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Ask an Educator: How Do I Use Competency-Based Education in My Classroom?

  • 5 Min Read

Globalization and digitalization have brought major shifts to how the world works. The COVID-19 pandemic further amplified these trends. Over the past two years, we’ve seen a huge increase in work-from-home models and employee burnout, a renewed focus on worker mental health and a shift to a more global workforce.

These changes mean we need to ensure young people are empowered with the skills and competencies required to show resilience during challenging times, think independently, learn and work flexibly, and support their communities. While many education systems agree on the importance of building these types of core competencies, school districts are also working hard to build academic recovery plans to close learning gaps resulting from the pandemic. This can create pressure to revert to traditional assessment models (such as standardized testing) over new assessment models (such as competency-based education), and raises a critical question: How can educators best support students to help close learning gaps and prepare them for the future?

The answer lies in competency-based education. Educators need a robust curriculum implementation plan that incorporates core competencies. They also need a way to conveniently integrate these competencies into the content delivery model of learning that can help foster the results they envisage for their students.

What Is Competency-Based Education?

Competency-based education (CBE)—also referred to as mastery learning—refers to an education and assessment model that supports learners in achieving mastery of academic and core competencies.

What Are Core Competencies?

Core competencies are not always a part of CBE models but are very popular in K-12 education because of their focus on developing the skills that support students in their current academic learning and in becoming lifelong learners. Core competencies are known around the world by different names like critical competencies, global competencies and 21st-century skills. Regardless of terminology, the major theme remains the same: Core competencies focus on building learning skills such as a strong creative self-concept and the ability to apply literacy and numeracy skills in real life, and they are associated with academic achievement and well-being.

How Do You Teach Nonacademic Competencies in Regular Classroom Curriculum? And What Core Competencies Should Educators Focus On?

One way of integrating core competencies into classroom content is by using the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2021 Assessment Framework. The framework suggests five domains of social and emotional skills that are important for individual success and social functioning. These five domains also translate to building core competencies in students and preparing them to enter the world upon graduation. When teaching regular academic content, consider how to build in these skills through lesson delivery, assessment and interactions with students:

  1. Open-mindedness (openness): This refers to a person’s will to consider other perspectives and try new experiences in life.

    How to foster it: Initiate group discussions or debates in your language classes and encourage students to voice their opinions. This helps students build vocabulary, articulate their thoughts and understand other perspectives.

  2. Task performance (conscientiousness): Students who are self-disciplined and persistent become high performers in the future.

    How to foster it: You can help your students take ownership of their projects or assignments by enabling them to manage smaller subtasks. Co-building checklists with students helps them understand what’s expected of them and thereby break activities into smaller achievable tasks. Another popular idea to foster discipline early in students’ lives is to create a class calendar so that students can independently monitor progress without missing deadlines.

  3. Engaging with others (extraversion): Meaningful engagement with others helps students become energetic, positive, assertive and better-equipped for future employment outcomes.

    How to foster it: Create individual projects or group activities where different students are given an opportunity to take a leadership role, and model how to present ideas with confidence.

  4. Collaboration (agreeableness): Collaboration helps students display sympathetic and pro-social behaviors.

    How to foster it: Group students based on their topic of interest and learning style. Students can collaborate on math problems, community or history projects, building games, or appreciation and reflection activities. This helps students learn to engage with their peers, appreciate diverse perspectives and find agreeable solutions.

  5. Emotional regulation (neuroticism): This encompasses skills that enable people to deal with negative emotional experiences.

    How to foster it: Physical education and wellness activities foster mental health and can help students manage the emotions that come with winning or losing in a game.

With the ever-changing and competing demands of the world, we need to equip young people to be successful and resilient in facing unforeseen challenges. A focus on core competencies in the classroom doesn’t need to compete with academic learning; in fact, as schools focus on closing academic gaps, these types of competencies can support academic learning while preparing students for an unknown future. This will shape the future of young people by equipping them with a strong creative self-concept, agency over their well-being and the ability to apply academic skills to real-life scenarios.

Get started with implementing core competencies in your classrooms by applying the five domains of social and emotional skills aligned with online resources and lesson plans. For assessment, create rubrics using core competencies tenets or build your own reflection sheets.

Puneet Kaur is a success coach at D2L. In her role, she partners with K–12 educators and leaders to align Brightspace technology with their educational goals and achieve student success. She is passionate about 21st-century models of learning that empower learners to become successful in all walks of their lives. Puneet has a Master of Education from the University of Toronto, and her major research paper was “Paving a Path for Global Competencies in the Ontario K-12 curriculum.” Prior to joining D2L, she worked as a curriculum analyst, education researcher and elementary-level educator.

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