Making Use of the Core Competencies

Many of our efforts at Bowen Island Community School (BICS) to transition to the new draft curriculum are focusing on understanding and making use of the Core Competencies: Communication Competency, Thinking Competency, and Personal and Social Competency.  This is not easy work and my understanding of the competencies continually shifts thanks to conversations with educators at BICS and in #SD45PLN.2015-03-19_0946

Below, shared in green, are three understandings I think will affect the way educators and students make use of the competencies.  In blue, based on the understandings, I share how the competencies can be used by teachers and students.

1.  The Core Competencies, the Draft Curriculum notes, “are sets of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies that all students need to develop in order to engage in deep learning and life-long learning.”  The competencies are not subject-specific (subject-specific competencies are called curricular competencies, i.e., the scientific method in the subject science), they are transferable and often applicable to all areas of learning.

Most learning experiences can develop some facet(s) of one or more of the competencies.  While teachers are always mindful of developing literacy and numeracy foundations, in my experience as a teacher I have sometimes planned lessons and assignments with too great a focus on knowledge acquisition and not enough focus on what students would be able to do, or to do better, as a result of the lesson or assignment.  When planning, the teacher can examine the competency facets to ensure what students can do is a core part of the lesson or assignment.  The facets may even broaden or simply make explicit the range of abilities students can develop.

2.  The competencies are a continuum which a person develops from the moment they start learning to the moment they stop learning.  In other words, they are not limited to a student’s experience in K-12 education and the profiles of each competency are not intended to align with any grade level expectations; for example, it is not expected that all students have reached profile level 3 in the Personal and Social Competency by grade five.

It is not important to focus on what profile level students achieve because a students level will vary from task to task.  Profile level 8 for the Communication Competency does not mean “A+” or exceeding expectations.  Students should also know that experiences outside of school, such as participating on a sports team or attending a community event, develop competencies.

3.  Following from point 2, the profile levels within a competency are more pertinent to the task assigned to the student rather than the student’s performance in the task:  some tasks only require the development and demonstration of a certain level of competency so regardless of how competent a student might be as a communicator, the task itself may be limiting to what the student does.

The competencies are helpful for self-assessment.  But self-assessment when using the competencies is more about assessing the task and the opportunities the task offers the student to demonstrate and develop the competencies than it is about assessing the student’s performance in demonstrating the competencies.  In other words, self-assessment is more about understanding the task and what competencies the task makes use of and develops.  Therefore, a major, if not the major, part of self-assessment happens prior to starting the task when the student assesses the task and identifies what abilities they have, or need to develop, to be successful at the task rather than after completing the task where the student evaluates their performance.

In summary, teachers can use the competencies to design learning experiences that effectively develop what students can do, not just what they are to know.  Teachers have long used learning outcomes and the Performance Standards to ensure planning developed students skills as well as understanding but determining what facets of a competency might be applicable for a task allows teachers to broaden the purpose of learning tasks and provides language to articulate this purpose clearly.

Students can use the competencies to understand a learning experiences:  beyond what knowledge and understanding they are to gain, how is the task intended to make the student a more capable/competent communicator or thinker?  What skills do students already have that they should apply to the task?

The key to planning for teachers and to self-assessment for students is to have a strong understanding of the end in mind.  While I am not yet certain how students will be assessed or self-assess the competencies for reporting, or even if they will do so, what is clear is that educators can make use of the competencies for planning, and students can make use of the competencies to understand tasks and their purpose.

Six Self-Assessment Statements

I created this self-assessment tool several years ago but have adapted some of the language to correspond with BC’s new Draft Curriculum.  While the format of a table has many limitations, I think the statements within it are helpful as part of a broader self-assessment strategy to stimulate student reflection on aspects of their learning.



The Big Ideas, or Enduring Understandings, encourages students to reflect on the major concepts of a unit and what they understand about a concept or subject.  For example, in Language Arts 5, a student might write, “I understand literature helps me understand the world.”

The Concepts and Content focus on less board concepts related to a topic or subject.  Again in Language Arts 5, a student might write, “I know the impact of using  a hook in my writing.”

Curricular competencies use the phrase, I can, because these are things students will do and practise in performing a subject.  For example, in Science 2, a student might share, “I can make observations.”

Core Competencies states, I am, because these competencies are habit-forming.  One competency is the Thinking Competency including creative thinking.  A student might write, “I am a creative thinker.”  Obviously there are degrees to which a student is a creative thinker, but it is important that students begin to understand some of the attributes of successful learners and see themselves as acquiring these attributes, even if they are just beginning to do so.  The I am could also tie in with learner profiles, Habits of Mind, or Virtues.

The section on Influences on My Learning I think is most interesting for teachers.  What students identify as the most important influences on their learning is important information for teachers to know so that they are aware of core elements to include in future instruction of a particular student or of that topic.  For example, if a field trip, involving a lot of work and time was not included as an influence in learning, it might be best to not visit that space again.  This is a tricky section of self-assessment though as some influences on learning are more visible than others.  Reviewing this section with students specifically about what they learned from an influence would be helpful.

The last section on Thankfulness was suggested to me by a parent.  Learning is busy.  It is easy to take for granted some of the experiences students have in their learning or perhaps have short-lived gratitude as attention is drawn to the next thing.  I don’t think gratitude should just be an in the moment feeling of appreciation but recognized and appreciated over time.

As I noted earlier, the format of a table is limited and perhaps the conversations the six statements elicit is more helpful.  Feel free to use, adapt, or improve this table as you like.  It is available here.