When it comes to integrating ed-tech into middle and high school classrooms, it’s not enough to create software “that works.” Instead, creating effective personalized learning solutions is just the first step. To remain relevant and have impact on a large scale, classroom integration must retain a profound concern with how to empower schools and teachers to educate students of widely differing abilities. And that means navigating the debate between segmentation and collaboration that dominates secondary education today.
To understand the immensity of this problem, take a look at the disparity between the top and bottom 10 percent of fourth grade readers: The top reads a whopping six grade levels higher than the bottom.
In the past, this reality has inspired polarized responses that involve problems of their own. One response has been segmentation. Words like “accelerated,” “gifted,” “honors,” and “regular” aren’t just tracks that too often dictate each student’s academic prospects; they’re also labels that incur psychological limits on students’ potential growth.
Meanwhile, a more collaborative philosophy—keeping students with discrepant abilities in the same class as long as possible—has its limitations, too. For one, large class sizes make such a feat incredibly difficult. How can teachers track, assimilate, respond, and improve upon instruction in a way that prevents stagnation and embarrassment and optimizes academic potential among all students? After all, in many classrooms, managing a focused lecture and discussion is a challenge by itself.
Ed-tech’s challenge is to to incorporate both philosophies in ways that diminish this polarity and the difficult choices schools now make because of it. I believe this effort starts with a deep understanding of the optimal ways teachers can bridge the gap and then solve problems in the periphery of this focus. That’s what we’re working on with SmartyReader, and we’re interested in how other ed-tech companies are making scalable solutions whose personalization is as much about teachers as it is about students.
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