Defining Realistic Approaches to Effective Education

A new report by the International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL) Student-Centered Learning: Functional Requirements for Integrated Systems to Optimize Learning, explores what the transformation of education can look like, realized through the design and implementation of digital content, personalized learning, and competency-based education.

Authors Liz Glowa and Jim Goodell said that “The best student-centric approaches must be able to track how, when and where students learn; how they plan their learning and demonstrate mastery; how their progress is tracked and reported; how they access resources and the nature of the resources; how they communicate and collaborate with others; as well as how teacher, parents and other educators work with and support students.”

In reading Glowa and Goodell’s work, I was struck by two thoughts. The first has to do with how well their depiction of student-centered education contributes to the greater discussion about creating and sustaining student agency, or more aptly put, learner agency.

The second thought was the need to provide a specific example that moves from the theoretical to the practical with respect to how the integration of digital content, personalized learning, and competency-based education create both student agency and the conditions for teachers becoming “activators” rather than facilitators of learning (see Gayle H. Gregory’s Teacher as Activator of Learning, March 2016). Defining the three characteristics of effective education. In both student agency and teacher as activator of learning, the emphasis is on learning rather than instructing. To maintain this emphasis, there are three simple and understandable ways to characterize how we can more dynamically activate learning and foster learner agency: engage, equip, and empower.

  • Engage: When learners engage in learning at their own pace, space, and place, their interest and motivation increases. New competency-based models are designed to meet the needs of the individual learner. The emerging presence of “gaming” or “gamification” in education leverages learner interests to inspire exploration and immersion in subject matter. In gaming, feedback is ubiquitous. “Gamers”—or better put—“learners” are immersed in immediacy of feedback on every move and decision they make. This form of engagement creates an environment where learning is constant, consistent, and continually reinforced.
  • Equip: Specific, meaningful, actionable, relevant, and timely (SMART) data equips a learner with both information and insight. Using dashboards that reveal what concepts and objectives a student is struggling with or excelling at within and between learning activities equips the learner with awareness to build both understanding and application of procedural and conceptual skill and knowledge sets.
  • Empower: The centerpiece of empowerment is authenticity. Learners become empowered when they authentically have choice in not so much what they learn, but rather, how they learn. An empowered learner knows she is able to control or influence her learning directly by the choices and decisions she knowingly makes. Learner agency is where we want to be: students who take responsibility for their own learning, monitoring their own progress, incorporating their own interests, and collaborating with their peers and teachers.

An approach that works. At DreamBox, we provide the platform to engage, equip, and empower learners. Through embedded formative assessing, our math program is able to adapt within and between lessons creating a personalized learning path. One of the routes to deeper learning and a healthy learning mindset is using this “in the moment” informative assessment process rather than “rear-view mirror” summative assessment testing data to inform teaching and learning. We are constantly and consistently engaging learners in their own learning as they are learning.

Utilizing our intelligent adaptive engine, learners are equipped with more than information about how well they are learning. They glean insights about every decision, strategy, or action taken to solve a problem. They are challenged, probed, and prompted to demonstrate competency albeit a procedure or a conceptual application.

Empowering learners to achieve procedural fluency as well as conceptual understanding takes more than just answering a question correctly. When learners are engaged in their learning because it is authentically personalized for them—by them, equipped with information and insights specific to their learning progress and need—they become empowered to take responsibility for their learning.

The use of intelligent software enables embedded, ongoing formative assessment and seamless instructional shifts while students are immersed in a game-like environment. This advancement in digital learning software is a boon for teachers and students alike, enabling the ability to use data to co-create, co-author, and collaborate instruction while promoting student agency. Now there is no need to wait until a student has failed to intervene and correct the situation. How to activate learning and generate real results in one school year Let me provide a case in point from our partnership with DeKalb Central School District, in Waterloo, Indiana. Administrators identified that a percentage of their students required math intervention when results on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress Plus (ISTEP+) showed less than ideal performance in mathematics. Furthermore, MAP data revealed that even the 75 to 80 percent of students performing at or above grade level demonstrated learning gaps that prevented them from mastering more challenging concepts.

How was learning activated? Rather than providing predefined learning progressions, the use of DreamBox and its formative data delivered specific feedback and scaffolding, based on each student’s actions and strategies taken in the moment of learning. Students have become even more successful, resulting in conceptual understanding as well as procedural fluency across grade levels and math topics. By identifying and learning growth for students at all abilities—from those requiring math intervention to those performing at or above grade level.

After using DreamBox Learning Math in their math intervention programs for one year, NWEA MAP® scores across the board have improved. Additionally, district interventionists report that growth is occurring for all of their students. Learn about and weigh in on defining pathways to more effective learning. iNACOL is hosting a webinar on the topic of student-centered learning on June 8 from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. I look forward to hearing what they and other educators have to say about the redesign of education around transformative digital learning and competency education. This discussion is and should be ongoing. We all need to learn from each other. Add your thoughts and comments here or at Twitter.

New study proves efficacy Don’t miss the new 2016 Harvard Research Study on DreamBox Learning Achievement Growth that proves the impact of this approach on student learning outcomes.

Dr. Gregory Firn

Dr. Gregory Firn

Dr. Gregory Firn served as Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, and in several other educational leadership roles in Texas, North Carolina, Connecticut, Washington state, Nevada, and overseas. Grounded in the school effects research, Dr. Firn’s leadership resulted in school system improvement as measured by student achievement and performance results, increased parent, community, and school engagement, increased graduation rates and decreased student suspensions. A pioneer in digital conversion, he twice led system-wide digital transformation initiatives, including the design and implementation of robust human capital development programs. Dr. Firn earned his doctorate from Seattle Pacific University, where his research focused on learner-centered education.
Dr. Gregory Firn

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