Most high school students in the U.S. are required to take World Language classes in high school, regardless of their interest to do so or their current proficiency in a language other than English. While some students enter a class such as Spanish are highly motivated and excited to learn a new language, some are less motivated; others lack confidence in language acquisition, or are apathetic to the requirement.
As a PML coach, I have seen this phenomenon repeatedly over the years until I began spending time in Ms. Williford’s mixed level Spanish class at Aveson Global Leadership Academy (AGLA). Ms. Williford’s students are consistently highly engaged. They are motivated to learn language and they look forward to spending time in her class.
More than 70 percent of Ms. Williford’s students responded to a survey asking them how they learn best in their Spanish language class and how she provides a personalized mastery learning experience for them. Not only did I receive a larger than expected number of responses from these high school students but their responses were authentic and reflective:
“I learn grammar through taking notes/quizzing myself 20 minutes a day.”
“I also learn through projects that require me to communicate my ideas in Spanish by writing letters in Spanish, doing cross curricular assignments or interviewing someone in Spanish.”
“We get to choose how we want to complete our grammar requirement.”
“For me, mini lessons are the most helpful. I like that her structure has variety, that we do our own grammar each day, work on a project and usually have a discussion or mini lesson.”
“If I can communicate to her may needs and learning style, she will help me find a system that works best for me.”
“I learn by doing.”
“We can put our own style into the work.”
So, what’s the difference in Ms. Williford’s class and what is the key ingredient that fosters this motivation? It’s her Personalized Mastery Learning approach that focuses on giving students choice and project-based learning that allows them to study Spanish in ways that are relevant to them: mini small group lessons, individual lessons with Ms. Williford and independent study.
Student voice and choice is evident everywhere inMs. Williford’s classroom. When I ask students about the projects they are working on, I discover that each one has chosen a scenario in which they will use the Spanish language that is of interest to them.
For example, one student researched and presented the Spanish vocabulary and phrases that would be needed when helping someone involved in an accident. Each one of the student’s mini-project topics had a relevance to the student which increased her motivation to learn the language skills needed to complete the project.
Choice and personalization also is embedded in the ways students learn grammar concepts. When reviewing survey responses, I noticed a generous number of resources ranging from websites, apps such as Duolingo, text books, booklets and videos.
In addition, Ms. Williford pulls small groups to conduct mini-lessons as needed and frequently confers one-on-one with every student to support learning in her class. Heritage Spanish speakers require different mini-lessons than students completely new to speaking Spanish and each student or group of students receives targeted instruction that recognizes the different levels of speakers.
If I created a word wall to indicate all the successful components of Ms. Williford’s Spanish class, these are the words that you would see: Duolingo, mini-lessons, cultural exposure, choice, individual projects, textbooks, small groups, one-to-one instruction, video, voice, comfortability, personalized, websites, apps, literature, and pace. And this is what you’ll see when you walk into her Personalized Mastery Learning room: students working quietly and happily, individually or with a teacher, moving from small groups to individual space working at their own pace to complete Spanish language outcomes.