Schools across the United States have purchased tech tools to help students catch up on learning disrupted by closures and other disruptions early in the pandemic.
In Nebraska, the nonprofit online math platform Zearn is one of the products school districts are using to embrace “acceleration,” a strategy that ensures students can access grade-level content even on ‘they don’t master all the concepts of the previous class. A study analyzing the impact from the Nebraska Department of Education’s statewide partnership with Zearn found that elementary and middle school students who regularly used Zearn had 2.5 times greater growth in their language assessment scores. ‘State as students who were not using the platform.
In addition to Zearn, other technology-driven accelerated learning products on the market include Amira Learning, which offers reading lessons, oral reading fluency assessment, and dyslexia risk screening; Great Minds’ Eureka Math, an online math program and learning platform; Amplify CKLA, an online English language arts program; and ReadWorks, which provides differentiated reading instructions.
In a video interview with Education Week, Nicole Guth, a 1st grade teacher at South Elementary in Sidney, Neb., explained how she uses technology to accelerate her students’ learning. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
How do you use Zearn in your class?
Zearn is divided into different parts: there is a whole group aspect, there is a small group element, as well as an online technology lesson. In my class, students take about three to four lessons each week using Zearn. We start each lesson with a group fluency activity. From there, we divide into rotations and small groups. My class is split in two. Half the class works with me in a small group to work on our level content for that day. The other half of the class works on their online component, which consists of an adaptive learning path, as well as usually a math chat, math lesson, grades, power – which is their exit ticket – and then they also have a paper and pencil exit ticket [an assignment students have to do when they finish a lesson to gauge how well they understood it]. In my class, students are allowed to either stay at the same level as me or work up to two lessons before or two lessons behind me.
How does it work for your students?
For students who really excel in math, I feel like it gives them a good challenge that they are ready for. I feel like Zearn teaches several strategies to use when learning math concepts. So these kids are able to really apply some of these math skills that they know before I even taught them, which is amazing. Then we can really talk about different ways of solving the same problem, instead of “mathematics should be solved this way and this is definitely the answer”. Math has one definitive answer, but there are so many ways to arrive at that same answer.
Has it contributed to improving the academic results of the students?
Looking at my student data, this school year for our [winter] MAP tests, 100% of my class progressed in math which is phenomenal to see the data improving.
How does this help you as a teacher?
I like Zearn because I can adapt [students’] path. If they need more practice, I can go back and bookmark a specific lesson so they can go back and start again on their iPad. If they’re ready to continue, I like the idea of kids being able to work at their level and keep moving forward and I’m not holding them back.
Is there anything about Zearn that you think could be improved?
The only thing I wish it had was more data, like more feedback to the teacher. The teacher obtains data on whether [students are] in difficulty or if they finish [lessons]if they get bonuses, but i would like more feedback as a teacher, what specifically are they having trouble with in this room?
What improvements do ed-tech products in general need to help accelerate learning?
Just think about what students need and keep in mind what children need. When it comes to math, is there an audio button so my kids who have trouble reading can still do math without having reading trouble? Am I able to make a difference so that my children who are up for a challenge can take on that challenge and really excel and students who need a little extra practice can go back and have that extra practice ? Does it give me data that I can use to improve my teaching or teach students at their level where they are?
What should technology-enhanced accelerated learning look like?
I think it should feel like you’re using some type of technology, but you also retain that teacher component. I think this part is important. I think it’s really important to build those relationships with the students and give them quality material. But [with tech] students can work at their own pace, at their level, as it suits them.