Thin Mints, Badges, and Proficiency-Based Learning

This was originally posted on on Wednesday, March 23, 2016 by Matt @DrewetteCard.

girl scout badgesScreen Shot 2016-02-25 at 9.45.46 AMthin_mints_new_webMy seven-year old is now a Girl Scout, and is loving it.  From selling cookies, to archery, to helping the community, she’s is all over every aspect of being a Girl Scout.  I recently asked her what she loves the most about it, and her answer surprised me: “The badges,” she said.  The badges.  Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have used merit and achievement badges for decades, and they are a proven method for honoring success, achievement, and growth.  Much of our district’s transition to a proficiency-based learning model is based on this same model.  Here’s a quick breakdown of the basics of our transition to a proficiency-based learning model:

Grades are different than badges.

A traditional grade is an average of a whole lot of different factors.  Badges are narrower in focus, but deeper in learning.  Our proficiency-based learning transition is focusing on going deeper with our content and, more importantly, what our students can do with that content.  In the era of Google, simply providing information isn’t enough; we have to teach our kids what to do with it.

Badges tell a story.

Proficiency-based learning is about communicating what the students have actually learned.  It’s about honoring the learning of all students.  It’s about reporting accurately what students can do as a result of the teaching.  Badges in the Girl and Boy Scouts tell a clear, open, and transparent story, not only of what a student has learned, but what a student can do.  Our transition to a proficiency-based learning model is focused on the same core principles.

There’s more than one way to sell a box of cookies.

Some Girl Scouts go door to door.  Some Scouts give their parents the form to bring to work.  Some Scouts create an online presence and sell them globally.  Some Scouts sell to the Hollywood elite during the Academy Awards.  What’s the goal: to sell the cookies the same way, or to learn how to sell cookies?  Proficiency-based learning is about finding many ways to achieve the same goal.  There’s not one way to learn anything; there are a million ways to learn everything.  Traditional schools focus on one pathway; proficiency-based learning focuses on multiple.

Badges are hard work, but fun.

Learning shouldn’t be easy.  School shouldn’t be easy.  It should be difficult and challenging.  But more importantly, schools should be environments that promote productive struggle.  The best learning opportunities are never linear; they require mistakes, failures, “oops” moments, reflections, and imperfections.  Proficiency-based learning models are based in the principles of learning, meaning that imperfection and error is expected. “If at first you don’t succeed: try, try again.”

There’s more to the system, but the basics of a proficiency-based learning model and the Scouts of America are pretty similar.  If you have any questions, comments, or want to discuss this further, feel free to contact me at, or on Twitter @DrewetteCard.

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