Since 2015, LearnLaunch Institute’s MassNET Program has supported more than 100 preK-8 Boston Public Schools teachers in the work of piloting digital tools. What are the teachers’ takeaways from working with leading edge, adaptive software and has it helped them personalize learning?

95% of participating teachers reported that they were interested in personalized learning from the very beginning of the project. By focusing on personalizing learning and introducing a new digital tool, 89% hoped for increases in student learning and 81% hoped for increased student engagement. The teachers were focused on English Language Arts (ELA) in 10 Boston Public Schools.  

The teams of educators identified a goal, selected a digital tool to meet that goal, learned the tool and implemented and evaluated it over the course of a school year. Students used these software tools for 50 minutes or less during a typical week of 250 minutes of ELA instruction.

One Middle School principal commented, “My team is a group of experienced teachers who have a strong foundation in effective, research-based ELA practices, but they are looking to take their careers to the next level. They know that students will not be successful in college and careers unless they can extend their academic experiences into the digital realm. We also recognize that there are a variety of digital resources that can help struggling student readers gain the skills they need to meet the demands of the Common Core State Standards. We need to investigate new, cutting edge ways to engage students in middle school who are off track. We want to help them develop an academic identity that extends beyond the classroom walls.”

At the end of the project, two-thirds of MassNET teachers indicated that personalizing learning for their students had substantially and positively changed their instruction, because their edtech tool allowed them to see and utilize student data on a more frequent basis.

“Many ELA teachers got a lot of practice using product data to understand student’s strengths and weaknesses with reading,” said a middle school teacher. “They also began to use the data with parents and colleagues to better understand the full picture of the student’s academic profile. For the first time, teachers had immediate, detailed information about their students’ reading skills.” An elementary school teacher commented, “The data allowed me to see what exact comprehension skills students were still struggling with.”

Teachers were able to group students more frequently for instruction, and three-quarters reported that they could give individual students targeted instruction for their specific learning needs as a result of using the instructional tech. “Students refer to things they learn in the software during regular instruction. The software is good for phonemic awareness and supporting English Language Learners,” said an elementary school teacher. Middle school teachers cited data as helpful for identifying student needs and creating targeted IEP goals. One middle school teacher remarked, “I saw gains in student fluency, oral reading participation, and other literacy measures.”

The teachers reported a level of insight that helped them guide their instruction to be even more effective. An elementary teacher at the Holmes School commented, “The data showed that 100% of my class can Draw Conclusions and Identify the Genre, while only 58% of the class answered the comprehension questions on Fact and Opinion correctly. This data provided me with insightful information, and during a small guided reading group I explicitly taught Fact and Opinion, using their leveled books from our school’s book room.”

An elementary teacher at O’Donnell Elementary School reported, “My classroom practice, specifically, guided reading groups, changed as a result of MassNET. For example, I would look at data and specific issues students’ were having, then regroup those students to further strengthen their skills. Previously, my guided reading groups were based on Fountas & Pinnell reading levels. Through our product, I can see that although some students are reading, they continue to need phonemic awareness support! And, having flexible grouping can help to strengthen their skills.”

Half of the teachers surveyed said that students had more choice in their learning, enabled by instructional technology, and many commented on the increase in student ownership of their learning. An elementary teacher said, “Using the product helped students take ownership of their learning, students would ask about their levels and showed interest in doing the work.” Another remarked, “I was surprised at how much students took ownership for their own learning. They were motivated to move up the levels of our product and were excited about their accomplishments.”

“The program is an engaging literacy and language software program that my students love to do. They love the feedback every day and they know they are finished when they come to the exit page and see their credits. I feel our product focuses on oral-language, academic vocabulary and basic reading skills that my students need to learn in a non-threatening way” said a Kindergarten teacher.

Another Kindergarten teacher added, “When we had literacy based choice centers available in prior years, students often chose blocks or art or Legos over literacy based centers. Now, many students will choose iPads or Chromebooks for a portion of the choice time to use the software and learning activities. It personalizes the learning for them and they are excited to work towards the next level. They are so proud when they receive a certificate. We see such a boost in confidence for many of the students in regards to their literacy skills.”

During this piloting time, teachers were happy that their students had a chance to learn digitally, given that their world is often digital and that the summative MCAS assessment is digital. “Our product was good practice for the computer based MCAS/PARCC, particularly for newcomers unfamiliar with the technology,” said a middle school teacher.

While our participating teachers’ work was primarily focused on the process of selecting, implementing and evaluating a digital instructional tool to help achieve a specific and measurable ELA goal and reinforce and enrich student learning, we were delighted to see that 89% of teachers surveyed reported that their experience with LearnLaunch MassNET increased their interest in personalizing their classroom.

In fact, by the end of the 2016-2017 MassNET year, 92% of teachers surveyed reported that they plan to continue personalized instruction in the future.

Stay tuned for the full research report on MassNET 2016-2017 that will highlight increases in student learning and changes in teacher mindset. Visit the resources below to learn more about MassNET and the work of piloting digital tools.

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