Personalized Learning

Report: Instructional Software Can Help Teachers Move Toward Personalized Instruction

A new research report from the Massachusetts School Support Network Edtech Testbed (MassNET) suggests that technology pilots may help students progress more when the implementation is greater and may help teachers move toward personalized learning when they have access to job-embedded professional development.

For the study, MassNET introduced English language arts instructional software to a half dozen urban elementary and middle school teams of six to eight teachers each. A total of 39 teachers participated, representing 1,126 students. Products were used for about five months and information was collected via teacher logs, surveys, classroom observation, teacher interviews, focus groups and product data.

A caveat in the brief warns that the "study reflects insights from an in-depth examination of a small sample of volunteers. Results cannot be generalized statistically to other populations, but the insights hopefully can prove useful for practitioners and for ongoing research."

One key finding according to a brief about the research was that teacher usage of the new tools varied greatly and increased student achievement correlated with higher rates of implementation.

"HI (high implementation) classrooms showed higher rates of student progress than LI (low implementation) classrooms, according to the brief. "Students in HI classrooms completed approximately ten times the number of levels as LI classrooms in i-Ready and Lexia Core5. On i-Ready pre-post assessments, HI students grew an average of 18.5 scale scores versus .3 scale scores for LI students."

The study also used job-embedded professional development in an effort to support extensive use of the technologies and find multiple ways to support instruction. The model looked to participating teachers as experts, allowing them to implement the tools effectively as they moved toward personalization.

"Another important result was that teachers increased personalized teaching practices in their classrooms," according to the brief. "This was indicated by several data sources including pre-post LEAP Innovations Teacher Surveys, self-reported practices in individual logs, focus groups, and classroom observations. Reflecting on their experiences at the end of the year, teachers were all able to identify positive changes that were made in their classroom instruction. These reflections indicated a wide range of useful changes that were made due to instructional technology."

Teacher-reported changes in practice included:

  • Individual conferencing with students;
  • Small group interventions;
  • Lesson and printout selection tailored to specific student needs;
  • Student motivation to use the software;
  • Friendly competition that engaged both high-performing and lower-performing students;
  • Awarding certificates and celebrations; and
  • The use of data to help students take control of their own learning.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • The choice of station rotation or whole class models did not appear to affect implementation rates;
  • Schools with existing professional learning communities had higher implementation rates and the difference was even more pronounced in schools with grade-level teams;
  • Teachers without prior technology experience seemed to face greater hurdles in moving toward blended and personalized learning and may require greater PD and support in thinking about and planning to effectively use instructional technology;
  • Teacher perception regarding student engagement was the biggest factor in predicting product use; and
  • Only classrooms with high rates of on-task behavior had high implementation rates.

"In its first year, the LearnLaunch MassNET project found promising results on a process for evaluating software and supporting teams of teachers to begin using software to move toward personalized learning," according to the brief's conclusion. "These results were based on a rich dataset that combined a variety of data sources to give a perspective on teacher thinking and practices surrounding software use in their classrooms. As districts plan their own move toward personalized learning, we hope that these results and insights can provide useful suggestions on how to approach implementing new digital courseware in K–8 classrooms."

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at jbolkan@gmail.com.

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