How to Write a Competency: Six Steps for Educators

Instructional Design
Professional Development
Student Experience

By: Susan Fine

What does learning look like?

When we commit to competency-based learning, that’s the first question to answer. Tackling it requires crafting competencies and outcomes, the way we articulate the skills and measurable results we want students to develop. Once they’re articulated, we’re beautifully positioned to choose the content to cover and the assessments to design.

But what does it take to build student-friendly, inviting, and inspiring competencies and outcomes? That’s the question I’ve wrestled with for months as a coach and instructional designer, collaborating with many teachers at Global Online Academy during our move to competency-based learning. I’ve done some impressively messy learning along the way, which led me to create a six-step recipe for writing competencies. Below you’ll find that recipe, unveiled here through my partnership with Darcy Cleaver, one of our Fiction Writing teachers, who made creating it possible.

Darcy’s not only an English teacher at Louisville Collegiate School in Kentucky, but also a playwright. She thinks deeply and creatively about performance, about the sounds and rhythms of language, and about varied media for shaping and experiencing stories. Early on she began designing new learning experiences for our Fiction Writing course, initially in pursuit of students’ developing two already existing student competencies:

  • Develop an awareness of and a relationship with a community of writers, locally, nationally, and internationally
  • Articulate, present, and communicate as writers to the class, their home school, and writers in their communities

In doing so, she designed learning experiences with an audio component: students would create audio readings of flash fiction, “performance pieces,” then listen to them, offering feedback and building a writers’ community through such interaction. Soon we realized that Darcy’s ideas were more than the two competencies; they were fodder for their own competency. She dove into drafting an audio competency. The process, like most writing, was largely revising with a close eye on the measurability of her proposed competency.

Building competencies is not for the frail. But it’s essential work. Evidence for that claim? Course-specific competencies tell the story of a course in a way no syllabus can: what students come to know and be able to do. Not what they’ll read but what kind of readers they’ll become.

How to Write a Competency, a Recipe in Six Seemingly Simple Steps

For (tireless) Darcy

 

RECIPE

RESOURCES

1 Become conceptually confident about what a competency is.
2 Find and use resources while drafting your competency. Tinker with wording. Ask and determine: is this measurable? Picture students using this skill. Revise. Breathe and repeat.
3 Use the one-sentence lesson plan to begin articulating your ideas. Remind yourself this is an exercise; nobody will see this. Write a few.  
4 Test drive.
  • Start designing a learning experience where students develop this competency. Picture students doing this. Ask, what work does this competency best serve?
  • The Understanding by Design Framework
5 Seek feedback from a colleague, a student, a coach. Apply and revise.
6 Take a break. Return. Breathe. Finish (for now).

My work with Darcy, the mucking about and mess making, is what made the recipe possible. Here’s a look at Darcy’s process (after we completed Step 1) and the various forms the competency took before its final one (for now):

 

RECIPE

COMPETENCY DRAFTS (and more)

2 Find and use resources while drafting your competency. Tinker with wording. Ask and determine: is this measurable? Picture students using this skill. The Science and Art of Listening

A first pass:

  • Identify the dramatic reading craft elements used to craft a compelling audio presentation
  • Listen critically to determine the success of an audio performance
3 Use the one-sentence lesson plan to begin articulating your ideas. Remind yourself this is an exercise; nobody will see this. Write a few.
  • Students will be able to listen with a purpose by reading with their ears everything from short stories to parts of novels and interviews with writers, so that they’ll confront authors’ literary choices and the effects of them: how variation in voice happens, how it reveals meanings, and how listening is a revision tool.
4 Test drive.
  • Identify places in original fiction where use of performance craft elements will enhance the work
  • Perform original work with confidence and dramatic style
  • Assess audio stories for performance techniques
  • Apply oral-reading techniques to their own audio performances
5 Seek feedback from a colleague, a student, a coach. Apply and revise.
  • Listen like a writer
  • Listen to fiction critically
6 Take a break. Return. Breathe. Finish (for now).       Listen with a purpose

Through this process, I discovered Darcy’s patience, impressive insights and questions, her desire to learn, her willingness to collaborate and wade into the unknown, and her openness to feedback.

Competencies are life skills. They’re worth the work. They make learning transparent. They build independent learners. Imagine a world filled with good listeners. Now, check out where Darcy landed with the audio competency and its companion learning outcomes.

COMPETENCY

OUTCOMES

Listen with a purpose
  • Establish criteria to evaluate audiobooks, podcasts, and live performances
  • Hear audio feedback fully and respond in kind, demonstrating your understanding by asking relevant follow-up questions
  • Apply read-aloud and storytelling techniques to improve revision and performance skills

Global Online Academy (GOA) reimagines learning to empower students and teachers to thrive in a globally networked society. Professional learning opportunities are open to any educator. To sign up or to learn more, see our Professional Learning Opportunities for Educators or email hello@GlobalOnlineAcademy.org with the subject title “Professional Learning.” Follow us on Twitter @GOALearning. To stay up to date on GOA learning opportunities, sign up for our newsletter here.

 

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Susan Fine

Susan Fine is an Instructional Designer with GOA. She has a passion for developing programs, supporting teachers and thinking about education in new and innovative ways. Susan has worked in education for more than 25 years. Her last position in an independent school was as the English Department Chair at the Collegiate School in New York City. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.