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Juab School District in this month's Utah Spotlight: Inspiring Educators

utah spotlightBy Dr. Jennifer Throndsen

Juab School District works to ensure that each and every student possesses the essential skills necessary to be ready for life no matter which path they choose: post-secondary ready, workforce ready, and/or military ready. To accomplish this, Juab teachers provide personalized, competency-based learning experiences in every classroom every day. From kindergarten to grade 12, students have the opportunity to take ownership of their learning, self-assess their understanding to determine the next steps for growth and development, and are clear about what they are learning and how they will know if they learned it.

In Mona Elementary classrooms, you may find a first-grade teacher facilitating students through using a four-point rubric to have students self-assess their ability to subtract using different strategies. Students talk with a partner about where they are in the learning process and use the rubric to determine what learning pathway they are ready for next. The students then hop on their iPads to join their personalized Nearpod lesson to advance their current levels of understanding. You may find a 4th-grade teacher leading a problem-solving lesson about windows requiring students to use the mathematical concepts of area and perimeter. Students are given choice in what tools they use to solve the problem and expected to model their solutions and explain their thinking. Educators at Mona Elementary set these intentional opportunities to advance learner agency and to personalize instruction so that each student can demonstrate competency is common practice here.

This type of student engagement and ownership doesn’t stop at the elementary level. If you head on over to Juab Junior High School, you will see middle school students engaged in differentiated opportunities to demonstrate their competency as well as options for how they develop the desired knowledge, skills, and dispositions through different learning pathways. Frequently, you will find students engaged in a variety of learning environments. Some students may be working with the teacher in a small group, some students will be working with partners on tasks, while other students will be working independently.

In a 7th grade English Language Arts class, you will find students sitting in small groups based on parts of the writing process that they need the most assistance with (e.g., organization, explanation, crafting an introduction). The students have two options for the texts and topics they could choose from: 1) child labor and 2) early marriage. In an 8th-grade math class, you would see students working on different elements of linear equations based on their most recent test performance.

Students who already demonstrated competency are engaged in extension activities; whereas, students who needed more instruction have a choice of learning options to advance their competency (e.g., work with the teacher, review previous learning modules, visit an instructional video site).

What makes the flexibility and choice offerings work in Juab is the teacher’s clear articulation of what is expected to be learned (learning intentions) and how students will know if they have learned it (success criteria). Teachers take time to communicate to students what the expectations for learning are and how they will be asked to demonstrate their learning to measure their current level of competency informally or formally. If not for the intentional planning and teacher clarity provided by the educator, student success voice and choice in their learning pathway to achieve the desired expectations would not thrive. Teacher clarity is a key element of Juab’s success in personalized, competency-based learning.

The goal of the Utah Spotlight is to offer Utah educators inspiring stories of effective educational practices that impact student learning in meaningful ways, and importantly, designed to encourage and support educators in enriching their own practice. By shining a light on inspiring and engaging educator practices in Utah’s districts and schools, we hope to share ideas from local educators that are worth spreading.