Schools are confronting vast achievement gaps among students and an exhausted teaching force. Some say it’s time to finally commit to scalable personalized learning.
For Dr. Shawn Smith, Chief Innovation Officer at McGraw Hill, that means serving up the content that each student needs—at the right time and in a way that directly connects to their interests. It also means automating workflows for teachers.
“Not only do we need to meet kids individually where they are, but we also have to ease the burden that teachers face, or we’re going to lose so many in this profession,” worries Smith. “So many bright educators love teaching and love kids, but they’re physically and emotionally exhausted. We have to use technology to relieve some of that exhaustion.”
After nearly two decades of teaching, leading, researching and writing—all with a focus on personalized learning—Smith is taking another step forward in his life’s mission to better understand students and help them learn. That step is McGraw Hill Plus, a new tool scheduled to be released this spring. Focusing first on math and then expanding to ELA and science, its objective is to make personalized learning scalable.
We spoke with Smith to learn more about his vision. He shared how this new tool may give hope to teachers striving to help all students while simultaneously drowning in a sea of data, standards, adaptations, assessments and growing needs.
EdSurge: How can curriculum providers help schools address teacher burnout and reduce gaps in student learning?
Smith: The modern classroom sits at the intersection of blended learning, competency-based learning and personalized learning.
When you think about equity and the instructional gaps that largely exist, the modern classroom has to address the diverse needs of kids. But every student’s brain is intricately wired in a unique way, based on experiences and environment. Because of that, every kid comes to the classroom with different needs. Personalized learning can help us meet those needs.
But we also have to reimagine instructional time and use technology to scale personalized learning. A single teacher can’t do it all.
What needs to change to make personalization a scalable practice?
First, pulling data into one place is the key fundamental driver that will change the teacher workflow. Second, we need to manipulate that data into some advanced data visualization tools, so it’s easy for teachers to understand and use. Third, we need to be able to visualize student performance and take action on it. Using these data analytics, we can drive personalized learning based on student performance. And the last thing is the automation of teacher workflow. We want teachers to be able to access the type of compliance reporting they need, like parent or administrator reports, and ease the burden in their daily workflow.
Ultimately, we need to make teachers more efficient and let technology do what manual labor was doing in the past. We also need to help teachers be more effective by taking this data and building a feedback loop on how kids are doing so teachers can make instructional decisions in the classroom. McGraw Hill Plus does this.
How, specifically, might instruction change with McGraw Hill Plus?
Teachers get data visualization from different sources, such as an adaptive software solution like our ALEKS program, our Redbird Mathematics, or our recently acquired Achieve3000 Literacy. With just a few clicks, a teacher can see exactly where a student is performing, and there’s a clear recommendation for going forward.
We’ve opened up our content library and provided 10 to 15-minute digital lessons that target the topic or standard a teacher is working on. Two more clicks, and teachers can assign adaptive lessons to their class, but the instructional range of those lessons goes up or down, based on where each student is in their learning.
Teachers can use that in class and differentiate for 15 minutes of an hour lesson, so kids get just-in-time instructional content right where they need it. They could also do adaptive homework practice, giving everybody personalized homework that meets them right where they are. Or, for kids having intensive intervention or special education, where multiple adults work with a particular child, those adults can all see performance and be on the same page.
In the end, we lower the frustration rates and increase the success rates because we’ve targeted instruction the right way.
What are the long-term benefits for students?
If we can get this right, we’ll find ourselves at an instructional sweet spot where the students are highly engaged in rigorous content, but they’re connecting it to their passions and their interests. The content is not just personalized from the instructional level; students can find meaning in it and see how they would leverage it in society. And because of that, they see themselves contributing meaningfully to society as citizens—and that’s driven by their passions.
We can lift more kids out of poverty, particularly generational poverty, and ultimately advance the world around us with this approach.
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