The End of Average, part 3

This is the final post on the The End of Average by Todd Rose. Check out part 1 and part 2 to see the whole series.

This post will focus on two ideas that come out of the second half of the book that have great relevance to our work as K-12 educators: if-then signatures and competency-based learning.

If-then signatures for personal learning profiles

Rose shares his experience receiving guidance from his academic adviser at Weber State that sounded personalized, but turned out to be identical to the advice given to a student with a very different academic background. How often do we give advice or feedback to students that is meaningfully different from the advice that we provide to others? If everything is pretty much the same, is it really personalizedReferencing work by University of Washington psychology professor Yuichi Shoda, Rose develops the argument that personality and character traits are context dependent and not absolute. A person who behaves one way in a particular situation might behave very differently in another situation. For example, Chris might be very extroverted when holding a microphone but very reserved when making small talk in large group settings. Shoda and Rose suggest an “if-then” model for personality and character traits:

If Chris is holding a microphone, then he is extroverted.

If Chris is milling through a large group, then he is introverted.

Taken in a larger set, these if-then statements provide a crucial set of information to have in personal learning profiles. Having information about the if-then signatures of individual learners is critical for students to know about themselves, for teachers to know about their students, and for principals and coaches to know about teachers. With some if-then information, students could receive truly personalized counseling advice or more effective feedback from formative assessments. These don’t need to be exhaustive profiles, they could start with a small set of traits in relevant contexts and be added to as needed. It’s also important to consider that, especially for students, these traits are likely to change over time.


Competency-based learning

Our K-12 system has a challenging relationship with grades. On one hand, grades are a time-honored way of providing progress and summative feedback to students and families, as well as communicating information about performance to higher education and employers. On the other hand, this information can be highly subjective and difficult to interpret. Standards-based grading practices increases the clarity of information regarding student performance but often provide additional confusion to parents expecting single-letter grades or who are unfamiliar with current state standards.

Writing about higher education specifically, Rose suggests moving toward a competency-based system, where students receive credentials not for completing a course but for demonstrating sufficient mastery of specific knowledge and skills. Acquiring the knowledge and skills will take students different amounts of time and would need to be self-paced. Rose cites Western Governors University as an innovator in providing a competency-based approach to its programs, including business, education, healthcare, and IT.

In Evergreen, we have a few examples of self-paced learning for professionals already. What other professional learning could be competency-based? Perhaps more importantly, what learning for our students could be competency-based? We currently have Collection of Evidence portfolios for students who did not meet standard on high school assessments, but perhaps this model could be adapted for use before students even take a state assessment or become credit-deficient. There are exciting opportunities for granting students credit for learning content and skills outside of the traditional semester calendar.


Moving from average to personalization

What are some of the steps that we can take in the short term?

As teachers and students work to create our initial versions of personal learning profiles, we can help students to become aware of and catalog their own if-then signatures. When are we most successful as learners? What changes can we make to help students be more successful as individuals? What are the most important “if” contexts for us to consider? A possible short list to get started:

  • If I have a role in a group, then ____.
  • If I am in a small, unstructured group, then ____.
  • If I am presenting to a group, then ____.

We can create competency-based opportunities for students in the short term within our own classes. Using tools like itslearning and Safari Montage, teachers can create playlists of resources, tasks, and activities for students to move through at their own pace. Some students may need time with each resource, while others may be able to show mastery having investigated only a few resources. Tools like single point rubrics can also provide ways for students and teachers to focus more on competence and less on labeling work on a scale.

Have thoughts about The End of Average or some of the ideas shared in this series? Let us know what you’re thinking in the comments and what your ideas are to move forward.


One thought on “The End of Average, part 3

  1. Thank you.
    It’s always to read a review of a book I enjoyed. And while most of what Rose suggested seemed targeted at a higher education audience I think the idea of a “jagged profile” may become my mental image of personalized learning.


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