Competency-based education lends educators to think of terms like mastery, exceeding, and rigor. These terms are not just synonymous with Advanced Placement courses and honors programs. Within a competency-based system, all students can be masters of content and exceed competency standards. This is especially true for students with learning differences. Developing a personalized learning plan for students within a competency-based system is similar to developing an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Competency-Based Education is more accessible for students with learning differences due to its skill-based focus.
One way to use personalized learning that can be used to support students with learning differences is to use interest-based transition planning coupled with content area standards. This can be coined as Indicator 13¹ meets Common Core. Developing a crosswalk between student interest, job skills, and content standards will not only help to engage students in the learning process but also give agency to students in seeing that they have control over what they are learning and why it is important to them.
There is already an example of a successful course that is using a more learner-centered approach and gets to the ‘why’ of learning to read, write, research, and present information. These skills are important for virtually all careers in the world beyond High School. This senior English class is called Practical Reading and Writing. This course gives students the opportunity to choose what they want to read and learn about based on interest and post-secondary goals. There are three total projects over the course of the school year. Each project meets the four-course competencies: reading, writing, research & inquiry, and speaking & listening. The projects are an independent reading book project, a vocational interest choice project, and a genius hour project. The students, heterogeneously grouped, had access to both an English Content teacher and a Special Education Teacher throughout the entire year-long course.
Out of the nineteen seniors enrolled in the Practical Reading and Writing course, seventeen passed the course.
The Team Approach
Similar to IEP teams, professional learning communities can work together to drive student agency and engagement. Grade level and department teams working together for the benefit of the school system is the standard practice within school communities. This can lead to silos of adults making decisions for an entire student population and particular students falling through the cracks. System barriers, like schedules, dictate the members and attendance of these specific PLC teams.
One way to support students with learning differences would be to create student-centered teams, developed by the student. The student would be the facilitator of the team – inviting the members they want, discussing the topics they need support with, and determining how frequently the team needs to meet. This PLC would be the experts of the specific students and meet regularly to support the students in reaching their goals.
Of the nineteen students mentioned above; 7 had IEPS and 8 had 504 plans. Out of the seventeen, sixteen completed the projects based on topics that they will be pursuing in their post-secondary plans. The English teacher and Special Education Teacher met every other day to discuss student progress and curriculum plans to ensure all needs were being met.
Personalized learning plans in one course supported the agency and engagement of fifteen students with learning differences. If all students were able to tailor personalized plans with professional teams, not only would students with learning differences flourish but all students would be involved in the inclusive design of emergent transformation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Keely Gott is a Special Education Teacher in the Epping School District. She is working on her Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Competency-Based Education. Previously, Keely received her Masters of Special Education from Southern New Hampshire University, and her NH certification endorsement areas of Specific Learning Disabilities and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities from Granite State College. When Keely is not furthering her own education, she is coaching her school district’s Special Olympics Unified Soccer and Volleyball teams. She lives in Hooksett, NH with her husband and son.