Three years ago, the Marshall County Department of Education in Benton, Kentucky abandoned their traditional curriculum and instructional model in favor of individualized, project-based models to offer students more choice and voice.
A change of this magnitude not only requires new furniture, new hardware, teacher training, and community buy-in, but also software to develop a new set of criteria to measure academic success.
Watch “How Marshall County Individualizes Instruction Mini-Documentary” here:
Marshall County decided to trust Kiddom’s K-12 operating system as a centralized source of valuable data to measure student achievement and enable individualization. Since implementation, other districts are following Marshall County’s example as they rethink their own approach to teaching and learning. Since our first pilot with Marshall County, the district has expanded their use of Kiddom.
It is so rewarding to see how schools and districts tailor Kiddom to fit their pedagogical models as they move towards individualization. The Kiddom team values Marshall County’s vision to use technology to help them transform their instructional practices and we are grateful for the opportunity to have made a difference in this community.
Is your school or district ready to follow Marshall County’s lead?
We’d love to support you in your journey. Book a demo with one of our education specialists below and we’ll be in touch soon.
Building relationships with administrators and teachers demands thoughtful inquiry, care, and reflection
Education is awash with efforts to personalize learning. But what does it mean for a company to personalize its support for the teachers who use its product? School leader, Jordan Silvestri and Kiddom representative, Melissa Giroux, describe what it takes for an edtech company to deliver the kind of personalized experience to its customers that teachers give to their students.
Jordan Silvestri: Our school focuses on preparing our students during their final years of academic involvement to gain and hone the skills that they will need to be successful after they graduate. We started Torah Academy in September 2016 with a strong vision for how and what we want our students to learn. Every class, student interaction, social setting and community learning experience is another opportunity to help our students see their potential and grow.
After our first year of running the school, we realized that one of our major challenges involved how we were tracking students’ progress. We needed a student-centered program that would be easy to function for the teachers and bring all of our work into one place.
Melissa Giroux: Our initial planning session with Torah Academy was extremely energizing. We were excited to meet a school leader who had great clarity around his team’s strengths and goals: Jordan wanted his team to become more accustomed to using data to drive daily instruction and he wanted technology to support consistent routines so his students could become independent learners. His concrete goals made us confident we could support his staff’s day-to-day work from afar.
Working together over the course of the year, we — at Torah Academy and Kiddom — together learned three powerful lessons about how to deliver personalized support to educators:
1. Lead with Inquiry
When teachers in professional development workshops push back on learning a new tech tool or question if a new platform might mean more work instead of less, it would be easy for a principal to double down on mandates and take a hardline stance.
Empathetic leaders respond with questions: “Can you tell me a little bit more about that?” or “Can you walk me through the steps you currently take?” and most importantly, “How can I help?”
When teachers hear their administration pause to learn a little bit more about them, learning becomes collaborative. Rather than fighting, they work as a team to figure out if the platform can adapt to meet the needs of a range of educators.
Companies, too, need to build that kind of inquiry into every step of their work with educators.
Educators at Torah Academy teach courses that cover everything from Common Core mathematics to Judaic studies, as well as provide services including speech therapy and vocational training. A one-size-fits-all tutorial about edtech product features wasn’t going to cut it with such diverse staff goals.
The first session between teachers and Kiddom invited the educators to express their concerns so that together we could customize the platform to their teaching styles and goals. Teachers learned how to move their existing curriculum from Google Drive into collaborative Kiddom classes. Other workshops, using the Question Formulation Technique, helped teachers frame collective inquiry goals for professional learning communities.
The Right Question Institute frames this process well: “The skill of question asking is far too rarely deliberately taught in school.” We believe that same kind of questioning skill should characterize how teachers interact with edtech companies.
2. Walk the Talk
There’s nothing worse than a classroom full of students staring at you as error messages prevent you from moving on with a lesson. As an administrator, I (Jordan) was worried that some of my teachers might have technical difficulties with onboarding to new technology. The “competency test” for real customer service is simply this: Will it deliver when you need it?
One teacher, in particular, had reported that as she was working to set up her class over the weekend, she hit a snag. She struggled to figure out what was going on. Finally, she contacted Kiddom through the app and had a live troubleshooting conversation on a Sunday afternoon. I was floored by both the teacher’s proactive approach — and the fact that the company walked the talk, big time!
Just as important as responding quickly is speaking the language of the people you serve. The company’s support team has grown from a collection of part-time interns into a team of former educators — people who natively speak “teacher talk” — and avoid the kind of tech jargon that can confuse just about anyone.
No school is the same. Investing the time to send a company’s support team to visit schools and observe users in the field means that teacher advocates learn how to ask questions to troubleshoot and to gain context. They are not merely following tech support flow charts and giving standard responses; they’re relying on their knowledge of pedagogy and the challenging realities of everyday teaching to frame their responses.
3. Stop and Reflect
School-based staff don’t always have time to step outside of their day-to-day responsibilities and reflect on successes and challenges. But particularly when you start a relationship with a company, educators must ask their partners: How are you measuring success?
As a school for students with special needs, Torah Academy does not use letter or number grades to assess student progress. Teachers focus on helping students master the skills they will need to be productive members of their community. This approach to assessment — with the ultimate goal of having students apply their goals to new environments and interactions — has been core to our program.
During one of our first joint meetings, the company introduced its mastery grading feature to Torah Academy teachers as if it were a new concept. Hardly the case! In response, teachers showed the Kiddom team how that construct fit right in with the school’s methodology, so that teachers could correlate lessons to goals and assess student progress in one fell swoop.
Throughout the year of working together, our joint team relied on routine check-ins to collect feedback, plan targeted professional development and to provide administrators with a sounding board for worries or celebrations.
But by mid-year, it became clear that educators were adopting the platform in very different ways and at different speeds. We consequently scheduled a mid-year professional development day. The Kiddom team spent the day working with individual teachers during their prep periods, to better differentiate and leverage relationships. Each conversation was private, which allowed for candid feedback and questions and supported individual needs. Some teachers desperately wanted more support in analyzing reports; others were still working on building classroom routines using the platform.
Building relationships between teachers and students takes thoughtful inquiry, care and reflection — and the relationship between an edtech company and the teachers who use its products demands the same. When both groups invest the time, authentic learning happens.
Well-designed and differentiated curriculum allows students to more meaningfully connect with content, but designing it can be cumbersome. That’s why at Kiddom, we’re excited to give teachers a sneak peek at what we’ve been working on: curated playlists.
Why curate playlists?
One of the hardest things about planning a blended learning class is finding the right instructional materials. As teachers, we develop and own our teaching style. It’s hard to give up your “teacher identity” by accepting videos or resources created by someone else. Some teachers (admittedly, like us) have spent countless hours recording and editing themselves. While that may feel truer to your teaching practice, it’s difficult to sustain given the time (and resource) constraints of school. The alternative, finding the right resource aligned to your students’ needs, can be equally time consuming. We can’t tell you how many hours of educational videos and songs we’ve watched to find the best fit for our classes.
So why bother if it’s so difficult? Well, one generalized lesson per day to address the “average” student doesn’t do enough to meet the diverse needs of every student in the classroom. It’s also difficult to support soft skills like self-management and curiosity when you’re teaching one lesson to the entire class. This is why we’re thoughtfully curating curriculum resources for you. We encourage you to be familiar with the resources we’ve gathered, but we hope to earn your trust in the quality resources we pulled together to meet your students’ unique needs. We’re dedicated to helping you find more time to connect with and inspire students.
To get all of our curated playlists, click here. Then copy and paste the assignments directly into Kiddom’s Planner.
How do we evaluate our playlists?
Our playlists are peer-reviewed and checked for rigor, flow, and alignment.
FLOW: How well do the topics move from one lesson to the next?
RIGOR: Are the tasks at an appropriate grade level to be accessible and still provide a challenge. Do the tasks require conceptual understanding and application of content?
STANDARDS ALIGNMENT: Are the assessments and standards clearly aligned? Does the content align to multiple standards? How well does the content span across grade levels and across content?
How do we select resources?
Each group of resources, which we’re calling a playlist, is thoughtfully curated to include the best options for learning and practicing a new skill. When selecting resources for playlists, we’re looking for content that meets the criteria for Universal Design for Learning (UDL), “a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.” We look for lessons that provide multiple means of representation such as audio, visual, and text support. We seek activities to practice those skills that provide multiple means of engagement by optimizing relevance through real life application. Finally, we designed culminating assessments to support planning and strategy development, optimize individual choice and autonomy, use multiple media for communication, and develop self-assessment and reflection.
As a free platform, we first seek the best free resources so that they’re universally accessible. But we also incorporate resources from providers based on teacher request. We also include resources that have limited free practices or a free trial version.
Create your own playlist:
We’d love your feedback on this month’s featured playlists. Are they useful? Are they effective? How would you use them?
Today, we released a redesigned student experience on Kiddom to help 21st century learners access and submit work, track their own progress, and solicit feedback from teachers in real-time, from one place.
Over the past century, education technology has often left students out of the equation. That’s unfortunate, because students today move fast and are incredibly tech-savvy. At Kiddom, we believe students shouldn’t have to wait until progress reports are printed to learn where they stand in class or on specific skills. Students shouldn’t have to wait to see their teachers in person to pose clarifying questions or solicit feedback on an assignment. And from what we’ve gathered, teachers are constantly looking for ways to empower students to take control of their learning. With our redesigned student experience, the possibilities of student ownership are endless.
Timeline — Everything in One Place
When students login and click into their class, they’ll be greeted by their Timeline. Timeline allows students to view assignments (past, present, and upcoming) from one place. This not only includes teacher-created assignments, but also all the Khan Academy videos, CK-12 exercises, CommonLit readings, and other resources their teacher might’ve assigned for differentiation purposes via Kiddom’s Library of resources.
Submitting Work and Soliciting Feedback Made Easy
When students click on an assignment from their Timeline, they’ll be able to see any instructions or attachments their teacher may have included, as well as the standards or skills has appended to the assignment. Students may upload and submit their own work and also engage in a discussion with their teacher regarding the assignment.
Reports — Monitor Progress and Self-Advocate
When students can actively monitor their progress in class, they’re more likely to advocate for themselves. With our redesigned Reports, students can track their overall class progress, as well as progress on individual standards and skills — all in real-time. This means they finally have the data they need, when they need it.
We’re Just Getting Started
The new student experience has been long overdue. And while we’re incredibly excited about the positive impact it will make in classrooms around the world, there’s still a lot more work to be done. Over the next several months and into the next school year, we’re going to focus on adding community features to accelerate our vision of building a collaborative education platform. In the meantime, let us know what you think of the new student experience with a comment or chat with us directly using the in-app chat tool. Happy teaching and learning!
Editor’s note: We’re still testing the new Kiddom student experience. If your students signed up before Friday, April 21, 2017, they may not experience the new Kiddom just yet. We plan to conclude testing on Friday, April 28, 2017, at which time all students will be on the redesigned student experience. For more information, contact our support team.
To fully realize technology’s potential to improve the opportunity to learn, research findings [from the disciplines of cognitive science, neuroscience, education, psychology, sociology, and economics] should be communicated in a way that is useful to [everyone] looking for effective methods to improve student outcomes. ~ DigitalPromise Research Initiative
We at Kiddom like to ponder how classrooms and learning might evolve as a whole.
Toward these ends we’d like to tip our hat to DigitalPromise.org who is collecting and sharing scientific research and studies of how better classrooms and learning might be fostered. Subscribe to their newsletter!
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, 1907
As told by the late historian Henry Adams, educators impact the lives of their pupils in a profound way. Many students go on to pursue careers relating to exciting course material brought to life by a gifted professor during their academic journeys. Others are so moved by their teachers’ demonstrations of knowledge, care, and ability to inspire young minds that they become educators themselves.
As the millennial generation enters the workforce, its members increasingly seek vocational paths like teaching that allow them to take an active role in the development of their communities. Many of these post-grads fresh to the profession are doubling-down on giving back. They are taking on some of the most challenging jobs available at charters, turnarounds and otherwise-struggling public institutions in underfunded districts.
Often, new teachers land these positions through programs like Teach For America (TFA), Teaching Fellows (TF), Americorps, and other education oriented non-profits. To reach this enthusiastic crowd, Teach For America has marketed its program to prospective members as an “illustrious two-year postgraduate service mission rather than a safe middle-class career choice.” Similarly, Teaching Fellows promotes the service aspect of their offerings, summarizing their practice as “training a generation of great teachers… for the students who need them most.”
Both have enjoyed success pitching this message: Teach For America and Teaching Fellows claim 37,000 and 33,000 alumni, respectively. Americorps has used similar themes to attract over 900,000 participants since 1994; however, Americorps’ service opportunities are broad in scope, and only an (undisclosed) portion of their members enter into education.
It is commendable that these groups match eager-to-help graduates with the schools and students who need the most aid. That said, matching is but the beginning, and the programs do possess flaws. All too often, conditions are so bad that teachers don’t last. Despite their passion for the practice and appreciation of the students, they quit. Some abandon their posts mid-semester, while others depart once their program commitments expire.
After four years at a charter school, Sarah Fine quit too. In her essay Schools Need Teachers Like Me, I Just Can’t Stay for The Washington Post, Fine notes, “Nationally, half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years, and in urban schools, especially the much-lauded ‘no-excuses’ charter schools, turnover is often much higher.”
That is not to say that Teach For America, Teaching Fellows and Americorps are wholly responsible for our lamentably high teacher-turnover rates. Undoubtedly, these programs wield significant power; they are responsible for the placement of tens of thousands of teachers in jobs. That granted, there are millions of teachers across the nation, and TFA, TF and Americorps staff only a small percentage of them. Moreover, structural problems concerning resource allocation in our education system gave rise to the problems these not-for-profits seek to mitigate. Regardless, TFA and TF are useful to us in that they have clearly stated agendas, defined training protocol, and vocal alumni; the wealth of information provided by these sources lends well to discourse.
Thanks to the proliferation of blogging platforms, we need not imagine the day-to-day realities of a teacher at one of these high-turnover schools. A quick search-engine query for “why I quit teaching at a charter school” yields hundreds of anecdotes, op-eds, and testimonials. Many former educators describe exactly what circumstances led them to walk away from a profession they loved. We took the time to read these teachers’ thoughts, and identified some recurring themes.
The most common problems cited by departed teachers were insufficient training, micromanagement in the classroom, burdensome workloads, inadequate compensation, a lack of recognition for their efforts, and the promotion of a “hero culture” by principals and training programs that says more, harder work can overcome structural incongruencies.
Regarding the former-most complaint — insufficient training for new teachers — consider that Teach For America participants engage in training that goes on no longer than five weeks. Further, NPR writes that TFA has “helped open the doors to alternative-certification programs for teachers…[so that] today 1 in 5 new teachers is certified by a path other than a bachelor’s degree or master’s in education.” After their abbreviated training sessions, new hires are barraged with evaluation methodologies they must integrate into curriculum while actually teaching students and developing lesson plans.
One former teacher offers that there seemed no end to the influx, stating, “I had to read a book on how to properly teach. I had to collaborate with coworkers on how to properly implement one educational theory after another. I watched videos and read articles about effective teachers… I was told to give more exams, score more exit tickets, give more assessments… They encouraged me a lot, saying… that I would be much better next year… but I felt like I wasn’t a teacher anymore.”
Sarah Fine further details what micromanagement in charter schools looks like, writing, “One afternoon [in the Spring of 2010], when my often-apathetic 10th graders were walking eagerly around the room as part of a writing assignment, an administrator came in and ordered me to get the class ‘seated and silent.’” She continues, decrying that she and her colleagues would spend “weeks revising a curriculum proposal… only to find out that the administration had made a unilateral decision without looking at it.”
The same out-of-practice professor also complains of “the ever increasing role of bureaucracy… in our system of education” and “the overuse of assessments” to the point that “we have created students who see reading as a test and not a pathway to learning.” Many other teachers speak against the overuse of testing, and the pressures on teachers in “no-excuses” schools to make their students perform. An anonymous educator writes in The Guardian that “the passing on of every ounce of exam burden my way took its toll,” and contributed to her departure from the classroom.
In telling teachers that greater effort is the path to improving student scores (i.e., promoting the “hero culture”), schools and training programs “[lean] heavily on the rhetoric of bootstrapping, [which makes] new teachers tend to feel individually culpable when things go wrong in the classroom,” says Lean Donnella of NPR.
Former charter teacher Sarah Matsui writes that her trainers at TFA tried to convince new teachers “that a ‘can-do attitude’ is all it takes to overcome systemic gaps in our schools.” However, she notes, “Scaling up even the best of intentions or holding the highest expectations for individual students will not change the differential funding of our separate school districts.”
Matsui provides an example of starkly different per-pupil expenditures for the city of Philadelphia’s (79% black and latino students, $9,299 per student annual spending), relative to neighboring Lower Merion, just outside the city limits (91% white students, $17,261 per student annual spending). Preaching that hard work is all that is needed to overcome this massive disparity in resource “reinforces the myth of meritocracy,” according to Matsui.
Irrespective of their beliefs on meritocracy, teachers are expected to work harder, stay later, and make excellent of what little they’re given. Abbas Manjee writes of his early experiences at a charter school that, “Like any first-year teacher, my life revolved around my profession: plan, create, assess, grade, adjust, repeat.” He shares that over time, expectations spiraled out of control and eventually, “it wasn’t enough to just teach well anymore.”
Manjee described teachers’ expanded roles, noting, “We make phone calls home. If someone doesn’t pick up, we call again. We connect with social workers during lunch to investigate student concerns,” and continues listing other behaviors not typically associated with teaching. Unfortunately, the added time and stress inherent to educators’ expanded responsibilities does not come with a comparable rise in wages. Sarah Fine says of her pay that, “over the course of four years, my school’s administration steadily expanded the workload and workday while barely adjusting salaries.”
Regardless of their successes, efforts, or acumen, many teachers find themselves unsung in avenues aside from income. To this point, Deanna Lyles shares, “I quit because I wanted to be treated as a professional.” Another comments that, “I just got sick of being in a profession that I felt held no real status in this country.” Sarah Fine observes that, “When people ask me about teaching… what they really seem to mean is that it’s unfathomable that anyone with real talent would want to stay in the classroom for long.” In his essay Why I Quit Teaching, Abbas Manjee says plainly that the “complete and utter disrespect for my profession has finally gotten to me.”
Clearly, a multitude of factors contribute to the early departure of new teachers from the profession. Some problems — like inadequate training and teacher departure immediately upon completion of program terms — can be remedied by the not-for-profits specializing in training in placement. Other issues, like teachers under-compensation and heavy work loads, require broader, structural solutions that necessitate significant power to implement. To that end, no single tech firm or teacher placement program can fix them, no matter how noble their goals or innovative their methods.
Clearly, teacher turnover is a dynamic issue that deserves our attention. Catherine Ionata notes in the NY Times that “Research has shown that teacher-student relationships are absolutely crucial to student success,” and that “These relationships cannot be built in a year or two.” At the risk of childrens’ educational outcomes present and future, we must work harder and engage more fully in our efforts to lower the teacher turnover rate across our nation.