As teachers and administrators, our goal is compliance. However, what we really should be striving to develop are self-sufficient classrooms where students are driving the learning. Ideally, by surpassing compliance goals and student-driven learning, we can get to an even more important goal — critical thinking.
But achieving that goal isn’t easy. According to one of our Grade 6 teachers, Shannon Diven, her students could read but could not pull out details from the text to expand answers, explain answers, or to develop a piece of writing around the text (basically, reading comprehension).
To solve this and other reading-related issues, the district turned to technology to support our teachers in the classroom. Using Apple TVs, projectors, document cameras, interactive whiteboards and an array of tablets, desktops, and laptops that would ultimately serve as the technological cornerstone for our entire district.
Today, all of the K–12 teachers in our district have access to iPads and a host of technology tools for learning. Students in grades 6–9 are now 1:1 with iPads as part of our district-wide Project Connect program. With these resources in hand, Diven wanted to try a new digital ELA program.
Authentic Reading Experiences Wanted
When looking for the new ELA program for our sixth-graders, we wanted authentic literature and real-life reading experiences that students could use in the classroom and in their everyday lives. The primary goal was to find a digital ELA program that met or exceeded our state ELA standards but also engaged students.
Two of the four elementary schools in our district have a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students. Often it is a challenge to provide a balanced, digital curriculum to all four schools in a consistent manner especially when some students do not have reliable Internet access at home.
To solve this problem, we selected the StudySync ELA and literature instruction platform that’s designed for grades 6–12. We rolled it out to the sixth-grade students at West View Elementary, and our students loved the program immediately.
The platform provides high-quality literature while helping students connect to the story—a connection that keeps the students engaged in the classroom. The kids think the stories are fun and enjoyable, not “required” or “boring.”
With StudySync, we handle all of our grading online, a place where the teacher grades assignments and where feedback is immediately available to the student. The instructor can leave comments for students (i.e., to come in for help the next day), and pupils are excited to improve their work after receiving the feedback in their binders.
The students really like the comments and interaction through technology with the teacher as well as other students. The platform also allows the teacher to see patterns in student work, and can easily identify where the students are struggling and how to help them improve next time.
(Next page: Impressive reading and literacy improvements)
Not Just for Students
Our K–6 literacy coaches have helped support the teachers as they rolled out the new digital ELA curriculum. We even hosted evening meetings to show parents this valuable solution as we wanted to give them information about the platform, so they could engage in meaningful conversations about the new curriculum tool with their students.
For parents, the program helps to clarify grades and accurately answer questions like, “Why isn’t my child scoring any higher?” Parents can log in and see the assignment and read the teacher’s feedback. This, in turn, allows parents to understand the rubric and teacher’s specific expectations, and then work with their children at home to help improve their performance.
Thanks to this literacy program, our students are more engaged, they consider reading-related questions more critically, and they present answers with advanced vocabulary that exceeds Grade 6-level expectations. Mrs. Diven’s class, for example, had a 69 percent pass rate on the PSSA state assessment in 2015. One year after implementing the digital ELA platform, that pass rate grew to 90 percent. Diven shared with me that her students didn’t simply have a ‘good test day’–they actually have learned the necessary skills.
The program not only provides the reading material but also a framework for teachers to teach reading material that ensures success. The platform engages students on their own terms—and based on their individual interests—in a very effective manner. Students don’t even realize that they are becoming stronger readers, students, and writers because they simply are enjoying the activities and content that that ELA program offers.
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