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Integrating Competencies:
Producing the Self-Directed Graduate
By Rhett Nettles, Education Specialist
 
What are competencies?
 
According to Webster’s Dictionary “competency” is the possession of knowledge or skills. Competency as defined through the Profile of a SC Graduate is a measurable outcome that demonstrates that a student possesses the knowledge, skill and/or characteristic described by the profile. So how does one demonstrate possession of a skill, knowledge, or characteristic? Let us first take a brief look at the competencies for the Profile of a SC Graduate found on the SCDE PersonalizeSC website. Each of the eleven competencies identified is followed by an “I can” statement that explains what students will know and be able to do when they are proficient. These “I can” statements are generalized to fit any content area or discipline.
  • Read Critically - I can make meaning from diverse media to better understand the world around me.
  • Express Ideas - I can communicate through diverse formats for a range of purposes and audiences.
  • Investigate Through Inquiry - I can explore questions and build knowledge through inquiry.
  • Reason Quantitatively - I can work with numerical data, solve problems, and construct mathematical solutions.
  • Use Sources - I can assess the credibility of sources and synthesize my new learning to build knowledge.
  • Design - So, how does one demonstrate possession of knowledge or skills?
  • Learn Independently - I can develop a plan, monitor my progress, and persevere through challenges to achieve my goal.
  • Navigate Conflict - I can develop skills, strategies, and emotional awareness while navigating conflicts with others.
  • Lead Teams - I can effectively lead teams with clarity, purpose, and care.
  • Build Networks - I can initiate relationships with diverse individuals and networks for a purpose and sustain relationships with authenticity and care.
  • Sustain Wellness - I can support my own physical, emotional, and social health to live a healthy and productive life.
The comprehensive list of performance level competencies can be found in this document provided by the SCDE’s Personalized Learning site (https://personalizesc.ed.sc.gov).

When a student has mastered these competencies, their behavior is that of a self-directed person. A self-directed person has the following characteristics:
  • Self-managing (I can make my own decisions based on the data (qualitative and quantitative) available to me.)
  • Self-monitoring (I can adjust and/or amend my behavior based on feedback.)
  • Self-mediating (I can change my thinking by seeking to understand all information and perspectives. I can persevere in the face of any challenge, and I can come to consensus when it is for the greater good.)  
Embedding the competencies into daily instruction provides students the opportunity to practice being self-directed, eventually leading to a graduate that is college, career, and citizenship ready.

Research on Embedding Competencies

Self-directed students are heavily involved in their own learning. According to The Competency Group, “when learners are engaged in their own learning, they are more likely to improve their skills and apply these skills in the workplace.” (Self-Directed, 2018). When students are provided time and structure for reflection on what they learned and how they learned, they become better learners, peers, leaders, and co-workers. The competencies, when intentionally embedded into instruction, give students the opportunity to take ownership of their learning. In addition, the competency becomes second nature to students when intentional reflection is part of the learning process.

The Center for Curriculum Redesign (CCR) in June of 2021 published their findings, for a field study with 65 participating teachers on competencies drafted to reflect the 21st century skills. They are very similar to the competencies developed for the Profile of the SC Graduate. They found that “every discipline has a key role to play for development of Competency expertise and transfer. If all disciplines focus on teaching their top Competencies, benefits will exist at the curricular, course, and learner level. Curricula will be integrated with relevant Competencies which will in turn increase content relevance and depth of understanding of what it means to proactively practice and contribute to each field. At the same time, teachers will feel less pressure to cover all the Competencies” (Embedding, 2021, page 13.). In other words, each content area has naturally fitting competencies that when intentionally planned into instruction increase student performance and understanding of that content area. Furthermore, this research suggests deliberate, explicit, systematic planning for implementation. When we look at the Competencies for the Profile of a SC Graduate, we see a good bit of overlap between them and the content area standards.

Implementation

If you are a leader, the research from the CCR suggests that creating time and support for teachers in multiple disciplines and grade levels to intentionally plan for implementation of these competencies increases the depth at which each will be embedded. However, an individual teacher will also have success if they intentionally embed opportunities for students to practice the competencies within their lessons. The first step in implementing anything is to start. When beginning anything it helps sustain momentum if success is achieved early and often. To ensure success start small. Choose a competency you are familiar with and whose behaviors/tasks are ones you know your students will have success.  It might be helpful when choosing a competency to ask yourself a few questions like those below:
  1. Which competency(ies) might a ____________  need to be successful? (Fill-in the blank with an occupation for the discipline(s) you teach, or a specific group of students, or a specific skill/ applied knowledge students must demonstrate)
  2. Which competency(ies) naturally support the content/student(s)?
  3. What context(s) are best suited to embedding the competency and still support the depth of knowledge necessary for content proficiency?
However, force fitting a competency into content or context does not provide authentic opportunity and usually is not very engaging.  I recommend selecting competencies that are a natural partner with the content instead of trying to embed one that might be a tough stretch to connect.

Once you have chosen a focus competency, set a goal and a task that can measure that goal. The same questions apply. You want to ensure that the task fits the level of proficiency for the content standard(s) and that it also fits the context (how you are teaching the content). Sometimes the task will provide the context. In that case authenticity is the relevant question: Is the task an authentic way for students to demonstrate proficiency at the skill and knowledge level of the content standard? Is the task something that is engaging for the students?

After setting the goal for the students and yourself, determine how you will measure success. Collecting this data will help you and your students grow in implementing the competency and demonstrating it, respectively. If the task is a small one (can be completed within the lesson) a small measure is appropriate and might just be a single line rubric, or a checklist or a journal reflection. The larger the task and goals the more success indicators can be identified and measured. Using a rubric to quantify results is helpful in mapping progress especially with larger tasks.

Next Steps

The SC Department of Education Office of Personalized Learning have provided two opportunities for teachers to begin implementing the competencies. If you are interested in independent learning and exploration but would like a step by step guide you can request one here. If you are interested the SCDE, through the Office of Personalized Learning,  has offered schools and districts the opportunity to “field test” embedding the competencies through a fellowship program. As you get started, here are a few more questions to ponder: How might these competencies engage your students? What are you already doing that you might be more intentional about? How might your students be involved in selecting competencies? How will you know that you and your students have been successful?

References:

PSCG Competencies. (2022). SC Department Of Education. https://personalizesc.ed.sc.gov/pscg-competencies/
Self-directed learning | The competency group. (2017, December 28). Competency Experts. https://www.thecompetencygroup.com/training-workshops/self-directed-learning
Embedding Competencies within Disciplines: Deliberately, Explicitly & Systematically. (June 2021). Center For Curriculum Redesign. https://curriculumredesign.org/wp-content/uploads/Embedding-Competencies-within-Disciplines-aka-Top4-CCR-June-2021.pdf

 
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