Ways to Enhance Reading and Writing Workshop with Technology

Our school recently made the switch to Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Although Stephanie and I received some surface level training on the project in our previous school, this has been the first time that we have been asked to follow the program with a high level of fidelity.

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Like with any program, there are ways to improve outcomes by looking at how best to use technology to maximize learning. We’re all about looking at traditional teaching practices and seeing how they can be improved. The following are some of the things that we have tried in our classrooms to facilitate 21st century learning experiences within the Reading and Writing Workshop model.

Use online forums and chat rooms for class discussions, teacher and peer feedback, and ratings

Class discussions can happen in many ways. When the program asks for reading and writing partners to turn and talk about their thoughts, students can also do so in an online forum. The tool that you use doesn’t matter: This could be on Seesaw, Flipgrid, EasyBlog, Edmodo. . . whatever! I use Moodle for forums, because I find it to be very customizable, but you can have kids discussing on almost any platform. Again, it’s not about the tool, it’s about the learning.

There are inherent benefits to having discussions online. Instead of always communicating in informal language, as is the case with “turn and talk” in class, students are forced to use formalized language. There is a record of what they have said, and teachers can see it, give feedback on which terms they are using correctly, and can have students go back and edit their ideas for clarity. Students can continue the conversation at home, alone or with their parents, and you can always go back to the conversations during your conferencing, which is much harder to do with traditional “turn and talk”.

Use online multimedia journals with links, videos, photos, audio, drawings, table of contents, dictionary and thesaurus

I am a fan of both paper/pencil journals as well as multimedia online journals. While the benefits of the paper/pencil journal are well known, it is sometimes effective to give students the chance to write or write about their reading in an online journal.

In my students’ wiki journals, they are able to create new pages whenever, wherever they feel like. This creates great situations where they can [[link]] to a new page (for example, a character page), and then fill in their ideas there. If they need inspiration for character development, setting, or anything visual, they can pull up images from online and stick them in their journal. If they need to create a quick sketch, they just insert a drawing into their journal, and can move it around as they wish without feeling that they are getting in the way of their writing. When I provide them with materials from the program, they can link to these materials, refer to them, and annotate the parts that they feel they need to work on. By just clicking on a word, they can look up new words in online dictionaries and thesauruses and build their vocabulary . . the multimedia journal creates learning experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be possible with a 100% paper/pencil workshop.

Give assessments with feedback, rubrics, checklists, infographics, memes, pictures, video, inline editing

I find the assessments in the Reading and Writing Project to be easily convertible into online resources. For the beginning of the year reading assessment, I put all of the questions into an online assignment, and had kids take the test.

After the kids took the assessment, the data came back to me organized by student and question type. I was then able to give students feedback to enhance their learning. I did this in the form of inline editing, inserting the rubrics right into their answers, and providing checklists, infographics, memes, and links to previous discussions and journal entries that they had made. After I helped one student with a certain problem – using pictures, videos, or whatever – I was able to use that same teacher-created resource to help the next student that had the very same problems.

The point is, with technology you can link up all of the resources that you and your students have created – assessments, discussions, journals, rubrics, glossaries, etc –  at any time, so that students are not only making digital connections, but connections in their craniums as well.

Make the Heinemann resources accessible to students online

Instead of printing everything that I’m provided in the Reading and Writing Project from the Heinemann online resources – the sticky notes, the reading logs, the anchor charts, the exemplars, etc – I put them on my class website and into student hands. It saves a tree, and it helps students engage with the materials by actually using them in various ways.

Why not just project the resources? I find that projecting these resources without putting them up on my online courseroom makes it so that I become the “keeper of all resources”. I believe in a student-driven classroom, where information is accessible to all, parents included. By putting the resources up onto our Moodle page, students can not only access them anytime they want, but they can manipulate the content, insert it where they want, and ask questions and post comments about it.

Go nuts combining apps, web tools, social media and productivity tools!

There is so much out there that can help kids think and remove potential barriers for learning the content required in the Reading and Writing Project. I’ve written before about some of my favorite tech tools for getting kids writing, but I really recommend that you go sit on your couch with your device in hand, and explore the unlimited possibilities that exist out there.

Even if the Reading and Writing Project doesn’t explicitly say that you should or could use technology, that doesn’t make it wrong to take advantage of the best tools at your disposal. For me, technology is ubiquitous in the learning process, and learning is non-linear.

So, have kids record podcasts and watch their speaking and listening skills grow as they engage with the Reading and Writing workshop. Put up a green screen in your classroom, and explore the possibilities this has for student learning and engagement. I also believe that learning should be shared and public, and with technology this is possible. Have kids share out their reading and writing on blogs, social media, and e-mail. Get parents engaging with the Reading and Writing Project from their phone.

There are so many ways to make this program more dynamic and better for the learner. So if you’re like me and new to the Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, keep at it. I know I will!


Thanks for coming back again and again to educationrickshaw.com, a website by Stephanie and Zach Groshell. Feel free to comment below!

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Guest Article on TeachersMatterMagazine

Last year around this time, I was invited to the AEC conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I took two institutes that really blew my mind. One of those was led by the fantastic Karen Boyes, and it focused on getting students to do the thinking and take control of their learning. I’m happy to announce that one of our articles was selected for her mag, TeachersMatterMagazine!

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Many thanks to Karen Boyes and all of those that have supported us in our never ending pursuit of excellence in education. Check out the original article here and if you’d like to join my PLN, follow me on Twitter @MrZachG, check out our facebook group, Over Posting Educators, and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com!

Homework not effective? What about distance learning?

Homework is one of those contentious things that divides teachers as well as parents. John Hattie’s research leads to the conclusion that homework in primary school has an effect of nearly zero.  But the reality is that many schools have policies that require homework to be assigned to students on a daily or weekly basis.

This year, I am experimenting with a theory that primary student achievement can be improved with homework if there is a distance learning tutor available for coaching for every assignment.

What I’m trialing this year:

This year I’ve told all of my students that whenever they need help with their homework, they should shoot me an email. I know, it sounds like a crazy responsibility for me to take on, and I’ll see if I have the stamina to keep up with it throughout the year, but so far it has gone really well!

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“I don’t get this”

Much like my in-class helpdesk, I want my 9-10 year olds to get professional help in a timely and effective manner. I don’t want some parents to help their kids while other kids are left alone to stress about math during their valuable home time. This year, my students were instructed that if they have a problem they should screenshot their math or take a video of the strategies they’ve tried and to send it to me by e-mail. I then respond by either giving them some written or video hints, or by directing them to an available resource such as a Youtube or Khan Academy video.

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“Is this correct?”

 

How’s it going so far?

It has been a very positive experience to start the year off with this model for homework. One thing I have noticed, though, is that the students tend to ask very simple questions without really showing their work or the strategies they tried. I am going to work with students on how to ask for help, and how to get the students helping each other much more often. I am also learning how to give just enough help so as to get the students to figure out the rest of the problems on their own.

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Student created instructional YouTube video on our class channel

I am also incorporating a YouTube channel with student-created instructional videos so that students can refer to a growing library of flipped lessons from their peers. This is in the process of getting put together (so far, we only have three videos) but the students seem very excited about the prospect of sharing their knowledge with each other and the world.

It’s not that much extra work… so far

I am a fan of living a balanced life as a teacher, so taking on a “distance tutoring model” by having kids e-mail me all night long (their limit is 8:00 PM) might sound like a recipe for disaster. But the truth is that I only get a couple of emails per night, and it usually only takes me a few seconds to send back a response with Mark-Up or my laptop’s webcam. Usually just copying and pasting the link to a YouTube video can help them solve their problems. As students become more familiar with this system, and increasingly independent, I hope to teach them to search for their own answers online and to take it upon themselves to offer peer tutoring during the homework hours.


What do you think? Will this strategy help improve achievement, or is it simply homework in sheep’s clothing? Is this plan sustainable, or do you bet I’ll let some student requests fall through the cracks? Comment below! We at educationrickshaw.com would love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

Some Kids Pet Baby Birds, Some Kids Squash Them.

My first week of teaching this year is officially done. And, like every year, I am overwhelmed by the potential that this year has in store. What’s always amazing is that each class that comes into my care has such a different character profile than the year before. My new students bring with them a certain set of strengths and, of course, areas to grow.

It can be hard to determine what these areas are. Like all teachers, I will sift through the data of the standardized tests, but these will only inform me of their literacy and math achievement, and only indicate a moment in time. What interests me just as much, and maybe more, is the complexity and the nuance of the character of these students. How well do they demonstrate the IB Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes? Are they able to stick to the Essential Agreements that they came up with with me on Day 1?

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As we’re working on implementing a workshop model for reading and writing primary-wide this year, my class created essential agreements based around the three main parts of a workshop: Mini-Lesson, Independent Work, and Sharing. “I will pay attention” was what the students came up with for Mini-Lesson. 

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The essential agreement students came up with for “Independent Work” time during workshop. We’re currently building up to 30 minutes of straight reading and 30 minutes of straight writing. 

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The essential agreement students came up with for “Sharing” time during workshop, as many of my students confessed that they were afraid to share in front of others. 

During a particularly recurrent moment on campus this week (our school has so many birds. . ), a baby bird became the source of excitement for the students at the playground while I was on duty. I snapped the photo above of a few of them trying to “pet without touching”.

If you look at these students only through the lens of math and literacy, you might see a number or a letter floating over each of their heads. I, however, am more intrigued by the instinct of some students to mother a baby bird, while others want to hurt it. Others still want everyone to stand back and leave it alone. Rather than accepting that “kids will be kids”, I am duty-bound to collect data on these children, and to provide the correct interventions to meet their needs. The IB Learner Profile includes Caring for a reason.

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This year, let’s try to see our kids as more than a score for literacy or math. 

I hope that over the next few weeks, I am disciplined enough to collect a ton of meaningful data on all of these students for all areas of development – bird-rearing included! Their social, mental, and physical development is vital to me, and I value the concept of pastoral care. If all teachers, parents, and childcare providers team together to provide the necessary support for our young ones, we might succeed at raising a generation of kids whose first instinct is to protect living things.


Feel free to comment below about how your first weeks have been going, and be sure to keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com. Thanks for visiting!

The Power of Digital Manipulatives

I wanted to share this Infographic by MIND Research Institute today, as it confirms some of my experiences with digital manipulatives in my classroom. My biggest takeaway from the infographic is the idea that you can scaffold the concepts by first starting with physical manipulatives (we do learn with our bodies!), and then transitioning to digital manipulatives to “improve transferability of math concepts”, and then finally representing the concepts with numbers and symbols.

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This webapp allows students to see money with the number blocks of their amounts – from mathlearningcenter.org

In my class, I created an elink of digital manipulatives so that students can have most of the digital manipulatives from mathlearningcenter.org at their disposal. You can download all of these tools as apps, but I found that the webapps were almost just as functional (downloading takes up precious storage on student iPads!). I very much followed a scaffolding strategy similar to what the infographic describes.

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I created an e-link on my Moodle course with links to all of the webapps. For more on elink, see Easy-Peasy Way to Give Great Links to Students)

Good teachers use everything that they have at their disposal, and don’t get caught up in searching for silver bullets. There is a place for physical manipulatives in the 21C classroom, as well as a place for digital ones.

Thank you for visiting educationrickshaw.com! Enjoy!


Digital Manipulatives Infographic

Courtesy of MIND Research Institute. 


What do you think about the role of digital manipulatives? Comment below!

Teacher Gets Through Week of Fidget Spinners Alive

Last week, the writers here at educationrickshaw.com took our school’s swim team to Dubai to compete in a meet with over 800 participants. One of the highlights of the trip (for the kids) has been the visit to the Dubai mall, famous for the Burj Khalifa and its indoor aquarium. Many of the students that attended the meet were from my Year 5 class, and they had told me in the lead-up to the meet that they would all be purchasing fidget spinners, as these are not available yet in Sudan.

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Not only did my kids buy a fidget spinner each, but they made sure to buy a supply of fidget spinners and fidget cubes for the whole year level, and all of their siblings. The fidget phenomenon has officially reached Khartoum.

Now, I feel that I am a pretty patient and tolerant teacher when it comes to students bringing things to school. I hated it when my teachers took my Pokemon cards that I had saved up for and carefully guarded in plastic sleeve protectors. I never wanted to become the teacher that took away toys simply because they distracted ME. Then came these freaking fidget spinners. Really quickly, let me tell you how the first week went with these things.

Every few seconds they fly out of kids’ hands.

The addictive quality of these spinners is that they have the potential to deliver a satisfying spin between your index and forefingers. There is a bit of a risk though; they tend to fly out between a child’s clumsy grip just at the climax of a lesson sequence. Exactly when an “aha!” moment is about to occur, a pesky spinner will fly into the corner of the room, prompting the whole class to turn their heads towards the guilty butterfingers who did it.

They’re not great when you need kids to use their hands

Any time a student is using their iPad, writing with a pencil, or reading a book, these spinners get in the way. It is fun to watch a kid try to keep open a stiffly bound novel with one forearm and their chin as they try to spin a fidget spinner on their thumb, but only if you don’t care about that child’s reading goals. I’ve heard the crack of far too many spinners whacking against the screens of my students’ iPads as well, which goes to show that there may still be things out there more impressive to children than technology.

Even though they can be annoying, they are kind of cool. .

I’m not going to lie. . it is fun to spin a spinner on your fingers, or even on your nose. They fit perfectly in your pocket, and they really don’t do much more damage than a cup and a ball would in a classroom setting. The multitude of colors, styles and types of these fidget devices makes them fun to collect and pass around, and it really made mark on our Dubai trip.

I, myself, am a very fidgety fella, so I was initially curious if somehow these toys could cure my constant need to fuss and fidget. Needless to say, I think I’ll be sticking to flipping pens and markers until this fad dies down. .

Have fidget spinners reached your classroom? How have they impacted learning? Please comment below, and be sure to keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com!

Why Students Need HelpDesk Too.

Most schools have a HelpDesk system for faculty to get help in a number of ways. My school has one such system, and I am constantly using when I need assistance with maintenance or our school’s IT systems. The reasons for using these HelpDesk systems are obvious: They are a way to organize and timestamp requests based on urgency, location, and other factors that are not possible with a direct e-mail. HelpDesk makes it so that complicated tasks aren’t forgotten, and that nobody can cut in line.

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It recently dawned on me that students and teachers need a similar system for their classrooms. My students are constantly asking for help, but that help is usually poorly recorded and responded to. Requests for help get forgotten, and the loudest, pushiest students are able to cut in line. Using the Moodle Reservations Activity (Also check out: How can Moodle be used in Elementary?), I put together a HelpDesk system for math that has really worked for my students.

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Check out this video for more info:  https://youtu.be/PhsIvwTPFl4

How does it work?

At different times during math, I have students enter into the Math HelpDesk to indicate their needs in a simple note. They are effectively “reserving” a spot on the carpet with me. I take a look at all of their requests and group them according to what they need help in. As a result, my ability to group students by need has been streamlined, and students that are not being helped are always busy working instead of waiting.

HelpDesks for Everything!

I love that these HelpDesks give students agency and voice in their classroom. I am always trying to give my classroom “back to my students”, and this puts the onus to learn and problem-solve their gaps in understanding on the students. So far I have made HelpDesks for math, writing conferences, and for checking in with me about goal-setting after student-led conferences.

Can you think of any more uses for HelpDesk in your classroom? How might you put one together using your school’s LMS and available tools? Comment below, follow me on Twitter, and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com!

How Teachers Can Prioritize Building Confidence and Risk-Taking

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Growing up, I was painfully shy. If I ever dared to raise my hand (or got called on without doing so) all of the other students would immediately ask me, “Why is your face so red?” This created a vicious cycle of not wanting to raise my hand because I didn’t want my face to turn red, to loosing confidence because I didn’t have practice speaking up, to turning even more red when I was called on, and so on and so forth.

All of my conferences from elementary through high school were pretty much the same. “Stephanie is always listening, always does her work carefully and on time, but she needs to participate.” Or “I know Stephanie has great ideas in her head, why won’t she share them?”

And (no surprise) although I was slightly better in university, I still rarely shared my thoughts when I wasn’t forced to. As an adult, I am much less withdrawn, but still wonder at my seven-year-old students’ confidence in trying out new ideas, failing, and putting themselves right back out there.

How is it that my school builds confidence so well?

I was chatting with a parent earlier this week who was like me as a student. She is both shocked and incredibly pleased to see her son initiating projects and answering questions in assemblies in front of the entire school. The confidence that our students have is not only going to help them in the future, but makes it so that their self-esteem is through the roof.

Here are the things our school does really well that I think all schools should do (when possible).

1. Have small class sizes

Our school caps classes at 20 students. This not only allows teachers to get more time with each student, but it gives students more opportunities to speak, share, and lead their class members. Allowing students to have so many opportunities to put themselves out there makes it so that what would have petrified me as a child becomes completely normal.

In my class, a math leader leads the rest of the students in correcting the problem of the day every morning. With my tiny class of 12 students, each one gets to be the teacher and call on their peers twice a month. At the beginning of the year, I had a few who were still quite shy, but now they all absolutely love taking the lead!

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2. Give students leadership opportunities

In addition to opportunities for students to be the teacher, our school puts an emphasis on allowing students to take ownership of their learning through

  • group projects and presentations
  • sharing learning by inviting other classes/parents to come see a project they’ve done
  • having classes lead every assembly

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3. Praise students for confidence and risk-taking

One of my favorite parts of the PYP curriculum is the PYP Attitudes and the IB Learner Profile, which are presented to the students as important parts of what makes a good student. One of the PYP Attitudes is “confidence” and one of the IB Learner Profile traits is being a “risk-taker.”

Everyone in the school, then, uses these two words as positive goals to work toward. In fact, when a student shows hesitation to try something new, you’ll hear their friends say, “Just try it! Be a risk-taker.” Or “Be confident, you can do it!”

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Although obviously I have no way of knowing what kind of a student I would have been had I attended a school that prioritized confidence as much as the one I teach at today, I can see the amazing benefits of it in all of my students and hope to see more schools do exactly this.

How do you build confidence in your students? Please share below!

By @SGroshell

“The What” vs. “The How” of Education

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After reading the above tweet, I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea that we may very well spend too much time talking about what we should teach rather than how we should teach. And the more I think about it, the more I crave conversations that concern the how of educationLearning-focused conversation is learner and pedagogy focused – The how not the what. If I had the power to singlehandedly change the conversation in education, I’d ask that we make a shift in the following ways:

Stop Talking So Much About What Curriculum We Should Be Using, and Start Talking About How to Facilitate Learning in the 21st Century.

Since I began teaching only a short time ago, I have seen schools go from local standards, to national standards, to international standards. Never during these changes was I privy to training on how to implement these standards with the best 21C teaching practices. It was always more important to document what I was doing, than how I was doing it. Even the Common Core website seemed to foresee this implementation strategy:

“. . these standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards.”

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How different things might have been in terms of buy-in by teachers for Common Core if we had known the strategies to implement these standards in the most research-based and pedagogically sound ways?

Stop Talking So Much About What Learning Platform We Should Be Using, and Start Talking About How We Can Redefine the Learning Environment.

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I’ve written before about different tech tools that I have found useful, such as Seesaw for portfolios, and Moodle as a learning platform for my elementary class. But I’ve found that most any tool can be tweaked and modified to fit any purpose; To use some SAMR-speak for a moment, teachers can Substitute with Edmodo just as they can Redefine with Edmodo. It is precisely for this reason that I get so tired of conversations over which learning platform is best. Rather than looking at How blended learning can take place, we are focused on the new-kid technology on the block. Changing from Schoology to Google Classroom will not solve any of a school’s problems, because the entire premise of the conversation is based around what is best rather than how is best.

Stop Talking So Much About What is the Best Device, and Start Talking About How We Can Best Integrate Technology.

It is true that there are downsides to tablets – no keyboard, low memory, etc – but the minute you want kids to take pictures and video you’ll find that there are also downsides to laptops. The same goes for IOS vs. Windows vs. Chrome, and mobile vs. desktop vs. wearables. Next year, it’s entirely possible that the coolest new gadget will come out and completely change the face of education as we know it.

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Rather than focus on the barriers inherent in any one school-adopted device, I’d like to concentrate more on ways to maximize learning in my classroom. How can we change the relationship between the teacher, the student, and their devices? How do we improve outcomes while promoting 21C skills and attitudes? How can I get the most out of my students and the resources that my school has?

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What do you think? The irony is not lost on me that I have just written an entire post which focuses largely on what we should be talking about as educators, and not as much on how we should be talking about it. . .

Keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, and please leave a comment or question in the section below!

5 reasons to Drop Math Worksheets and Use “Smart” Online Programs

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To learn a new math skill well, we know that students need to get adequate practice with it – successfully answering a number of problems before considering the skill mastered. Traditionally, students have gotten this practice with photocopied worksheets or a textbook. However, with the technology we now have, online “smart” programs like IXL do the job significantly better than a textbook (or worksheet) ever has. Below I will use my experience with IXL to explain how.

1. Immediate feedback

Giving feedback as quickly as possible is something that’s always on teachers’ minds. We know that immediate feedback is extremely helpful for student learning, but it is impossible in a classroom of more than two or three students to give it to each student during independent practice time.

With IXL, as soon as a student clicks in their answer, there is a little sound (a kind of ding, but surprisingly not an annoying one) and a green bar on top either goes up or down. When students correctly answer questions, the bar will move up and up until it gets to 100% and the child passes. If the answer is incorrect, the bar goes down and an explanation of why appears on the bottom.

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When students get the answer correct, the bar goes up on the top of the screen.

In addition to students being able to learn from their mistakes, feedback is also motivating. Students are proud when they move up. When they move down, they don’t get too frustrated, because it is clear that moving down just means more practice – they can still work to get the certificate.

2. Extra practice on the types of problems students are missing

When a student gets an answer wrong and the bar goes down, more of the same kinds of questions are asked. These same types of problems will continue until the student shows that they now get it, allowing students to get the right amount of extra practice when they need it. No extra copies of revision worksheets are needed.

Additionally, because students are immediately aware that they are having trouble with a certain question type and they are motivated to pass, I’ve found students who are prone to shyness are much more likely to ask for help when they need it.

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Explanation of why answer was wrong

3. Differentiation is seamless

Unlike many online programs, on IXL the teacher doesn’t assign a grade level to the students. Instead, all students have access to all activities. What that means is that if a child is doing extremely well on one topic, they can easily practice one grade level up just for that skill. Likewise, if you notice a student is missing background knowledge for an important subject, you can have them work a grade level down.

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Student view, switching between grade levels

4. Easy to use data to inform your teaching

The Analytics tab on IXL compiles data into the following sections: Trouble Spots, Students, Skills, Scores, Questions Log, Progress and Real Time. My favorite of these is Trouble Spots.

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Easy identification of who might need extra help

Trouble Spots does exactly what the name implies, it looks for areas that you should focus on for small/individual intervention groups. It even chunks the data into groups, for example “Ways to help 5 students at once…” and then tells which kids are missing questions on what skill. To help even more, there are additional questions of the same type for you to use in your small groups. This makes it incredibly easy to give extra help to students who need it while the rest of the class practices independently.

5. The kids LOVE it

I honestly believed that the novelty of the green bar going up and the little ding when you get an answer correct would wear off, but we have just finished the third quarter of the year and my students love IXL as much as they did in the beginning.

Compared to a textbook or practice worksheets, IXL is able to offer the same practice problems, but in such a more effective way.

Has anyone used IXL or another similar online program before? What experiences have you had? Please comment below!

By @SGroshell