Helping learners grow daily is the work of schools and educators. How do we support learners in getting where they need or want to be academically? Some learners need to complete unfinished learning to catch up to standards. Others may need support to keep up and not fall behind. And still others may want to move beyond the stated expectations. To support learners in these different places to complete or extend learning, the term “intervention” is frequently used.
After the disruption of learning in 2020, millions of students may have unfinished learning and still others an uncompleted opportunity to move ahead. Now that students are back in school, whether in person in the classroom or virtually, teachers have an opportunity to observe, diagnose and respond to various learning needs. When learners struggle with subjects like math or reading, teachers often implement academic interventions for extra support. The difference between an academic intervention and a little help is that interventions are typically set up in ways that help teachers and learners track progress, both learning and the use of the intervention. Classroom academic interventions include a series of steps that the teacher takes to help the learner fill in the gaps in their learning. This help includes removing barriers to learning and personalizing what students need to complete their unfinished learning. These academic interventions are often:
- Proactive: address and support an area of need before it becomes an obstacle for learning
- Intentional: planned and focus on a specific academic need
- Formal: structured for a specific amount of time and designed to be monitored
- Flexible: adjust based on the learner’s needs and progress
EdTech is a delivery mechanism for academic intervention. Let’s go back to the four components of an intervention and see how EdTech supports them.
- Proactive: Educators have an opportunity to tap into kids’ identities as digital natives and engage them in their world before the academic need becomes an obstacle to larger learning. This includes meeting learners where they live when using devices (i.e., smartphones and tablets).
- Intentional: Start with baseline measurement. Establish a protocol for pre-assessment to diagnose and narrow the academic focus for each learner.
- Formal: Using readily available EdTech programs, pre- and post-measures can be set to determine the effectiveness of the intervention. Include milestones and goals so learners have the opportunity to not only engage with the technology and academics but also monitor and adjust their learning progress and set personal goals.
- Flexible: Look for and embrace the use of EdTech that adjusts as learners learn and achieve their academic goals.
A multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) is used in schools across the globe as an academic intervention that involves three tiers that increase in nuance, expectations and intensity to address learners’ academic needs. These academic interventions help plan for what 80-85% of students will need (Tier 1), 10-15% of learners (Tier 2) and 3-5% of learners (Tier 3). Incorporating adaptive learning into a three-tiered system has benefits. As each tier has nuanced expectations, the benefit of EdTech becomes more apparent. Based on the student’s reaction to the content, these interventions detect patterns and respond in real-time. All these responses are unique to the individual learner’s needs and abilities. This means that if learners need either a little or a lot of support, these adjustments can be made in real-time in the EdTech intervention and supported in the classroom when the teachers use the data.
The use of EdTech can speed up the diagnostic process of evaluating student learning to identify gaps and necessary support. Reinforced by virtual as well as face-to-face assessment, teachers can then use quantitative and qualitative data to map out the intervention for each learner. EdTech interventions may spiral learning or use computer-assisted learning (CAL) to personalize the intervention for each learner. This intervention plan must be monitored to track the learner’s growth as well as their response to the individual intervention employed.
One main advantage of EdTech in academic interventions is its ability to diagnose where learners are – their current learning level, and then assign both instruction and exercises (practice) at the appropriate level of difficulty. EdTech options may include the ability of teachers to set or supplement the learning path, adding their classroom observations to the computer diagnosis. EdTech options also provide learners opportunities for practice. This deliberate practice, whether assigned by the teacher or the EdTech software, supports the research about practice. Skills are isolated, developed, practiced, and assessed within the EdTech advantage, then “performed” in the classroom.
As schools buy and implement software to aid in academic intervention, leadership must ensure the capacity within the school to support this resource. This includes leadership of the intervention program, engagement with and training for staff; physical space; and buy-in to the goals.
EdTech should be a compliment, a tool, for the educational system. It offers the potential to scale, set and support goals and touch different and diverse populations. It extends educators the potential to individualize and customize the instruction and practice for each tier of learners. EdTech should be proactively chosen, intentionally implemented, formally set up to monitor academic progress and the effects of the intervention, and flexible enough so that learners and educators are engaged and the goals of both are met.
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This article was written by Kathy S Dyer.
Kathy Dyer is an innovative educator who has served as a teacher, principal, district assessment coordinator, and adjunct professor. She has a passion for learner-centered learning—opportunities for learners of all ages to learn with, from, and for one another. Believing that all learners can learn more and grow more, Kathy is passionate about helping schools and educators get better at what they do.
Kathy combines a deep understanding of adult learning with a passion for collaborative problem solving to help school systems improve student outcomes. Her work has been featured on eSchool News, Education Dive, Ed Circuit, Teach. Learn. Grow. blog, and Getting Smart.