Educating for ‘competence’

“Competency-based” education is hot, but what does it really mean? The Christian Science Monitor looks at New Hampshire, a leader in the competency movement.

At Sanborn Regional High in Kingston, N.H, students must be proficient in four “competencies” — concepts and skills — to pass each class. They show their competence through quizzes and tests, projects, portfolios of their work and class performances.

If they fall behind, they’re expected to keep working during flex-periods, where teachers reteach key concepts. Students reflect on and revise their work until they meet expectations. “They take ownership of it,” says Aaron Wiles, an English teacher.

In a freshman Global Studies classes, competencies include understanding the role of conflict and cooperation among individuals and governments and applying knowledge of geography.

For the unit on World War I, teachers divide students into teams representing six fictional Balkan countries. Students create flags and anthems for their countries — and seek alliances covering nonaggression, right of passage, mutual defense, or mutual support.

. . . “I didn’t really know what caused wars,” Brianna (DeRosier) says. “I knew it was conflict, but I didn’t really understand why – I was like, why can’t everybody just get along? But now I understand that there are other parts to it, with the allies, and sneaking around each other’s back.”

The simulation takes several class periods and drives home lessons on nationalism, geography, economics, military strategy, and culture, so when the teachers incorporate the facts of World War I, students can take away more than just a string of events.

Playing Risk in school sounds like fun. Is it worth the time? And how does the teacher judge whether Brianna has achieved competency in understanding conflict and cooperation?

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Comments

  1. I don’t know why kids can’t learn about conflict and the causes of war by studying real countries and real historical/geographical issues. Heaven knows that the Balkans have plenty of the latter. It sounds like (yet another) process-over-content knowledge project that consumes lots of time and is academically questionable. Imaginary countries? Sigh