As part of their journey to 2020 Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements, the students and teachers at BFA Fairfax High School are shifting the culture of learning from the traditional to the transformed.

Student collaborating.
SLaM helps students collaborate and personalize their learning.

The transformation continues this year with the introduction of SLaM: Sharing Learning and Meaning. SLaM began with an idea borrowed from South Burlington High School and was expanded upon by the BFA faculty. SLaM was created to serve as a framework to provide the knowledge and skills necessary for the shift to proficiency-based systems.

Students Learning with SLAM

The High School’s PBGR Oversight Team spent time looking at how they needed to change the way they worked together on behalf of students and undertook a “personalized” approach, having teachers develop expertise in their own areas of interest, rather than trying to be experts in all the components of change. The PBGR Oversight Team continues to pull such expertise together at regular meetings to cross-pollinate, growing a cohesive culture of proficiency-based learning in the high school.

Students design their Personalized Learning Plans.

The SLaM design, led by teachers, is organized around the four years of high school, and a progressive timeline of delivery of skills and experiences for students. Each year, students grow their skills in ways to share learning and meaning along a continuum of proficiencies that lead to college, career, and work/life readiness. Students can personalize these curriculum experiences, designed by teachers, as they collect evidence of proficiency. Although the skills and context change over time, the purpose remains the same: to give students the tools and resources to be successful in proficiency-based learning.

Flexible Learning is a big component of learning in a proficiency-based system.

The core concepts of SLaM are deeper learning; reflection; evidence generation, collection, and verification; exhibitions; personalized learning growth and refinement; mentorship; internships; and service learning. This is how they play out over time:

  • Grade 9: Evidence reflection, exhibitions, and transition of Personalized Learning Plans (PLP’s).
  • Grade 10: Refining PLPs, career research, readiness for more flexible pathways to learning, mentorship, and communicating learning to audiences.
  • Grade 11: Skill and expertise, internships,  service learning, transitioning:  interviews resume, research etc.
  • Grade 12: Capstone experience.

Faculty teams, which are inclusive of all faculty members, are dedicated to a grade level to ensure the creation of the best tools, systems, and curriculum processes for engaging and teaching student in these readiness phases of graduation proficiency.

The PBGR Oversight Team at work.
The PBGR Oversight Team at work.

The teachers meet to collaboratively plan for both the short and long term every Tuesday morning and one Tuesday afternoon Faculty Meeting a month. Students meet with their advisors for SLaM on two Monday Support Blocks each month.

Students receive support of their teacher
In a proficiency-based system, students share learning and meaning along a continuum of proficiencies that lead to college, career, and work/life readiness.

How is it going so far this year? As Principal John Tague sees it:

“Although we’ve only had 2 SLaM Mondays, it’s still been an adjustment for both staff and students as it’s a different structure for Support Blocks. But there is a strong feeling that these changes will help students understand the shifts to proficiency and the continuum of learning. [This change] also serves to shift our high school culture to more ownership of student learning and a deeper understanding of the student’s role in the learning process. Through this 4 year process, they will have far more understanding of themselves and their learning than a report card or transcript can provide.”

With proficiency-based learning, students and teachers are co-learners in transforming the educational experience.

Linda Keating


Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum at FWSU. She is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

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