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How Adaptive Learning Supports Teachers

Posted in Adaptive Learning on December 22, 2014 by Ashley Mucha

This post was co-written by Susan D’Auria and Ashley Mucha.

Imagine a classroom filled with 20 or more young faces. Multiply that by 5. That’s how many students an average teacher sees each day. And he’s expected to teach, know, and mentor each one of them. Oh yeah, and plan lessons, grade, engage in professional development, talk to parents, attend meetings — not to mention having a life outside of school.

Sounds … well, impossible.

And as a former teacher, I can tell you that most of the time, it is.

But what if teachers had the ability to know how to challenge every one of those 100 students, at any point in the curriculum?

This is Knewton’s goal. No two students learn in the same way. Educational design increasingly focuses on tailoring instruction to meet individual students’ needs. But personalizing lessons for 30 kids, each with different knowledge levels, skills, and backgrounds, everyday, is a Herculean task. Knewton helps teachers by figuring out exactly what each student using a digital learning application knows and what she needs to work on next — in real time. Knewton’s personalized recommendations for what to study next help reinforce class lessons and address individual areas of weakness. Knewton analytics give teachers and students more insight into the learning process.

For example, teachers using a Knewton-powered product can look at their dashboard to see “learners to watch.” This shows them not only students who are struggling, but also those who might need more challenging work to tackle. I wish I’d had this feature when I was teaching! Struggling isn’t always indicative of a problem when it comes to learning; even advanced students can struggle with difficult material they’ve been assigned. The beauty of the learners to watch metric is that Knewton can easily distinguish between those who are working productively and those who need more support.

Adaptive Learning in the Classroom

In my classroom, when working with a group of students in either of the categories above, that group would get all of the attention from me. Meanwhile, the rest of the class could be hanging from the chandeliers. Contrary to popular belief, teachers can’t do everything at once. Before I knew it, forty-five minutes would go by, the bell would ring, and the students would be on their way to lunch.

Mind you, I was prepared for all of my students before they walked in. I had all of my lesson plans, assessments, and student worksheets saved on my desktop. “This” folder had plans appropriate for enrichment, and “that” folder had plans ready for remediation. But I only had an hour a day with my students. Interacting with each and every one of them to learn their struggles and triumphs with all of the material in my curriculum was impossible.

Fast forward two years, and I’m working on this product at Knewton that could have changed all that. You mean, I could catch students exactly at the point in the curriculum where they fell behind? Yep. And I could have that issue addressed immediately? Sure thing. So, you’re saying that I can be everywhere at once? Well, not exactly. But here’s how Knewton can help you help students with very different needs, at the same time.

The Bored Student

Every teacher has had that kid: the student who always has it figured out. He finishes every bit of work at lightning speed… and with nothing else to do, he starts acting out. You overhear other teachers parroting your sentiments: “He won’t stay in his seat.” “I don’t know what to do with him after he finishes his work.” He calls out answers in class, which discourages other students from learning; he walks around the room, touching things and disrupting other students. His brain moves faster than you can keep up with, and he’s bored.

With Knewton, you can fix this. You create a goal for him that he quickly excels with, and your dashboard alerts you that he is ready for another. Soon, he is being recommended more rigorous and engaging content that keeps the wheels turning in his busy mind. Instead of a behavior problem, you have helped redirect his energy into a positive learning experience. This benefits not only him but his classmates as well, who can focus on their own lessons. No longer do you have to think, “He’d be such a good student if only…”

The Quiet Student

You have another student who sits in the back of the room and doesn’t cause any trouble — in fact, he’s so quiet that you’re not sure he’s there at all. But he desperately needs your attention because he’s failing your class. He’s heartbroken that he can’t keep up; his confidence wanes because he can’t earn more than a dozen points on the tests; and he gets his older brother to do his homework and doesn’t want you to know. His silence is a barrier between him getting help and you knowing how to help him. You start him toward a goal on Knewton and view his work on the dashboard in the morning before class begins. The hypothetical choir of angels starts singing as this student’s roadmap unfolds before you, highlighting exactly what concepts he’s having trouble with. Now you’ve got a plan.

Another student in your class, a bit more vocal and outgoing, is struggling with the same material. Wait, let’s put them together, she can pull him out of his shell a bit during group work, and you can watch their progress over the next few days. Mix and match as necessary as the semester rolls out. They’re on the road to success!

The Unmotivated Student

Another child in your class is an average student. She’s coasted through school, barely doing her work, but getting by with grades in the 80s. For her, this is enough and she doesn’t need to work any harder. But her parents (and you!) are tearing out their hair, knowing she can achieve more. How do you get her to that next level?

First, you need to figure out what level she’s at now. Check back in that dashboard. She’s right there, current proficiency shining brightly. You can assign this student a goal that is outside of her academic comfort zone. You’ll get some resistance, and maybe even a parent phone call or two. But stick with it, and those 85s could turn into 90s with support from you as her teacher. No one wants to fail, and no one wants to be the kid who doesn’t get it. We all want to see progress, and we love to watch the proverbial water level rise when it comes to getting through life. For children, that means progressing through school and achieving — whether it be in grades, standards, or awards. As teachers, it’s our job to champion this progress. Knewton can help.