Jeff Tech instructors Melissa Mulhollan, Jenna Shenkle and Dave Rishell are pictured at Monday’s committee meeting, giving presentations on competency-based learning. The meeting was held in the new Diesel Mechanic and Heavy Equipment program building.

REYNOLDSVILLE — Three Jeff Tech educators, speaking at Monday’s committee meeting, gave presentations on a new and successful learning method they have been practicing with students.

An instructor of 27 years, Melissa Mulhollan teaches ninth and 10th grade English. She introduced the idea of “competency-based education,” which she has been using for two years now.

This method and type of training takes a different approach to teaching by using concrete skills rather than abstract learning. Students are assigned “tasks” to complete, and the tasks they do well or poorly on are evaluated by the teacher, which is how they are graded.

These three teachers have been instrumental in competency-based education at Jeff Tech, said Administrative Director Barry Fillman.

“Something that has always bothered me as an educator is that students could pass the course with a 70 percent, but didn’t want to master any goals,” Mulhollan said.

A student is asked to “master” a task, such as write a paper or do a project, and once they do it, they are deemed “competent.” There are different levels to the teaching method, too — “in progress” and “asgn,” meaning the assignment wasn’t completed.

These different levels allow the educator to see where the student stands on each topic — what they need more work on and what they’re mastering, Mulhollan said.

“The nice part is if a student does poorly with a task, they can try again,” she said. “It always bothered me to just hand someone a failure and say ‘okay, move on.’

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“It gives both the student and the educators feedback.”

For example, if a student is given 40 tasks over the course of the year and completes 37, that is their percentage grade, Mulhollan said, rather than just giving them multiple tests on a variety of topics.

“It’s a great way to differentiate the ability levels here at Jeff Tech,” she said.

Since the initiation of CBE, Jeff Tech English scores have improved by 22 percent, said Fillman.

Math instructor Jenna Shenkle said this not only helped with her algebra students, but taught her about her own teaching strengths and weaknesses. She could identify what topics they didn’t understand, and go back and reteach them.

She also spoke of “professionalism grades,” which account for a percent of the students’ final grade, focusing on respect, responsibility, excellence and safety — qualities every great employee should have and every employer looks for in the real world.

Building Trades instructor Dave Rishell said since his tasks carry over into the next year, he can see how a student has progressed over the years and how much more instruction or practice they may need.

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