RSU 18 transitions to standards-based model

Article image: Shelly Moody leads her class in a discussion about ecosystems.

Shelly Moody gets her students started on a project about ecosystems.

OAKLAND – The students in Shelly Moody’s classroom at Williams Elementary School can explain everything about the lesson they’re working on, how it fits into the broader unit of study, and why it’s important.

The knowledge comes from the classroom’s transition in recent years to a standards-based model of education in which Moody lays out the expectations for her students, makes sure they understand them and allows them to choose how they’re going to meet them.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen visited Moody’s classroom on May 10 during the Kennebec Valley portion of his statewide listening tour. Moody is Maine’s 2011 Teacher of the Year, and she teaches a third- and fourth-grade loop at the Oakland elementary school. This year, her students are in fourth grade, spending their second year in her classroom.

On May 10, their focus was a lesson on ecosystems.

The period began with an ecosystem quiz students designed using the SMART Board Moody won for being named Maine’s Teacher of the Year. Small student groups prepared two questions each about rainforests, deserts and savannahs, and tested their classmates’ knowledge.

The SMART Board technology allows every student to key in an answer on a remote control, and the board displays live feedback showing how class members respond.

“Do I expect us to get all the questions right? No,” Moody told her students. “Our best discussion comes when we have different answers.”

After the quiz, Moody displayed a standard – a specific expectation outlining what students should be able to do – on an easel that was to guide the rest of the lesson: “Describe ways organisms depend upon, interact within, and change the living and non-living environment, as well as ways the environment affects organisms.”

“We have a standard to unpack and we have projects to do and share,” Moody said to transition students to the new task.

Students started highlighting and discussing the standard’s key words and associated tasks and concepts. Once they understood the task at hand, they signed up for three activities that appealed to them.

Article image: Shelly Moody works with a student on his project during Commissioner Stephen Bowen's visit to her classroom on May 10, 2011.

Shelly Moody, Maine's 2011 Teacher of the Year, works with student Sean Staton on his project illustrating the life cycle of a frog.

Student Sean Staton chose to meet the standard by creating a chart to illustrate the life cycle of a frog. His personal interest in frogs drove that decision, he said.

For Sean, the project-based approach to learning seems to work.

“I’m good at being independent,” he said. “I can get more stuff done when I’m independent.”

Regional School Unit 18, the five-town district to which Williams Elementary School belongs, is in the midst of a five-year transition to standards-based education. The district is one of six in Maine that have worked with consultants from the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition to begin implementing the model.

Ultimately, RSU 18 plans to be without age-based grade levels, and to deliver a student experience that’s customized based on how individual students learn best and the pace at which they learn, said Linda Laughlin, RSU 18’s assistant superintendent.

The online customer experience in the private sector is tailored to preference and past behavior, Laughlin said.

“Why wouldn’t we expect the same type of service for our students?” she said.

It’s becoming possible with a technology package known as E-ducate, which will allow teachers to closely track students’ progress toward meeting standards while allowing parents to log in and see how their children are doing.

By the start of the 2011-12 school year, all RSU 18 teachers will be trained in standards-based techniques, according to Laughlin. In addition, every elementary and middle school will have a few classrooms piloting proficiency-based groupings, in which students are assigned to classes based on academic level rather than age.

That arrangement, Laughlin said, will involve reassigning students a few times during the school year, as they graduate to different levels of proficiency.

The implementation at the high school level will be more gradual, Laughlin said.

In the fall, a handful of teachers will start reporting out standards-based grades – which range from 1 to 4, and detail the specific standards students have met – while simultaneously maintaining the conventional report card.

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2 responses to “RSU 18 transitions to standards-based model

  1. Peter E. Harrison

    I’m interested to learn how the pacing that RISC espouses aligns or not the child’s development with his/her chronological age and social development. For example, a child in a traditional fourth grade is performing academically on par with a traditional seventh grader, though a social discrepancy exists. How does RISC address pacing a student in this case and those that are similar?

    • Peter, it’s my understanding from speaking with Diana Doiron, the Department’s standards-based implementation specialist, that students’ classroom assignments are made with social development in mind. For example, if a fourth grader were prepared to study high school geometry, he or she wouldn’t be assigned to learn with a group of high school students. Rather, arrangements would be made to give the child the materials and support needed to study geometry in his or her current grouping.

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