try some new things that they can reflect on collectively. Those are great strategies.
Another interesting part is how you include kids in this redesign. If kids feel a sense of ownership and like they’re part of the redesign, it’s going to make that design process that much more effective and innovative. They’ll be going back to their friends, their neighbors, their blogs, saying—‘Guess what I get to do with my school?’
Are there different approaches to “selling” this concept to different audiences? I imagine there are different selling points for policymakers, for instance, than there with parents, or superintendents, etc.
Virgel: A big part of the process is to engage and create models along with community groups to figure out common beliefs, the culture of their community, and so forth, so that we as a supporter of their vision can help move them forward.
Abbie: It all stems from the needs of the community and their vision for learning. This is not a transformational school/turnaround system. We’re working on what’s best for kids and helping communities build around that. What we find is they’re not okay with eight out of 10 kids graduating, or test scores not being where they should be, or kids dropping out of college. It’s really important that they see the need and want their kids to be more successful.
Virgel: What if you, as an educator or a community member, can say ‘We have a learning community collectively supporting the success of every child.’ That we are all going to support all our kids and the education that we provide them through our K-12 system that will prepare them for the rigors of whatever they pursue afterward. Taking what every parent wants for their child—that’s really what helps a community make this commitment. The best part about this vision is it’s an investment in their community. And the kids come back because they felt such support from their community that they want to come back as adults to bring that support back. It happens magically almost every time. They might go pursue other opportunities but many take what they learned in their K-12 and say this is my opportunity to give back.
Virgel: I like it. What it could lead to is a conversation about–what are your expectations of prerequisite skills, the competencies you want as a college, and then how to we reverse-engineer that for students? And then vice versa: How can you learn from our approach to ensure you continue those differentiated learning opportunities at the higher learning level?
It’s smart to start with higher ed because one question we hear a lot from parents is: What does CBE mean in relation to in higher ed? Having that green light or thumbs up will help alleviate concerns from parents, knowing that they’re kids won’t be at a disadvantage.
I’ve seen in states like Rhode Island, where they’ve been engaged on this work on a statewide basis, that they invite their higher ed partners to their community conversations. The higher ed folks often say, ‘This is not a big deal to us, we see transcripts from around the world.’ And really what a competency-based transcript does is provide a clearer picture of what your graduates actually know.