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CBE Part III: Skill Modules or the New Common Core

December 27, 2014

Just before Christmas blogger Audrey Watters posted an essay titled “What is Competency Based Education” that defined that term as follows:

Rather than moving students together through materials for a fixed duration of a class, CBE enables students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. They are assessed along the way, and if they can demonstrate “competency” on a particular skill, they can move forward to the next. This is seen as an alternative to traditional models where students receive a grade — and credit — at the end of the course, but that grade can range from A to D, meaning that students have attained very different levels of understanding of the course materials.

I’ve used a set of questions she posed at the end of that article to write a series on the topic of CBE, which is the instructional backbone for what I call “Network Schools”. This post is part of that series.

How might CBE’s emphasis on the “modularity” of skills shape teaching and learning? What does it mean to see knowledge as “modular” in this way? Does this mean that knowledge is seen as static? As decontextualized? Or only contextualized through a certain “order” of skills?

Yesterday’s post suggested that instruction in factual and hierarchical information would be provided asynchronously though computer technology and in classroom dialogue sessions facilitated by advisor-coaches. This “fundamental knowledge” required that students must master (i.e. what is currently expected of students leaving eighth grade) will become the New Common Core (NCC). Many critics decry the current Common Core, yet the practical reality is that before the Common Core was defined at a national level textbook companies and/or populous states with state-wide adoption textbook adoption policies defined a de facto “common core”… and that de facto “common core” was not based on research or the collective wisdom of teachers. The de facto “common core” it was based on content that would promote the widespread sales of textbooks which, in turn, created an environment where texts would embrace the latest fads sweeping the nation. This created a planned obsolescence of instructional methodology which, in turn, created a periodic demand for shiny new textbooks. Future posts will describe how the NCC is developed

In a CBE school, instruction that requires drill and memorization (e.g. times tables, phonics, some mathematical algorithms, etc.) would be decontextualized. Most of the  “fundamental knowledge”, though, would be presented in a context that helps students understand it’s relevance. As a student progresses and determines the direction they intend to head after their fundamental CBE instruction is completed virtually all of the instruction will be contextualized based on the skill modules developed by either higher education institutions or businesses.

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