Personalized Learning in the Elementary School ELA Classroom

Although instructional software for the English Language Arts classroom has existed for decades, surprisingly few of these tools has incorporated an adaptive feature that would enable the software to adhere to individual student needs. Very few of these programs provide instruction and practice in writing, most only focusing on the improvement of reading and vocabulary skills. Developing software for ELA instruction able to personalize for every student’s pace of learning is essential for the instruction and practice of writing.

Adaptive vs. Linear Supplemental Software

Stanford professor Patrick Suppes, Ph.D. in the early 1960s pioneered the adaptive approach to education software. Suppes designed and implemented algorithms to enable an educational software system to change its behavior in two significant ways: to determine whether and when a student has gained sufficient proficiency with a concept in order to move onward, and to decide which concept to present next.

There are many advantages to the adaptivity of this software, such as more effective use of the student’s time using the computer, better engagement of the student’s interest over a sustained period of using the software, and reduced frustration due to working with concepts that are either too easy or too difficult. An adaptive system allows students to set and follow their own pace, from moving more quickly through already mastered material, or taking more time with challenging lessons.

Adaptive ELA in Use in the Classroom

Adaptive programs are designed to adhere to each student’s individual needs. As students learn, the programs follow their progress and present appropriate material. This includes incorporating reading lessons to provide models of good writing in a wide variety of genres and styles and providing exercises at the appropriate level for each student. These programs for ELA also offer practice in writing paragraphs of several types, using a scaffolded approach composing lead sentence, supporting sentences, and closing sentences, before finally challenging the student to write a full paragraph from start to finish. Throughout the program, students are provided feedback evaluating their work, so they are enabled to improve their writing.

Implementing an adaptive program can have many benefits for ELA instruction. With all the concepts students need to learn built right into the program, students are automatically evaluated and therefore ensured to learn and develop proficiency. A program like this has potential to incorporate instruction and practice at each level of writing — word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph — to develop these writing skills in every way possible for each student. A more in-depth analysis of all the ways adaptive programs improve learning for students can be found in Dr. Dan Flickinger’s white paper on personalized learning in ELA.

Efficacy of Adaptive Learning

In order to measure the impact of adaptive methods in software used in the classroom, Suppes comnducted a multi-year study (Suppes et al, 2014) with thousands of students in Memphis, Tennessee, providing them with supplemental course software in English Language Arts that implemented these adaptive methods. One striking outcome of the study was that work with the software was most beneficial for students with the lowest initial proficiency in language arts— the lower the exam score, the greater the improvement in that score from one year to the next for students who invested the effort in the use of the software.

To learn more about the ways in which adaptive technology aids in personalized learning for each and every student, be sure to check out these interviews with Dr. Dan Flickinger:

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