Learning While at a Residential Treatment Center

By Cindy Lindsay


Somewhere along the line, the idea that if you hear or see something seven times, you are more likely to remember or recall this information became a popular education-related myth. This myth motivated teachers to use repetition in classrooms, causing many students to endure lessons filled with rote memorization. The model of education used at Oxbow Academy is at times confused with this repetitive model or simply described as “doing packets.” However, the competency-based model of education used by Oxbow Academy could not be more different.


Competency-based learning, when done correctly, does not at all resemble giving a student a packet and leaving him to work it out for himself. Instead, competency-based learning accommodates both talented students who may become bored in traditional classroom settings while also offering support for students who need extra help so they can thrive.


Defining Direct Teaching

When I was new to residential treatment, I began to search for which model of learning was most effective.  As a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) student, I decided to focus on the topic of competency-based learning versus direct teaching. I assumed that direct teaching would be more helpful for students. After all, I kept hearing the inefficiency of competency-based learning. My conclusion was that direct teaching must be the grand model to follow. I was wrong.


I think it’s important to define what is direct teaching.  Direct teaching is what most people envision as the typical classroom setting. The teacher is in front of the class and students are listening while the teacher lectures. In most cases, students sit in their classroom without understanding the content of the teacher’s lesson. As the lecture continues to be taught without the student understanding. After all, the teacher has specific content to cover regardless of whether or not all students are ready to move on. 


Defining Competency-Based Learning

Competency-based learning is far more effective. For people to understand why competency-based learning is effective, they must understand what competency-based learning is and what it isn’t. Sometimes, parents and students envision competency-based learning as students sitting at their desks with a book in front of them while they try to figure out the material on their own.  It is not. 


So, what is competency-based learning? In a competency-based learning classroom, the teacher gets to know each individual student, including his skills and his learning style. The teacher and tutors help each student to move at the fastest pace possible. However, because the educational process is individualized, no student is ever left behind.


In the competency-based learning model, students learn to direct their own learning. They begin to see the importance of understanding the subject. They take ownership of their learning process. In a competency-based learning classroom, they learn to ask pertinent questions when there is something they don’t understand. As a result, students become better at being their own advocate. They learn to complete their tasks independently. They also start to understand how they learn best.


Best Practices for Education

Research that shows that students with learning disabilities, especially with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), do much better in competency-based learning classrooms rather than direct teaching classrooms. In a direct teaching classroom, students with ADHD may miss a large percentage of information. However, in competency-based learning classrooms, students rarely miss information. They are always able to reread the material to find their answers. They also have the support of teachers and tutors.


When students miss information in a direct teaching classroom, the students don’t know they have missed it until they take a test and get a low score. Only a minority of students thrive in a direct teaching classroom. Therefore, learning can be a hit and miss scenario. That means direct teaching does not equate to learning. Once a student is lost in the classroom, the student may become bored, confused, and frustrated. 


With competency-based learning, students are guided by a teacher. The teacher identifies the pace that is appropriate for each student. There is no pressure for students to move at a faster pace than they are able. In addition, advanced students do not have to wait for their peers to catch up. Therefore, students do not become frustrated or bored. Rather than sitting alone with a packet, students have the support of teachers and tutors who are ready to give students the help they need. By giving students the opportunity to work at a pace that is best for them, providing students with support, and encouraging students to become their own advocate, self-paced learning is best practice for education. 

Oxbow Academy is open for admission but are only allowing virtual tours at this time. We are following guidelines established by the CDC and the Department of Utah Heath regarding COVID-19.