Competency-based Learning Practices to Keep When Students Return to School

teacher working with studentsDuring the pandemic resourceful educators adopted a wider range of instructional practices to meet the needs of students no longer in their classrooms full time. Many of the new practices that were adopted were directly related to the technology needed for hybrid and remote learning. However, other practices were rooted in strategies that provided a new level of flexibility and support to students to ensure they were able to meet expectations. These practices represented a shift towards competency-based learning.

Competency-based learning has been explained by the Aurora Institute as “a major shift in school culture, structures, and pedagogy focused on ensuring that all students succeed and addressing the fundamental shortcomings of the traditional model”. It is defined by 7 key elements:

  1. Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge, and how they will demonstrate their learning.
  2. Assessment is a meaningful, positive, and empowering learning experience for students that yields timely, relevant, and actionable evidence.
  3. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  4. Students progress based on evidence of mastery, not seat time.
  5. Students learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing.
  6. Strategies to ensure equity for all students are embedded in the culture, structure, and pedagogy of schools and education systems.
  7. Rigorous, common expectations for learning (knowledge, skills, and dispositions) are explicit, transparent, measurable, and transferable

teacher working with studentsMany of these elements were important to student success during the pandemic, however they are equally important as students begin to return to classrooms in the fall. While your school system may not be ready to make a complete shift to competency-based learning, there are practices that were implemented by educators across the globe in the past year that can help move education forward in support of greater equity and student success. Here are three competency-based learning aligned practices that I recommend keeping in your classroom as the next school year kicks off.

1. Give students clear, rigorous expectations up front
Teachers weren’t in front of all students each and every day this past year, so learning expectations had to be clearer and more specific than ever. This transparency benefited students, and let them know what they needed to accomplish in order to achieve success and move on to the next learning task. Educators can continue this practice, and go a step further by co-creating expectations with students. Single point rubrics are a great way to define learning targets and can be built in collaboration with students to help define success and hold students to rigorous standards. Look for our blog on Reinventing Rubrics for more ideas you can use in your classroom.

2. Provide personalized pathways for students
Not all students learn through the same modalities and at the same pace. We’ve always known this, but haven’t always provided students with the choice and options necessary to allow for more personalized learning to occur. This changed for many educators and students during the pandemic with playlists and choice boards that incorporated video, audio, and text options for students. Keep exploring multiple pathways in the fall, and look for the new LINCspring cycle on differentiating playlists to support your growing personalized learning practice.

3. Make time for frequent feedback and revisions along the way
As students began to take more ownership of their learning, they were given many opportunities to receive feedback on assignments and assessments, and were allowed to revise and resubmit once they had greater mastery of the content. This flexibility allowed students to learn from their early mistakes, and provided them with the opportunity to persevere on difficult assignments. It also ensured that students who missed deadlines or received an early failing grade weren’t left with a grading deficit they couldn’t recover from. Assessment and assignments as tools for learning, revising, and growing made sense then, and they make sense now. I highly recommend that this trend continues as we head back to school. Check out our LINCspring cycle on Shifting to Equitable Grading Practices to learn more ways you can begin to make this shift!

The pandemic gave us an opportunity to take big risks with new practices designed to support students with different learning needs and circumstances. Many of those factors still exist, and we now have a new toolkit to bring with us as we head back to the classroom. While these competency-based learning practices represent just three small shifts you can continue into next year, they can have a major impact on student learning and success.

I would love to hear what competency based practices you are implementing in your classrooms. You can email me at with your suggestions and recommended practices, and you can reach out to the LINC team or to me via LINCspring messenger to get feedback and support. Also, be sure to join us for upcoming LINCspring Live! Sessions on all of these topics and more!

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