GUEST COLUMN | by Candace Hall
Many schools and teachers are currently stuck in a confusing gap between the traditional classroom and the new technological classroom. Educators are seeing the need for change in schools because technology is a part of the newest generation of students’ daily lives. In order to give students the education they deserve, we must find a way to teach with the available tools that make it easiest for them to learn. More and more teachers are discovering that the way to break through to their students is technology.
Our district has seen technology work in the classroom, but we still have students in our intervention program who struggle. Working directly with the intervention program, I knew we needed to find a way to get technology to work for these students as well.
The intervention problem
I teach math and reading for grades 5-8, and work mostly with intervention students who struggle in their main class and need to be pulled out for supplemental instruction. In 2010, Fleetwood Area School District (Pa.), had 35 percent of 5th-8th graders below basic in math, and 44 percent below basic in reading. These numbers meant we needed to find a new way to reach students, and I knew technology was the best way to go.
Intervention students needed a program that could be used during class-time for group instruction, and during one-on-one sessions for differentiated instruction. Teaching multiple age levels, with varying core instruction needs, and mixed levels of proficiency, I needed a solution that was flexible and proven.
Introducing technology to intervention
I thoroughly researched all of our options and asked other teachers about their thoughts on technology in the classroom. Many shared the concern that technology in the classroom would replace the teacher and create a less personal learning experience for the students. The way we were taught years ago, is not the same way students who are now “digital natives” learn. I wanted a solution that would support the efforts of our great teachers and help students succeed.
After taking all of these requirements into consideration, I settled on three major ways to incorporate technology in the classroom: mobile surveys, videos, and Study Island, a web-based instruction, practice, and learning program.
Since students love being able to use their mobile phones during the day, surveys are a fun and engaging way to incorporate this application. I ask students to text in answers to their math classwork. This allows me to see if the class as a whole comprehends the lessons, and it engages students through a technology with which they are familiar.
We also use iPods to learn math equations. We made a music video parody, replacing lyrics to a popular pop song with math equations. Students recalled the equations much more quickly when the next test rolled around. The students love being able to have more control over how they learn.
Further, we use Study Island, a web-based program built directly from the Pennsylvania Assessment Anchors and Common Core State Standards. I took time to learn the program by working through all of the teacher support tools, benchmarking functionality, reporting features, and parent messaging system. Letting students practice on Study Island before taking the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) allowed them to be more comfortable with the format of the test.
In addition, since the program provides regular exposure to the Common Core, students feel more comfortable with the looming specter of annual testing. The report function makes intervention a breeze because I no longer have to manually grade benchmark tests to see if students are progressing. Ultimately, I have a program that does that for me.
The results are in
Not only did students tell me the difference that using technology was making, I was able see the results myself. Our students started off the year at 69 percent proficient on the PSSA in math and reading. By the end of the year, they were 96 percent proficient in both. In 2010, we had a district total of 8.9 percent below basic math. We improved by moving to only 1 percent below basic by 2011. Additionally, we went from a 9.9 percent below basic in reading in 2010, to only 5 percent below basic in 2011. We increased more in one year than we thought possible. In grades 3-5 we surpassed our Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) target of 72 percent in reading by 8 percent, increasing our AYP from 2010 to 2011 by 3 percent. In math, we passed our goal of 67 percent by 21 percent, achieving a 2011 AYP of 88.5 percent.
The students who were being pulled out of regular class for special intervention are now back in class with their peers, and are learning in a way that makes sense to them. Bringing this technology into our school was a great decision. Allowing technology into the classroom is a natural solution to helping students learn more effectively.
Candace Hall teaches Math and Reading for students in grades 5-8 in the Fleetwood Area School District. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org