Competency-Based Instruction, Now More Than Ever

My wife and I are privileged in lots of ways. We have books around the house, Wi-Fi, multiple connected devices, and a printer. We have flexible jobs that allow for remote work. We have a steady income and health care benefits.

Still, as the parents of two elementary-age kids in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, we were thrown into this new homeschooling experiment abruptly, as of 11:41pm on Thursday, March 12th. Two weeks later, the governor of Virginia closed schools for the rest of the year. We’re now starting week four.

Our school district has given us little more than links to the state’s grade-level standards plus some old YouTube videos. They are supposedly going to start mailing out instructional packets next week (this week is technically Spring Break from the district’s perspective.) That feels lackadaisical and insufficient, especially compared to some of the more organized responses I’ve seen elsewhere.

While I’m bitter about how little our district is doing, I want to be clear this is about district policy. My kids’ teachers have signaled that they’d like to do more but they’re being prevented from doing so.

To fill the void, my wife and I created one of those daily schedules going around social media, and we’ve been giving the kids workbooks, other printouts we find online, plus some “educational” videos like Bill Nye The Science Guy and the Mo Willems Lunch Doodles.

While there are more resources out there, particularly for online instruction, we are not anxious to plop our kids in front of a device or ask them to join Zoom meetings all day. Our priority has been keeping the kids safe and healthy, with structure and any educational benefits as secondary. Still, for my kids at least, they’re running ahead on the things they like and stagnating on things they don’t like. My second-grader, for instance, is doing fourth- or fifth-grade level work on some things while struggling with grade-level content in other areas. 

If this type of dispersion is happening among individual students, I can only imagine what it will look like at the classroom- or school-level. How will teachers handle these challenges? What systems and supports will districts put in place to identify student competencies and tailor their instruction accordingly? Will they assess students in the fall to know where they’re strong and identify areas where they need more support?

I continue to suspect that districts are mostly just trying to get through this. They’re hoping planning to re-open as normal in the fall. But if my family’s experience is any indication, we’re going to need something different. If anything, this experiment has made me much more interested in competency-based instruction, however that might be delivered.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

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