Smart technology can help teachers with the heavy lifting so they can focus on what they do best.
How do you tell the difference between productive struggle and unproductive struggle? And how do you make that assessment and respond effectively when you’re keeping an eye on 30 students at a time, 150 students throughout a day? Not all technology is equally insightful, so here’s how to make sure yours will help you elicit, interpret, and respond to evidence of student learning.
Some of the conversations I have with teachers these days would have been incomprehensible to me when I was a teacher in Kentucky in the 1990s. Technology has permeated education so much—especially this past year, out of necessity—that you can’t get by without knowing phrases like “LMS,” “adaptive learning,” and “virtual manipulatives.” The next frontier: how teachers can best assess and respond to student learning when using technology.
Math teachers have a wide variety of tricks up their sleeve to implement NCTM’s 8th Mathematics Teaching Practice (MTP), “elicit and use evidence of student thinking.” From using formative assessment to observing collaborative work, there are many ways teachers gain insight into student learning, then interpret and appropriately respond to it. But they’re not equally applicable to learning done through technology.
A recent article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning and Teaching PK-12 offers some useful guidance. The authors of “When Students Use Technology Tools, What Are You Noticing?” propose a framework they call ‘Noticing Students’ Mathematical Thinking in Technology-Mediated Learning Environment’ (NITE) to guide teachers’ analysis of student thinking.
Simply, the framework follows these steps:
The authors develop three examples—use of virtual manipulatives in elementary grades, a Desmos activity in middle school, and a graphing calculator in high school—to illustrate how to apply the NITE framework of assessing, interpreting, and responding to students’ work with these technology tools.
What the framework doesn’t catch, however, is just how much effort is required of teachers to attend to students’ engagement with these tools. The National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) documents that the average class size of a middle school math class in public schools (2017-18) is 24.9 students. In a typical six-period day, a 7th grade math teacher might need to attend to 150 students’ engagement with technology. Teachers can drown in the enormity of the task!
The three tools the authors examine do not harness the power of technology to make any of the steps in their framework easier. I know one that does.
MATHia is an adaptive software that uses artificial intelligence to act as a 1-on-1 math tutor for middle and high school students. It’s a powerful learning engine that makes teachers’ jobs easier when it comes to attending to, interpreting, and responding to student engagement with technology.
When evaluating your education technology, make sure you ask the following questions:
Does your technology attend to student engagement?
With MATHia, teachers can attend to in-the-moment student engagement, all on one screen. MATHia’s LiveLab feature provides teachers a real-time data feed of student work, showing actionable data, such as when students are working or idle and real-time alerts when students need extra support. It’s like having an assistant teacher attending to each student’s engagement on your behalf and giving you key information you can use to guide their learning.
Does your technology interpret student understanding?
The NITE framework asserts that teachers should interpret students’ understanding from their engagement with the technology. MATHia handles the bulk of that work by interpreting the students’ demonstration of their mathematical understanding at a fine-grained, knowledge-component level, then providing you with the conclusions. Teachers are not only notified when students need extra support, but also why by pinpointing precise knowledge gaps. As a result, teachers can easily discern between students who are struggling but making progress and students struggling but not making progress.
Does your technology respond immediately to student performance?
Adaptive technology that adjusts immediately to student performance helps lighten the load for teachers who then have more time to work with students who most need their help. For example, MATHia gives students hints as they work, allowing them to access precise, relevant instruction on what they’re working on exactly when they need it, which will likely differ from their peers’ needs at that moment. MATHia’s cognitive model also provides immediate feedback when it detects common misconceptions and incorrect strategies.
Does your technology help you respond equitably?
The authors of “When Students Use Technology Tools, What Are You Noticing?” assert that teachers must decide how to respond to the evidence they see. But observational evidence is unavoidably subjective, which means it may be influenced by implicit bias. The objective data that MATHia collects gives teachers the ability to examine what students know and don’t know with precision and accuracy. With this data, teachers can feel confident that they’re paying attention to the students who truly need their support.
This is especially important because often, the students who need the most help are the least likely to ask for it because they are embarrassed or demoralized from years of underperforming or low expectations. Teachers can take steps to close achievement and opportunity gaps on a day-to-day basis by using systematic, reliable means of deciding how and who to respond to rather than solely rely on observational data.
Ed tech shouldn’t just assist student learning; it should also help teachers observe, interpret, and respond to that learning. Teachers and students alike would benefit from such an efficient approach. As you review the tools you’re currently using or considering implementing, ask the questions in the checklist above to make sure you’re getting everything you need to effectively analyze and guide student learning.
Anella Wetter is a Regional Vice President at Carnegie Learning and is responsible for creating successful partnerships with state education agencies and school districts across a quarter of the United States. She holds an M.Ed. and a K-12 teaching certificate in New York state. An avid reader, writer, and thinker, Anella believes that the most basic tool available to a society to reimagine itself is the education of its children. She aspires to personally challenge K-12 leaders to be brave, to create a legacy, and to NOT settle for the way it’s been done before.Explore more related to this author
Ed tech shouldn’t just assist student learning; it should also help teachers observe, interpret, and respond to that learning.