The Time Is Now: Learning Doesn’t Wait


“Mark, got a moment?” says Rick over the phone. Quickly adding, “There’s something personal I want to talk about.”

Rick is a work acquaintance. His something is son Paul, a year eight student. Rick holds a report card showing Paul failed first term Algebra. Paul is an intelligent boy, capable of learning Algebra, who has previously done well in school. Paul’s future—acceptance at a good college, scholarships, good jobs, and more—hinges on him mastering Algebra and doing so this year.

Treading carefully, I say, “Tonight, over dinner, ask Paul when he first knew he was failing Algebra?”

The following morning, Rick reports about Paul being in trouble on day 6. I suggest he ask Paul when the Algebra teacher knew he was off track? Bright and early, Rick calls to tell me Paul’s teacher knew on day 15.

What is wrong here? On day six Paul knows he is lost. His teacher realizes this on day 15. Paul’s parents find out on day 53. A week later, day 60, all will meet to attempt solving Paul’s problem.

When is the optimal time to help Paul? Clearly the best time to intervene is between days six and seven (or before). But, for a variety of reasons, Paul’s needs are recognized and attended to far too late.

Imagine that feedback on Paul’s learning, or lack thereof is real-time. Further, imagine that the feedback generated about Paul informs and guides the instruction and support Paul receives…real-time, not weeks later. What would that look like?

On day six, when Paul turns in his Algebra coursework via the classroom web-portal, a bubble window on the screen says, “What grade do you give the work you are submitting?” Paul’s one-click response—“I give my work a D-grade”—creates an actionable data-point.

Paul’s mouse click triggers an alert to his teacher, who then takes appropriate action. Perhaps offering Paul personalized tutoring or web-based materials—text, simulation, manipulative, or video—to use at home to help him master the lesson with which he is struggling. His teacher alerts Paul’s parents to the situation, additional tutoring, and suggests they online the materials with Paul.

Now imagine that the principal of Paul’s school monitors her teachers and pupils’ work via a digital dashboard. She too receives an alert when Paul gives himself a ‘D’ and when his teacher offer assistance to Paul and his parents. It is likely the principal receives alerts that Paul’s classmates in Algebra (and other courses) are having similar difficulties. Seeing a trend and pattern, the principals convenes an impromptu meet of teachers to review and refine their instruction.

Before school starts on day seven, Paul goes to the Algebra classroom. His teacher gives him a problem to solve, which Paul does. That afternoon, in class, Paul moves forward with Algebra.

The speedy resolution of Paul’s Algebra problem stands in contrast to what he experienced. He, his parents, and educators are active participants in the resolution. Technology supports, enhances, engages, and guides the emergent work each does. Paul’s real-time feedback triggers a chain of events—self-report grading, formative assessment, and differentiated instruction—that drives continuous improvement of instruction Paul and his classmates at school receive. One click, many benefits.

Nearly all students can learn most lessons, just not at the same rate or manner. Sometimes, a student, as was the case with Paul, gets off track. When that happens, it is essential that the amount of off-track time be minimized. To do this efficiently requires stakeholders—students, teachers, parents, and principals—be tightly coupled with each other, research proven practices, and curricular content.

Technology enables such coupling. Feedback is the means by which stakeholders communicate. It is time we learn this lesson.


 Note: This is my first post in the Shift Paradigm category, dedicated to providing fresh perspectives on longstanding issues in the field of education. Please click the follow button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.