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Shaping Student Success: Change the Attitude, Improve the Aptitude, Achieve Results

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OpenEd-CircleExploring the World’s Largest Online Library of K-12 Standards-Aligned Resources That Link Assessment to Instruction

“Change the attitude and you change the aptitude.” It’s a teaching philosophy that schoolteacher Tony Sanders firmly holds.

Last year, Sanders taught math and statistics to juniors and seniors with learning differences at Kingsbury Day School in Washington, D.C. Early in the school year, some students were discouraged trying to master new material while others had a lack of confidence that prevented them from even trying. “I just can’t do it,” they would say. But Sanders knew that once their attitudes about learning changed, their aptitudes would follow. So, along with coaching his students, he used resources from the company where I work, OpenEd (www.opened.com), in two specific ways to achieve this goal.

The first way he used OpenEd—which has the world’s largest online library of K-12 standards-aligned resources that link assessment to instruction—engaged the entire classroom; the second was tailored to an individual student. Both ways met the specific needs of his special education students, and both achieved remarkable results.

Sharing Formative Assessment Results in the Classroom

For final exams this spring, Sanders assigned OpenEd’s formative assessments, which are aligned to the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. Once the students completed those, Sanders posted their scores on a Smart Board via OpenEd’s Mastery Chart for everyone in the class to see. Mastery Charts show students’ scores, but even more importantly, they make real-time, personalized recommendations for instructional videos and assignments based on students’ individual results and learning needs.

“I encouraged them to watch the specific videos and do the assignments recommended by OpenEd, and then take the formative assessments again,” Sanders said. “Once they finished, their new scores refreshed in real time on the Smart Board. I allowed my students to take the formative assessments as many times as they wanted to improve their scores.”

As their scores went up, the students were eager to follow the OpenEd recommendations. They retook the formative assessments and then clamored to see their results posted.

One of Sanders’ students who benefited from the approach was Scott (not his real name). Discouraged about leaning, Scott only wanted to do the bare minimum. He figured that once he took the formative assessments Sanders had assigned, he didn’t have to do anything more. His scores were quite low in some areas, however, so Sanders encouraged him to watch the videos OpenEd had recommended for him, and then retake the tests to see how he had improved. And did his attitude change! As Scott’s scores gradually went up, he actually became excited about taking more tests and having his new scores posted on the Smart Board.

Sanders’ experience in this situation tells us two things:

  1. Students love immediate feedback, which improves performance—even in the classroom. Children today grow up playing video games, so not only are they are accustomed to immediate feedback, but they’re used to improving their performance based on that feedback. That can translate to the classroom, where seeing their own scores can instill the desire to improve them. OpenEd automatically grades the assessments in real time, so students in Sanders’ classroom could retake tests and watch their scores go up immediately. This also is beneficial to teachers, who can devote more time to teaching and less time to grading.
  2. Kids are OK with sharing. With the proliferation of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media, kids are comfortable sharing just about everything. As Sanders’ students proved, they don’t even mind sharing their formative assessment scores—which admittedly is low-risk information to share. (Perhaps it would be different with final grades, SAT scores or other higher-risk information, but not so with formative assessments.)

Other teachers who have used OpenEd in the same way have reported similar results. While Sanders’ approach might not work with every group of special education students, there is little doubt that immediate feedback, sharing and coaching can help to improve students’ attitudes, aptitudes and, ultimately, achievement.

Keeping Things Private

Some students, however, need a more specialized approach to learning.

Joanna (not her real name) was among Sanders’ 12th grade statistics students last year. Although all of the students in the class had learning differences, Joanna began the year at a particular disadvantage because her math skills were at or below the fifth grade level: Adding and subtracting two-digit numbers posed a challenge for her.

Like all Kingsbury students, Joanna had an individual education plan, or IEP, that spelled out her learning goals for the year. IEPs are tailored to each student, taking into account their particular abilities and learning needs. One of Joanna’s goals for her senior year was to be able to understand word problems that involved making change with money—a skill that’s typically considered a standard skill for elementary school math.

But to succeed in statistics, Joanna would need to have a grasp of advanced math concepts and complicated algebraic manipulation.

“You can imagine our predicament,” Sanders recalls. “Her ability to grasp the statistics work was going to be hampered by her lack of knowledge in basic math. And I had to figure out how to help Joanna master her math goals while still devoting my class time to teaching her about statistics.”

Getting Joanna up to speed meant overcoming three practical challenges:

  1. Privacy. Each student’s IEP goals are confidential and can’t be shared with other students, so addressing Joanna’s specific math goals in front of her classmates wasn’t an option.
  2. Individual needs. Even if Sanders wanted to use Joanna’s IEP math objectives as teaching points for the full class, her personal goals didn’t fit into the statistics class curriculum, so there was no real way for him to blend them into his instruction.
  3. Limited time. Although Joanna was going to devote class time to learning the material the best she could, Sanders knew that she—like many other students, with or without learning challenges—wasn’t going to be interested in seeking extra help after school.

Fortunately, Sanders came up with a solution that took advantage of his school’s resources. “I hit on the idea of using online learning resources and the privacy of one-to-one technology.”

Last year, to encourage one-to-one technology in the classroom, Kingsbury issued smartphones to all of its upper school students. That technology, combined with access to OpenEd, was just the platform Sanders needed.

He just needed to pitch the idea to Joanna: She would user her smartphone and OpenEd’s app to work toward her basic math goals, and he would spend extra time with her outside of class. Using the app gave Joanna the opportunity to adjust the grade level of the material she was working on and take short quizzes to assess her own progress. And all of her work was captured online in a Mastery Chart, where she and Sanders could watch her improvement.

“That’s one of the reasons I chose OpenEd: I could develop a personalized—and private—teaching system that targeted specific standards just for her,” he says. “She and I could work on her IEP math goals together, and she wouldn’t need to feel embarrassed that she was working on elementary school math while her classmates were working on high school math.

“I told her it would take some time but I’d be able to help her along the way because I’d be giving her the assignments and watching her progress. She actually smiled when we had that conversation—she thought it was going to be a way she could develop her math skills.”

Even Sanders was impressed with how Joanna immersed herself in the material. “Once or twice, she actually texted me over the weekend to let me know she’d finished the work and to ask for more.”

Ultimately, Joanna made enough progress in her class with Sanders and on her overall IEP goals to be accepted into college. It was quite an accomplishment for someone who started the year reluctant to participate in class.

“Having the OpenEd app as a learning and teaching tool was a real asset,” Sanders said. “I could give her assignments, and she could choose her own level of work to do. And, because her progress was captured by the system, I could see that progress and give her words of encouragement along the way. But more importantly, Joanna benefited from the opportunity to take responsibility for her learning into her own hands.”

I was thrilled to hear Sanders’ success stories from the Kingsbury Day School. They illustrated yet again how OpenEd’s empowers teachers to motivate an entire classroom or engage one student at a time, and that our platform helps minimize the time they need to spend marking papers while letting them spend more of their energy doing what they do best: teach!

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