ACPS Framework for Quality Learning:
A Commitment to Learning for All
The Framework for Quality Learning is a blueprint for ACPS educators to actualize the ACPS mission and vision in their classrooms. The FQL guides educators as they design, implement, and analyze quality learning experiences for all PK-12 learners. This research-based document captures both the art and science of teaching, and adherence to its principles and practices advances the Division’s vision that “Our learners are engaged in authentic, challenging, and relevant learning experiences, becoming lifelong contributors and leaders in our dynamic and diverse society.”
How the Framework for Quality Learning is Organized
The FQL focuses on four elements essential to quality learning:
- Invitational Learning Environment
- Meaningful Curriculum
- Balanced Assessment System
- Student-Centered, High-Quality Instruction for All
- 1. Invitational Learning Environment
- 2. Meaningful Curriculum
- 3. Balanced Assessment System
- 4. Student-Centered, High-Quality Instruction for All
ACPS educators believe we have the power to create a classroom that invites and inspires all students to become partners in their learning. Research consistently shows that students learn best when they feel safe, respected, involved, challenged, and supported. Teachers create this learning environment when they intentionally build learning partnerships with students and families, develop a community of learners in which students learn respect and support for one another, and engender a growth mindset in themselves and their students.
What is an Invitational Learning Environment?
An invitational learning environment is one that provides the safety students need to take the risks for growing and learning. It is based on the following elements:
- respect—communicated and actualized when teachers demonstrate the belief that every student is able, valuable and responsible;
- trust—when teachers seek to know every student and create a shared belief that the process of learning is as important as the product;
- optimism—projected by giving each student the clear message that they have the potential necessary to do what is required;
- intentionality—designed through the learning space and each step in a lesson to guarantee that every student learns.
The intentionally inviting educator:
- builds trusting relationships with and between students and families in support of student achievement. The teacher’s capacity to connect with students through meaningful interactions and rapport is an important precursor to academic learning. This connection is forged, in part, by actively seeking the funds of knowledge students bring to the classroom from their homes, communities and culture;
- understands their influence on how students see themselves as learners. A teacher with a growth mindset believes 1) that intelligence is not fixed but, rather, is malleable and 2) that mistakes signal growth for both the teacher and the student. As such, teachers act as an ally and warm demander by providing students with both the care and the push to take risks and develop their agency as learners;
- structures the learning environment to foster a community that functions together. In a community that supports learning, students work with and for each other to support the success of everyone in the class, and it is understood that risk-taking is key to the growth needed for learning. In these learning communities teachers acknowledge, show value for, and incorporate the cultural influences of their students;
- leads students and manages routines. Teachers and students establish classroom routines that balance predictability and flexibility to co-create an active learning space that leads to self-efficacy through both self-directed and collaborative student movement.
Meaningful curriculum provides a roadmap toward a powerful learning destination. ACPS curriculum is not simply a plan for covering standards, but a strategic framework for student engagement. It is both standards-based and concept-centered, thus ensuring equitable access to relevant and rigorous learning for all students. Curriculum frameworks are the foundation on which engaging experiences (i.e., instruction) are built to support all students in achieving rigorous academic goals.
What is a standards-based and concept-centered curriculum?
A standards-based curriculum is a framework of learning targets that provide clarity about what students are expected to know (K), understand (U), and be able to do (D) in a discipline, course, unit or lesson. These learning targets, derived from the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL), provide a curricular baseline for all students that is enacted through responsive instruction and measured by ongoing assessment.
Learning goals are articulated in ACPS curriculum frameworks (as well as the lessons derived from it) that identify essential: 1) understandings (the U)— the principles or big ideas of the discipline that bring meaning to the facts and skills, 2) knowledge (the K)—concrete information, critical facts, and vocabulary needed to make meaning (and connect to the U), and 3) skills (the D, what students are able to do)—the processes, types of thinking, and habits of mind students should become skilled in relative to a discipline.
A concept-centered curriculum brings meaning to state standards which tend to provide only a baseline for what students need to know and be able to do in any given subject at any given grade level. A concept-centered curriculum is rooted in the important, universal concepts and principles of a discipline stated as big ideas (e.g., essential questions and understandings.) This contextual development of knowledge and skills increases the likelihood of both mastery and retention, is more likely to generate instruction connected to students’ life experiences and interests, and guarantees equitable access to rigorous and engaging learning for all students.
Therefore, ACPS curriculum frameworks:
- are organized around concepts that enable students to make connections to prior knowledge as the curriculum spirals with increasing complexity.
- are driven by essential questions and enduring understandings that provide an equitable entry point to students with varied backgrounds, strengths, needs, and developmental stages to work with the essential ideas at levels of complexity appropriate for their current needs.
- emphasizes skills of the discipline. Essential skills are integrated into units and lessons in order to prepare all students to think and work “like a professional” in a domain. Students engage in the higher-order thinking, work habits, and dispositions that are at the heart of a discipline.
- structured purposefully across grade levels to create a vertical articulation of skills and understandings that increase in complexity as students progress through K-12.
The purpose of assessment is to measure student progress with checkpoints along a learning sequence. Assessment is an instructional tool employed before, during, and after learning so that both teachers and students continually know where they are in relation to learning goals.
What is balanced assessment?
A balanced assessment system uses a variety of measures (e.g., formative and summative) to indicate where learners are on a continuum of what they know, understand, and are able to do. The data generated from each type of assessment has different uses: Teachers use information gathered from formative assessments to make instructional decisions and summative assessments to verify what has been learned at the end of a learning sequence.
ACPS emphasizes the following assessment practices:
- Assessments aligned to learning goals. If the learning target is clear, students can find ways to show their progress toward that target and more readily see assessment as part of their learning process. When assessments tightly align to learning goals and instruction, teachers are better able to make more valid inferences from the assessment results.
- Ongoing, frequent assessment cycles (I.e., Assessment for learning). Data gathered from formative assessments, given before and during learning, help teachers make decisions about the appropriate instructional steps needed to move student learning forward and close gaps.
- Timely, actionable, feedback focused on learning goals. Feedback lets students know where they are on a continuum of mastery toward a goal, stating what students are doing right and what concrete, actionable steps they can take to improve. Positive, honest feedback (i.e. “wise feedback”) explicitly communicates both high expectations and the belief that students are capable of meeting them with effort.
- Using a variety of assessment methods and modes. Different methods allow for measuring depth and complexity of thought as well as essential knowledge and skills. Providing multiple modes for students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding allows students to work to their strengths and allows teacher to make valid inferences about their learning.
- Assessment as learning. When students self-reflect on their work, they engage in assessment as learning. Self-assessment is its own learning process as it encourages students to critically analyze their own strengths and needs. Students setting goals based on this reflection—independently or in learning partnerships with teachers—supports their ability to monitor and regulate their own learning.
High-quality instruction enables all students to successfully access both grade-level standards and the rich, meaningful concepts and ideas in which they are grounded. Instruction in ACPS is purposefully designed so that students construct their own understanding of these complex concepts to ensure the transfer needed for learning occurs. ACPS teachers recognize that a task can be easy for some learners while being frustratingly complex for others; therefore, they provide appropriately challenging learning experiences for all students, aspiring to high-quality teaching that works for everyone in the classroom.
What is high-quality instruction?
High-quality instruction is student-centered—intentionally designed to be responsive to learners’ interests, learning preferences, and readiness relative to a set of learning goals. ACPS instruction teaches up through respectful tasks that signal high expectations for all learners and provide all students the opportunity to access the same important ideas and higher-level thinking.
Teachers design high-quality instruction when they:
- design powerful learning experiences in which students make or do something, using essential knowledge and essential skills, in order to arrive at or explore an essential understanding.
- foreground the student by designing student-centered learning experiences that:
- harness the motivational power of students’ interests and/or their affinity, curiosity, or passion for a particular topic or skill.
- meet students where they are relative to a set of learning goals (i.e., readiness) and scaffold instruction so that all students have optimal opportunities to reach or exceed the goals of a lesson.
- capitalize on students’ learning preferences by being responsive to students’ backgrounds, culture and ways of learning.
- purposefully integrate a variety of instructional configurations to capitalize on the socially-constructed nature of learning. Groupings that change frequently within a classroom (i.e., flexible grouping) not only allow students co-construct understanding, but, more importantly, broaden students' perceptions of their peers and themselves as they see that all members of their learning community have important intellectual contributions to make