Merriam Webster defines competence as having essential or adequate ability or qualities. In an educational setting, competence means having the necessary behaviors, ability, knowledge, or skill to facilitate learning. As an educator, competence means more than being adequate. It means applying competent behaviors to achieve excellent academic outcomes.
My first experience with the competent learner concept came through a chance encounter with Vicci Tucci. Tucci was training preschool teachers who taught at-risk students in the large urban school district where I worked. Tucci is a scholar and a practitioner who developed the Competent Learner Model (CLM). Tucci formulated the CLM while working with individuals who were institutionalized for much of their lives and who were facing release due to the “deinstitutionalization” movement of the mid and late 20th century.
Tucci worked in a large psychiatric/therapeutic institution that was due to close. Many of her clients were intellectually capable but experientially deficient. Tucci recognized the types of behaviors these individuals needed to learn to function in society. She acknowledged that if her clients did not have the competence “to listen, observe, participate, talk, and problem-solve,” then they could not function or “go beyond their developmental potentials.” Through the CLM, many of her clients successfully transition from the institution into society at large.
After the institution closed, Tucci expanded her concepts and developed materials and processes to teach these behaviors to students in private and public school settings. One of the critical elements of Tucci’s Competent Learner Model is direct instruction of learning behaviors. Direct instruction is where teachers use research-validated and explicit techniques to teach their students specific skills and behaviors. This type of instruction is always teacher-directed. Tucci’s competence concept and direct instruction translated very well into the regular education setting. Directly teaching the learning behaviors to at-risk preschool students allowed children to acquire the academic content they needed to master. My school district’s preschool outcomes were dramatic and validated through scholarly research.
Tucci advanced the Competent Learner Model to successfully teach autistic children. Along with other research-based methods, the school district employed direct instruction and competence building concepts to develop learning systems and other effective practices, including the Standards Plus materials. The first school that piloted these materials and methods moved from arguably the lowest-performing school in a very large state to performing well above its socio-economically comparable schools and on-par with the state’s average performance for all schools. Subsequently, the district successfully implemented these practices throughout its schools with successful outcomes that culminated in an unsolicited national Education Trust Award for outstanding improvement.
A focus on direct instruction of basic skills combined with direct instruction of learning behaviors is an essential feature of the Standards Plus program. The Standards Plus development team realized that competence is best achieved when meaningful discrete academic content is employed to build competent learning behaviors, then applied to crystalize learning to strengthen application and concept mastery.
In the ensuing years, numerous classrooms, schools, and school districts have implemented Standard Plus. As with all research-based applications, adherence to the scientifically validated elements of a program is required to replicate the successful outcomes. The same level of success ensues in every place where the embedded instructional practices and competence building features are employed.