Innovation: Education

Creating a self-paced Spanish class

Experiment with flexibility: tech + assessment

creating a self-paced Spanish classAt Edmunds Middle School, in Burlington Vermont, Sarah Wright is rethinking assessment to create a self-paced Spanish class. Students can re-take exams as many times as possible, and work towards proficiency as it’s defined in the real world; the ability to communicate is what defines mastery of the subject. A stellar example of experimenting with schedule/assessment/instruction changes to meet proficiencies.

Unlimited retakes for assignments below the 80% standard

“At the school, you pass with a sixty,” explains educator Sarah Wright. “But that’s not enough. So I wrote a sentence on the board with only 60% of the words there. And I said to the kids, ‘The problem is that with language, in the moment, when you’re really talking to someone, that’s not enough.'”

Wright changed out the normal testing schedule for an ad hoc / as-needed exam schedule, where students could approach her to demonstrate verbal Spanish proficiency in various subjects at whatever time feels suitable for them. If they’re unable to achieve 80% proficiency on the exam, they can retry unlimited times until they achieve it, with no academic penalty. Using the school’s LMS, Canvas, students are also able to turn in written Spanish assignments online in a similar manner — unlimited retakes, no penalties. The focus is on the overall goal of proficient communication rather than a specific academic mark.

Tech tools used:

  • Canvas: links to vocabulary, notes & practice
  • Paper copies of vocabulary for easy access
  • 1:1 netbooks

Edmunds Middle School is 1:1 with netbooks.

Why We Like This:

In a class that is structured around proficiencies, learners are able to move at their own pace. Once they have demonstrated mastery in a certain area they are free to move on. The flip side is that they need to be able to demonstrate mastery. Sarah’s assessment strategy allows for continued learning while pushing for higher achievement. Middle School is not a Building, a publication of Vermont Middle Grades Task Force, describes assessments that are right for young adolescents. It describes many properties of best practices for assessment in the middle grades, including using them as a tool to improve learning, rather than just to report out on a student. This is how Sarah is using her assessments.

This strategy is moving closer to the vision of proficiency-based assessment.

Author

Audrey Homan

Audrey Homan is a Vermont-based digital media producer, and producer of The 21st Century Classroom podcast. She's worked in non-profit communications for more than a decade, and in her spare time writes tiny video games and mucks about with augmented reality and arduinos, ably assisted by five dogs.

Interviewing students and yelling in PHP are the best parts of her job.

7 comments

What do you think?

  • I am very much in favor of the idea of learning structured around proficiencies, but it’s worth mentioning that it extolling its virtues and bringing it to fruition in the (current) real world are two very different things. One of the things that makes it more complicated to implement that it first appears is the fact that it has trouble living in harmony with things like grade level advancement, norm-referenced standardized testing requirements and four-year graduation rates–all of which are still very much a part of the evaluation of student success today. Additionally, there are consequences to a universal standard of mastery for students on the fringes, particularly for students with learning disabilities.

    • I totally agree that proficiency based learning clashes with the current/traditional model of schooling. One of the most exciting aspects of Act 77 is that it mandates us to try to reconcile the structures of schooling with this transformative (in a positive way IMHO) vision of proficiency and personalization. And I think Secretary Holcombe has been a strong voice questioning the typical measures of student success. It will be interesting to see what VT ed looks like in 10 years, and whether the structures have assimilated these seemingly revolutionary ideas or if they have been truly transformed. Hopefully the latter!

      As for SwLDs in a proficiency model, yes a universal standard is a problem. But it seems much easier to me to adjust the proficiencies in order to personalize than to try to do that within our current age-graded system. It will be complicated though, no doubt.

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