Archuleta School District #50 JT

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PSES initiates Summit Learning for fourth-graders

If you visit a fourth-grade classroom at Pagosa Springs Elementary School, you will probably notice that something is quite different from what you might expect in a traditional elementary classroom, or what your own school experience was like. The world is changing around us, and our teaching methods mirror that change for the benefit of our students.

Many students are busy accessing resources or checking their progress toward their learning goals online. A group of students is collaborating on a project, contributing ideas and research. The teacher is monitoring progress and working one-to-one with individual students to offer suggestions, direction, and immediate feedback.

This learning is called competency-based education (CBE) and personalized learning, and it offers many benefits that will help today’s students prepare and succeed in the ever-changing world in which they live.

For several years now, ASD has embraced the concept of competency-based education and has sought ways to implement these new educational strategies into each level of the K-12 learning experience.

The goal of competency-based learning is to ensure that students are acquiring the knowledge and skills that are deemed to be essential to success in school, higher education, careers, and adult life. CBE requires curriculum and teaching methods that are targeted to the unique learning styles of several different kinds of students. Thus, it is important for educators to use an approach that meets the needs of all students..

For the past two years, Superintendent Linda Reed, the fourth-grade team (Janae Ash, Kelly Prudhomme, Becky Johnson, Julie Fox, Lori Lucero), Special educator Iris Frye, Interventionist Stacy Lewis, Media Specialist Melanie Cowan, assistant superintendent Laura Mijares, and Principal Justin Cowan have researched several possible opportunities that bring CBE into the classroom and, after much discussion and thorough investigation, have landed on a very promising option — the Summit Learning approach to teaching and learning.

Summit Learning is a holistic classroom approach to learning, which is centered around strong relationships between teachers and students, and is inspired by the vision to equip every student to lead a fulfilled life. Summit Learning aims to ensure that all students are known deeply inside and outside of the classroom, become advocates for themselves, and have opportunities to ignite their passions through schoolwork, real-world learning experiences, and ongoing, one-to-one mentoring between teachers and students.

In essence the methods and approach help students gain the skills, knowledge, and habits to succeed both inside and outside of the classroom.  

Designing for student success chart

In a Summit Learning classroom teachers work to ensure that all students are meeting, or exceeding, grade-level expectations. Teachers also meet with every student to ensure they have the right support needed to do well on their coursework. With immediate data available through the system, teachers can pinpoint individuals and groups who might need additional support and direction.

In class, students are working on projects with their classmates and teachers. Projects give students hands-on experience with the real-world scenarios they will encounter after graduation — like collaborating with a team, interpreting data, and presenting a persuasive argument.

During Self-directed Learning (SDL) time, the program is designed to reach students exactly where each one may be (from the accelerated learner to those with special learning needs), offering many opportunities for all students to manifest success in school and ultimately in life. This is known as planning for a “low floor, high ceiling” concept so that all kids have access to their education.

Students demonstrate proficiency in four outcomes

After over 120 hours of intense training this past spring and summer, the team launched the program at the beginning of the school year. The training was provided free of charge by funds made available by Summit Learning. This initiative seeks to support best practices in education.

Says Principal Cowan, “When you have a large school of about five to six hundred students per year, you need to have a tool that helps implement, coordinate, and manage competency-based education. For example, creating individual pathways for several levels of students on a large scale is a lot of work, requiring nonstop planning year-round. Technology has helped us put it all in one place. This tool helps us work better. Our team is excited about the possibilities and eager to see where Summit Learning can take us. And probably the biggest bonus is that our kids are just as excited as we are. They love the new challenges CBE offers.”

Read an interview with Principal Cowan in which he expands on how the program started, what he sees as the benefits, how the role of the teacher has changed, and how students and parents can transition to this excited new platform.