Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) uses a variety of learning approaches to offer customized and personalized learning. By customized we mean learning that utilizes data to drive the instructional decision-making process and align instruction to the unique needs of each student. Personalized learning takes customized learning a step further by incorporating personal preferences and choice into the learning experience.
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Adaptive learning fits within the umbrella of personalized and customized learning and can occur through high-tech and low-tech options. BCPS is in the beginning stages of the adaptive learning movement using the program, Dreambox. BCPS teachers and administrators have noticed the technology has provided different pathways for students. Rather than predesigned linear pathways that offer only surface-level information to educators, more sophisticated adaptive learning technologies have offered more personalized instruction to students and richer data to educators.
Changes to adaptive programs have made student profiles related to proficiency of CCRS/CCSS more precise and have helped teachers and schools get a clearer picture of where students are in the learning process of those standards. The data provided assists teachers in making instructional decisions more readily, without giving a formalized assessment to determine mastery of skills. This allows assessment and instruction to be seamless because teachers do not have to stop instruction with obtrusive assessment. In fact, students do not even know when assessment is occurring in most new programming.
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When selecting an adaptive learning solution, schools need to look closely at the increased student engagement factor as well as the types of data that the program provides to teachers. The school-home connection is a key factor to consider, too. Is the program able to be utilized anywhere at any time? This is crucial if you want to decrease the “summer slide” and offer extra practice for students at home. There are a lot of programs out there that make a lot of promises about increasing student achievement. Schools may want to consider starting with a pilot group in order to test the program and determine its effectiveness with their specific school communities.
Schools also need to ask about the level of professional development support offered by the adaptive learning provider. Professional development should be ongoing and tiered based on teacher need. BCPS moved to a fully integrated digital platform, and our vendors have to be able to deliver the product in our platform. This requires high levels of tech support and a very collaborative relationship. Schools need to know how much the company is willing to invest in time and resources to support this process.
We have taken an adaptive approach to our PD that delivers many pathways for teachers. We offer face-to-face PD combined with webinars and PD on demand. This allows teachers to learn the information how, when, and where it works best for them. We also provide different phases of implementation of PD dependent on where the teacher is in the learning process. Just as there needs to be multiple pathways available for students, there needs to be the same for teachers based on their personal needs and preferences. A teacher’s time is precious, and PD should meet their specific needs.