High quality ELOs have four design elements that are anchored in UbD (Understanding by Design):
1. Essential question
This is the driving question behind the ELO. A good essential question will:
- motivate and shift students toward ownership of learning
- be thoughtful, provoking, and philosophical, and not have a simple (or “google-able”) answer
- provide a baseline for the student to refine his or her own answer throughout the ELO experience.
Competencies are clear criteria that guide students’ learning and translate the learning into credit towards graduation. A competency map is a good tool to show the connection between ELO activities and the competencies the student is working to master.
ELOs may cross multiple content areas since competencies lend themselves to interdisciplinary thinking. See samples of interdisciplinary ELOs on this site.
More resources on competencies.
3. Community partners
Community partners take the learning outside of school. Through them, students engage in meaningful learning that contributes back to the larger community.
Plan strategies for successful community partnerships:
- Use the ELO design template to clarify exactly how feedback and coaching will happen during the course of the ELO
- Use the Community Partner template as a guideline for developing and nurturing partnerships
- Consider having a policy on background checks
- Gain a working knowledge of your school insurance policy
- Understand the NH Department of Labor rules around work-based learning.
Projects are the natural end result of the student’s learning journey and provide a vehicle for processing and exploring the competencies through the essential question.
In high quality ELOs, students should be working on projects that:
- result in an original product or idea
- contribute back to a larger community
- support disciplined inquiry (i.e., the student acts as a mathematician, historian, artist, or other role in order to do the work).
Explore Buck Institute for Education (BIE) for project ideas. The Buck Institute supports teachers to use Project Based Learning, which they define as a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge.
Four key components of an ELO
ELOs have four key components. The four-page NH DOE resource, “What is a Good ELO?” provides detailed explanations and a variety of examples for each component:
The components provide opportunities for the student to:
- delve into an essential question
- explore competencies
- grow as a learner
- create new meaning and knowledge.
Detailed planning for all four components happens before the ELO begins.
- VLACS (Virtual Learning Academy Charter School) has open source competencies for all their high school and middle school courses, available for anyone to use. VLACS is an approved New Hampshire high school, so the competencies may match up well with the courses in your schools. To see competencies for each course, go the VLACS Learning Catalog and click on the course name. Click on a specific competency to see the full description.
- VLACS Learning Pathways (PDF, 45 slides, 2016) is a PowerPoint presentation that gives an overview of competencies and a competency-based approach to dividing course credit between classroom learning and ELO learning.
- CompetencyWorks is an online resource to provide information and knowledge about competency education. It has a blog filled with practitioner knowledge and policy advancements, and a wiki to make it easy to get examples of materials.
- The Art and Science of Designing Competencies by Chris Sturgis is a 16-page Issue Brief that brings together insights from a number of leading practitioners from around the country.
- A companion resource to The Art and Science of Designing Competencies is the Competency-Based Pathways Wiki.
ELO learning team
Clear student learning goals are determined by a learning team composed of:
- the student
- a certified educator
- a community mentor
- additional student staff as needed
- participation from the ELO coordinator as needed or determined by school policy.
ELO Design Template
Learning teams may use the ELO Design Template to begin developing a comprehensive plan for all elements of the ELO.
The design process may vary. For example, an ELO may be initiated by a student and teacher, and then other learning team members are added, or a teacher and community partner may initiate an ELO to propose to a group of students. Schools may develop an agreement form that outlines a consistent process to ensure the quality of the ELO designs.
Learning team roles
An ELO learning team is a collaboration of individuals with various roles and responsibilities. Student involvement in all aspects of the experience is critical, including developing the ELO plan, learning goals, and assessment of their learning. Team member responsibilities:
- Clarify the role of each person on the team
- Provide coaching to individuals involved in the team
- Ensure that appropriate and rigorous assessment rubrics are used in all ELO performance assessments
- Ensure the student is involved in the development of the assessment process
- Example: ELO Coordinator job description from Lebanon High School (PDF)
Teacher or certified school personnel
- Identify competencies (what the student needs to learn) with the student
- With the student and with input from the community partner, define how and when the student will be assessed on those competencies
- Assess student’s mastery of pre-determined competencies, including input from community partners and students
- Oversee the ongoing and final assessment of student progress using appropriate and rigorous performance assessment rubrics, and provide frequent feedback to the student regarding progress
The specific role of the community member in the ELO is determined at the outset with the student, teacher, and ELO coordinator. At minimum, the community partner will:
- Support and coach students in their ELO experience
- Provide the learning experiences/environment that allow the student to gain mastery in the pre-determined competencies
- Provide the student with timely, detailed feedback to develop skills, knowledge, problem-solving ability, creativity, and complex thinking
- Work with ELO coordinator, community partner, and teacher to become familiar with the competencies, the assessment process, and the rubrics used for assessment
- Work with teacher to determine assessment of competency mastery
- Complete regular reflections, assessing progress on ELO, identifying next steps in learning, and periodically discussing reflections with mentor and/or teacher
- Communicate regularly with the ELO coordinator, community mentor, and teacher
- Meet timeline commitments for assignments, self-assessment/reflections, and final assessment of learning
Student success is linked to parent/guardian involvement and encouragment throughout the ELO process. Parents:
- Become familiar with the ELO process, including assessment
- Provide support and coaching to the student throughout the ELO
- Attend the final presentation of learning
Turning an Almost ELO into an ELO
You may be really close to doing ELOs at your school without even realizing it. With minor changes, common academic structures and activities can grow into ELOs.
The following chart lists activities in Section 306.27 (b) of the NH Minimum Standards for School Approval that could be ELOs, plus some others, and what you might add to make them into high quality ELOs. For example, a senior project ELO might just need an essential question and a final presentation. An internship might need an essential question, research, reflection and a product. It all depends on how your school currently sets up these activities.
Example: a summer career exploration program at Keene State College, ACES, was turned into an ELO structure with just a few hours work with the ELO Design Template. The planners had to connect to specific competencies, tighten up the reflection process, and ask the program director to write student narratives.
To get started on your own Almost ELO,
- Gather the ELO Design Template and the four-page NH DOE resource, “What is a Good ELO?” that provides detailed explanations of research, reflection, product and presentation.
- Fill out the design template. Your work to answer the template questions will show you what you need to tweak.
- Try it out with somebody!
Students with IEPs or Section 504 plans
ELOs can be available to any student in any subject. There are specific considerations to take into account for a student with an IEP or Section 504 plan.
Students with IEPs
The IEP team works together with the ELO team to outline specific goals and roles for relevant support staff. Goals should:
- include clear competencies based on curriculum expectations, related skills, and the postsecondary and annual goals from the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP)
- take into account student interests, needs, and aspirations that may not be reflected in the IEP
- be attainable in a logistical sense – designed so that transportation, time commitments, and coaching opportunities are all realistic for the student
- take into account the student’s accommodations as outlined in the IEP
ELOs can also be referenced in a student’s course of study (educational plan) or as a transition activity in the context of the coordinated set of activities. See the Next Steps NH IEP Transition Requirements Resource for more information about the IEP transition requirements and Indicator 13.
Students with Section 504 Plans
Students with Section 504 plans do not have IEPs, but their Section 504 plans will specify accommodations and modifications to ensure equal access to an education. When planning the ELO, incorporate the student’s accommodations and modifications into the ELO structure from the beginning.
When planning the summative assessment, build in supports so that students can display their knowledge in a way that is accessible and meaningful for them and stresses their communication strengths.
On this website
- “Almost ELO” chart
- Agreement forms
- Competency map
- ELO Design Template
- ELO Project Outline template
- Essential Question samples
- Learning team roles
- Community partner template (MSWord)
Around the web
- Essential Questions
- VLACS Learning Catalog competencies
- VLACS Learning Pathways ppt
- The Art and Science of Designing Competencies
- Competency-Based Pathways wiki
- Buck Institute for Education (BIE)
- ELO Coordinator job description from Lebanon High School (PDF)
- Understanding by Design
- What is a “good” ELO?
- Next Steps NH pages
- NH Minimum Standards