Small groups of students are clustered at tables examining a set of artifacts. Each set contains images, maps, and primary source documents that illustrate how geography impacted the history of the United States. Students use the artifacts to examine the essential question, how do the Earth’s features impact people over time? As they examine each artifact, they annotate and record information identifying the source and its purpose, the author and his or her point of view, the context in which it was created and important information about how the source reveals how the geography of the land impacted the historical event they are researching. A nearby laptop is open and readily available so students can use it to clarify or search for additional information.
The teacher circulates the room answering questions, directing students to additional resources and taking notes on student progress. Later the teacher will review the groups work and provide them with feedback directed at the competencies they are working to achieve. Students will then use the teacher feedback to revise and complete their research before sharing their learning with the class.
Why are students engaged in this work? What is driving the teacher’s feedback and next steps? If asked, the teacher would explain the goals of the unit and the related competencies the students are working towards:
- gather, use and interpret evidence from diverse sources
- take note of source context, content, authorship, point of view, purpose and format
- make inferences and draw conclusions
- analyze relationships between geography and history
- demonstrate strategies of a self-regulated learner
This classroom is indicative of one that could be found in a competency-based school, where the focus is on helping all students achieve meaningful learning objectives. How can a school make this shift?