John Dewy once said, “All learning begins when our comfortable ideas turn out to be inadequate.” The one-size-fits-all, assembly-line educational approach to teaching was a comfortable idea many years ago, but a growing demand for personalized instruction and 1:1 initiatives is showing this method of teaching is now completely inadequate to provide students with the differentiation they need to accelerate growth. Although many educators understand the value of providing each student with a personalized learning path, finding the time and resources to create 20 or more education plans can be quite difficult. The key to successfully creating these custom, data-driven action plans is technology integration.
Not too long ago, our district made the decision to implement a 1:1 device model, and with that decision came the need to re-examine our current software programs to determine which best supported personalized learning through technology. Simply putting devices in the hands of students would not be enough to achieve a successful personalized learning environment and we fundamentally believed that our instructional approach had to focus on how the device, software, and instruction would work together to improve personalized learning.
Below are four essential aspects of instructional technology we considered when making our decision:
1. A Balancing Act
How can teachers and personalized learning technology systems fit together in a sustainable partnership? We cannot demand a sudden, seismic shift in education and assume that educators are ready for it. We owe it to our teachers to ensure they not only have access to today’s best solutions but also know how to use the technology effectively through ongoing professional development. Technology integration isn’t about replacing teachers; it’s about personalizing education through the collection of performance data and the implementation of data-driven action plans for each student. This allows teachers to more effectively focus on the exact needs of individual students.
2. Scaffolding: Nature vs. Nurture
Twenty-five students means 25 different needs to address. In order to deliver the most effective instruction, teachers need to know where a student struggles in real-time rather than waiting until the end of a particular unit to assess skill mastery. When evaluating reading technology, we chose Lexia Reading Core5 because of the prescriptive nature of its scaffolding and the explicit instruction that supports each child at various points throughout the learning process. In regards to educational equality, it is not simply a matter of equal access to the latest device; we felt it was just as important that a student’s educational path, curriculum, instruction, and schedule be personalized to address that child’s needs.
3. Making Tracks
The key benefit of technology is that it can instantly track and report students’ progress. With technology-enabled personalization, our teachers rely on reports that pinpoint specific areas of focus and provide the tool each student needs to get her back on track to make it to their final destination point.
4. Embedded Assessment
Embedded assessments provide teachers with specific data about what a student knows and where the student needs additional instruction without interrupting the flow of instruction to administer a test. This is the key to connecting real-time student data to teacher-led classroom instruction. With access to detailed reports, educators can make informed decisions by monitoring student progress and planning instruction based on students’ risk level and needs, helping to prioritize limited time. At the school and district level, principals and superintendents viewing embedded assessment reports can determine—by class or by grade—students’ probability of reaching grade-level benchmarks, giving those administrators a way to quickly detect performance trends and assign resources accordingly.
Throughout our decision-making process, we referred to the four essential aspects of instructional technology to ensure that our 1:1 device implementation would be successful. Above all, this included ensuring the process would not be overwhelming for teachers and that the selected technology provided a personalized learning path for students through data-driven action plans. With the appropriate devices, software and administrative support, it is possible to implement the resources necessary to connect the dots and map a course of improved outcomes for all students.
Jill Ries is the Instructional Services Coordinatorof the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District in Wisconsin.