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Designing and Implementing Competency-Based Curriculum to Empower Self-Driven Learners

Session 4
Denis Anglim, Femi Johnson, Charlie McGeehan, Phil Nichols, Samuel Reed, Maggie Stephan, Kiera Williams, U School students TBD — The U School, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

Tasked with creating a competency-based, design-centered thematic course, our team has worked together to build a curricular structure that encourages rich engagement with English and History content and skills, while also using connected learning principles to provide students with the space to work asynchronously. Not surprisingly, finding this balance is not an easy task. Constructing scaffolds that prepare students and support them in independent work involves a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work: from creative unit planning and iterative lesson design, to coordination across a range of stakeholders - Humanities team teachers, learning support specialists, community partners, and students. In this session we explore how these different dimensions have come together in our own practice, and share what we are learning from the challenges, successes, and possibilities that have grown from this work.

We have built this session around the central question of work: What systems and structures are necessary to create thematic Humanities curriculum that allows students to deepen their own passions while developing their skills? Embedded in this question are three dimensions of classroom learning that can often sit in uneasy alignment: the content of the course, student interest (connected learning), and the development of skills. We foreground these dimensions to explore how all three are brought to bear in the process of building meaningful class structures with multiple pathways for participation and growth.

Conversational Practice

Our work is complex, and has been a deeply collaborative effort, approached from multiple angles. As a result, we will incorporate multiple voices from our school that have participated in and contributed to this work. Taken together, these perspectives will help to illuminate the iterative process by which we have endeavored to balance content, skills, and student interests in the Humanities classroom, while also providing insights into the challenges and successes we have seen along the way.

In doing so, we intend for our session to be an exchange between participants and presenters. We will structure our work around a modified Sharing Best Practices consultancy protocol - where audience members will have opportunities to ask clarifying and probing questions after each portion of our presentation, and engage in a discussion of the implications of this design work. In this way, we see this session not just as an opportunity to share the findings from our own practitioner research, but engage in a larger process of collaborative inquiry with those in attendance.

Conversation Links

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Presenter Profiles

Charlie McGeehan
Charlie McGeehan
The U School
Samuel Reed III
Samuel Reed III
U School / Philadelphia Writing Project


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