Students test 'teach to one' learning system

 

8211236

WASHINGTON — It might seem to be a less-than-realistic plan: Put nearly 200 preteens in one large classroom space and expect each of them, with the help of laptops and a few teachers, to learn math at his or her own pace.

But that arrangement is at the core of a new instructional approach that one of the District of Columbia's lowest-performing middle schools adopted this fall.

Pioneered in New York and expanding to other cities, "Teach to One" puts a computer algorithm in charge of figuring out what each child needs to learn and do each day, a design meant to ensure that students master one concept before moving onto another.

"If it works like we think it will, it'll be a game-changer," said D.C. schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson of the new program at Hart Middle School in Southeast Washington, where less than 30 percent of students are proficient in math.

This is the leading edge of the larger "blended learning" movement that many reformers think could transform education in the United States, harnessing technology to help teachers deliver personalized lessons to every child.

The federal government is throwing its weight behind the effort, too, offering $400 million in competitive Race to the Top grants to school systems that put forth innovative plans for tailoring education for individual students.

But for all the buzz and investment, experts say there is scant evidence that such blended approaches are more effective than traditional teaching, and there are many unanswered questions about what it means for school budgets and teachers' working conditions.

And the programs don't come cheap: It cost $1 million to bring Teach to One to a single classroom at Hart Elementary this year.

Western Michigan University Professor Gary Miron, a prominent critic of full-time online schools where students learn entirely by laptop at home, said he is far more optimistic about blended programs. But he urged caution, saying each model should be tested and evaluated before it is expanded.

"I certainly think it's worth a try on a small scale to test these ideas, and be willing to back out if it doesn't work," Miron said.

The unanswered questions about blended learning are no deterrent for educators grasping for a solution to persistently low student achievement.

"To me it was a no-brainer: Very little risk and big return," said Dominick D'Angelo, principal of David Boody Jr. Junior High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., among the first three schools to try what is now Teach to One, in 2010. "I thought, 'It can't be worse than traditional instruction.' "

It's certainly louder than traditional instruction. Veteran teachers say they're not bothered by the din, reminiscent of a bustling diner at breakfast when 150 sixth-graders crowded into one room at Boody on a recent afternoon.

"You learn to tune the noise out," said Gerard Joe-Yen, a math teacher who delivered a lecture on long division that held the attention of a dozen students despite the distractions.

In Teach to One, students arriving to class receive a "playlist" of lessons to work on that day with one of the multiple teachers in the room. The students are grouped with others who are slated to learn the same skill that day.

Some huddle, working on problems together; others learn directly from teachers in a more traditional lecture-style format. And some log on to laptops to watch instructional videos and complete online work sheets.

At the end of the day, each child takes a five-question quiz. A computer program digests the results, decides whether the student is ready to move on to a new concept, and spits out a plan for the next day, regrouping students and sending them to different teachers.

Results so far have been mixed. Two of the initial three New York schools dropped the program at the end of that first year.

But Boody, where test scores hadn't budged the first year, kept at it. And the second year yielded gains. The proportion of students proficient in math on state tests grew nearly five percentage points — faster than the city average and faster than New York schools with comparable demographics.

Joel Rose and Christopher Rush developed the program as a project of the New York City Department of Education, building it around the conviction that students should be taught exactly what they need to know — a feat that many teachers say is nearly impossible in a regular classroom filled with 30 students at 30 different levels.

"There's just a serious design flaw in that model," said Rose, who left city government last year and with Rush spun off a nonprofit group to spread their concept across the country. "Each kid is unique and they have their own strengths and academic needs, and their own ways of learning and their own interests."

Teach to One has secured $13 million in foundation support and is in eight schools: five in New York, two in Chicago and at Hart in Washington, where teachers and students are adjusting to the recent change.

"There are rough patches," said Araceli Flores, one of seven math teachers at Hart, but "there are also moments when you can see it working."

Rose and Rush, who hope to expand Teach to One into new subject areas and into 50 to 100 schools over the next five years, said they're tweaking the program daily. They made substantial revisions this fall, including adding a component that gives teachers the chance to teach deeper problem-solving skills by working with the same group of students several times over two weeks.

"We don't have this all figured out yet, but we think we're on the right track," Rush said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea