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21st century teachers must optimize student learning

Innovation Continues:
More than 10 years into the 21st century (can you believe it?) teachers and administrators are beginning to understand the profound changes that must occur in education in order for the United States to continue to be competitive. There has been talk of raising standards (as evidenced by the introduction of the Common Core State Standards) and more fully integrating technology into the classroom, but what it all comes down to is optimizing the learning of each individual student.

Optimized Learning Zones:
Each student enters school in the fall with a unique zone of optimized learning. The zone is the space between a student’s prior knowledge and current skill level, and the academic standards he or she is expected to meet by the end of the school year. The idea is to incrementally build on prior knowledge of a particular topic in a way that will not bore the student or be too challenging.

There is a great deal of variability between each student’s optimized learning zone, determined by different backgrounds, areas of skill, and potential language or cultural barriers. The trajectory of optimized learning differs for each student, and in a perfect world teachers would have the opportunity to assist students individually so they have the greatest chance for academic success.

Unfortunately, many teachers face classrooms of 20 students or more, making the task of guiding each student through an individualized learning path toward the specified academic goals nearly impossible, particularly because zones of optimized learning are constantly shifting. What is a 21st century teacher to do?

Student-centered learning
In order for students to stay squarely within the trajectory of their zones of optimized learning so they can gradually build upon prior knowledge, teachers will need to create student-centered learning environments. In general, this means encouraging students to take active roles in their education rather than passively ingesting (but perhaps not truly understanding) new material. This method of education emphasizes a deeper understanding of content and giving an increased sense of autonomy to students. This can be accomplished by substituting long lectures with active, small group work or asking students to discuss open-ended problems and utilize their creative thinking skills. The classroom environment should be one of exploration and provide opportunities for individualized learning.

Intelligent adaptive learning systems
Of course, teachers can’t be in 20 different places at once, which is why supplemental tools are often needed to give students the individualized learning experiences that they need to stay within their personal zones of optimized learning. Intelligent adaptive learning systems are gaining popularity because they create digital education environments specifically designed to keep students within their optimized learning zones. As students answer questions and work through new material, the program constantly adapts instruction to adjust the trajectory of learning. It works to identify the root causes of students’ mistakes, and provides feedback just as a teacher would in an attempt to prevent the student from making the mistake again.

What strategies do you use to guide students through their zones of optimized learning?

Related White Paper:

a-continuous-improvement-frameworkA Continuous Improvement Framework: Data-Driven Decision Making in Mathematics Education
As educators face ever-increasing pressure to improve student achievement, data has assumed even greater importance in teaching and learning models. How can you organize people and processes to reach education objectives with data? This white paper will help guide your efforts to reach 21st century goals for evidence-based and data- driven methods to be more accountable as you personalize student learning.
Download the full version, here.

Jessie Woolley-Wilson