While the competency-base system measures learning and progression very differently from traditional models based on time, classrooms at Sanborn don’t look as different as one might think. A lot of instruction is project-based because teachers are no longer trying to get students to warehouse knowledge — they want them to learn how to think critically and apply knowledge. “In our classes we’ll give an assessment — it might be a project or an essay — and there’s no such thing as late work,” Giuliucci said. “If you are competent, you are done and if you aren’t we go back and get you competent.”
Sounds simple, but it’s actually pretty chaotic — in a good way, Giuliucci said. In a recent project Giuliucci asked his students to pick a character from the French Revolution and write a blog post obituary discussing the important events of the time and how that history affected the world today. Some kids were done quickly, others took longer or struggled to show they could connect the events of the past to the present.
“To cope with this chaos we’ve created flex classes for kids who need to be retaught something,” Giuliucci said. “They can sign up for these classes to go back and get the re-assessment and instruction they need.” This process is often called competency recovery and it happens at the moment the student demonstrates a lack of mastery, not at the end of the course when she’s about to fail.