Proficiency-based assessment and personalized learning have been gaining traction throughout K-12 education over the past few years, especially in the World Language subject area. Since students enter language programs at different ages and progress at different rates, World Language educators need to be able to work with students with a wide range of skills, similar to the one-room schoolhouse teachers of the old days. One approach to personalized learning today involves Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” (ZPD), in which students are given the time and the means to gradually learn certain tasks on their own without help. With ZPD, students are self-motivated to constantly reach higher and build on the learning they already have.
In her January-February 2011 World Future Society blog entry titled: The World Is My School: Welcome to the Era of Personalized Learning,Maria H. Andersen said, “Let me propose a realistic scenario of what a true personalized learning system might look like and how it would function. We first have to create (1) a new layer of learning media in the background of the existing Internet and (2) an ecosystem of software to easily manage the learning media we engage with.”
Today, technology is available to help teachers provide the tools and access to resources to allow individual learners the flexibility and freedom to pursue an education centered on their own interests and aptitudes. Many educators have long seen the value in a learner-centered education for each student, molded by the learner as opposed to the factory system. While the aspiration has been there, past methods have been shackled by the restrictions of human interaction and delivery methods. There is only so much that can be personalized with one teacher, 20 to 40 students, and print media and production constraints. Technology-delivered personalized learning allows students to have a wide choice of what they learn, how they learn, and when, where and how they demonstrate their learning.
Because students start learning a foreign language at different times in their schooling, grade-level standards in a foreign language are not possible or practical. Rather, the trend is moving away from “seat time” – with a standard progression from Spanish 1 to Spanish 2, etc. – to competency-based instruction/learning where students progress at their own rate as they complete a set of standards at their particular proficiency level.
In this competency-based approach, the traditional understanding of assessment is flipped on its head—the primary focus is on assessment for learning rather than of learning. This requires that schools emphasize formative evaluation, and that teachers have a deep, shared understanding of what proficiency looks like and how to measure it in students. The ideal is that students are expected to demonstrate proficiency multiple times and in multiple ways so that everyone is confident that they can progress to the next level and fully apply the knowledge they have learned.
When digital learning is introduced into this framework, it provides students with the additional time and resources to take charge of their own learning, and teachers with additional tools for guiding students along their path to proficiency. Students are able to move through coursework at their own pace, spending as little or as much time as they need. Students working at a proficiency level below where they are expected to be, now have access to technology support within the content to help them develop the additional language skills they need to learn the content required in class and become proficient.
In the teaching of a foreign language, teachers are empowered to help students regard and use the modern language as a tool that will enable them to accomplish a specific communicative purpose (function) in a particular form and setting (situation) about a particular subject (topic). The focus is always on what the students can do with the language and how well they can do it (proficiency).
The National Governors Association stated that there is a goal to “build flexibility into […] policy to allow students to earn credit based on demonstrating mastery.” (Grossman & Shipton 2012) Personalized learning is not a new idea. It was historically limited to specialized tutors with great results, and now with adaptive software, assessment and improved data analysis can provide the means to reach all students. (Childress 2012) These technology tools can now be used to build personalized learning systems for all students. Starting with short- and long-term goals and then working backwards with prior content and performance measures helps create personalized goals for each student based on research and learning theory.
Childress, S., (March 2012) Rethinking School, Harvard Business Review
Grossman, T., & Shipton, S., (2012) State Strategies for Awarding Credit to Support Student Learning. National Governor Association Issue Brief F-3.
About the author:
Michael Patterson, President/CEO, brings 20 years of organizational experience and a reputation of leading expansive and sustainable growth to his role as President/CEO of Avant. Michael is responsible for implementing the company’s strategic vision, managing all operations, and developing and managing key partnerships. Michael is a U.S. delegate to the ISO TC/232 Standards for providers of language learning solutions. His record of success includes ten years driving a major educational assessment organization in development of assessment solutions for the education market. During these years this organization experienced extraordinary growth (35% or greater every year). Those efforts established this organization’s position as a strategic national leader in the education assessment market. To learn more, please visit: http://www.avantassessment.com/