Proficiency Based Teaching & Learning

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Proficiency Based Teaching & Learning Articles


What is Differentiated Teaching and Learning?  One Size Does Not Fit All

“Differentiation is a way of teaching,” writes Laura Robb (2008:13), a national expert, teacher, author, and professional developer who has worked with staff at Westbrook Middle School. She explains that it is not a program or packet of worksheets but rather an evidence based approach that it expects teachers to know their students well so they can provide each one with learning experiences and tasks that will improve learning through carefully planned instruction. Carol Ann Tomlinson (1999), another well-respected educational expert, agrees and goes on to state that differentiation means giving students multiple opportunities to take in information. In Westbrook, we believe that differentiated teaching and learning leads students to meet proficiency standards. Students in all grades are provided with differentiated learning environments. Teachers and students use formative assessment to guide instruction. Students have opportunities to learn individually and in groups, often with a great deal of choice in the learning experiences, tasks, and projects that meet a variety of needs and interests. There are multiple pathways and strategies to demonstrate what has been learned with an emphasis on problem solving, application, and analysis rather than literal reporting of information.  Differentiation helps us avoid anxiety and boredom that is often the case in a “one size fits all” environment, and leads students to take responsibility for their learning and maximize every opportunity for success.



Robb, L. 2008. Differentiated Reading Instruction: How to Teach Reading to Meet the Needs of All Students. New York, NY:Scholastic

Tomlinson, C. 1999. The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners. Arlington, VA: ASCD.



Assessment is an integral part of a proficiency based learning system. Assessment is used to guide instruction, monitor and report progress, identify strengths and needs, document evidence, apply knowledge and skills, and synthesize learning. There are many kinds of assessments, but all of them can be grouped into two categories: formative assessment and summative assessment. Formative assessment involves the ongoing “checking in” on progress. It is conducted as part of regular teaching and learning and is used to guide and adjust instruction. Formative assessment is frequent, typically informal, and often created by individual teachers. Formative assessment provides ongoing feedback for students so that they can be better able to take responsibility for their learning. Quizzes, journal responses, math boxes, reflective writing, homework assignments, and in-class question and answers are examples of formative assessment. Summative assessment is given at pre-determined intervals, such as at the end of a unit of study, the end of a semester, the end of a course. It tests knowledge and skills that students are expected to have mastered as the result of instruction. Summative assessment provides an opportunity for students to synthesize what they have learned and apply it as a means of accountability. Growth can be documented from the beginning to the end of an interval, especially when a pre-test is administered and compared to a post-test summative assessment. Types of summative assessment include the annual state accountability test (MEA), final exams, end-of-chapter tests, and unit projects. All assessments provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate what they have learned and document a learner’s progression toward proficiency.

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