Joel Rose is the CEO and Co-Founder of New Classrooms, a non-profit that helps schools redesign classrooms and curricula in order to customize teaching and learning. New Classrooms’ spotlight program, Teach to One, offers an innovative personalized math learning platform for middle and high school students.
What problems have educators been tackling this fall semester?
The first and most essential challenge that educators have been tackling is how to open schools safely while being mindful of what public health officials are saying, most importantly, but also what parents and teachers are saying and what’s even possible. Managing the logistics of all of that has really been all-consuming for educators.
How has COVID-19 exacerbated learning loss in subjects like math?
There are a number of studies that show the impact that COVID has had on learning loss. The most recent study that came out showed that students lost as much as 183 days in reading and 332 days in math during the first four months of virtual schooling. The reason that is so devastating isn’t just because of the number but also because math is cumulative.
So it’s not like a seventh grader, once they get back to school, can just suddenly leave seventh grade if they haven’t learned key building block skills from sixth grade and fifth grade and fourth grade. Schools are largely still focusing on grade-level material, which just means that students will continue to fall behind.
Could you explain the difference between grade-level and pre-grade-level material that you’re referencing?
States have adopted educational standards for reading, math, and science, and those standards reflect the particular concepts that are supposed to be taught by teachers at each grade level in grades three through eight or kindergarten through eight. Assessments are done in grades three through eight and once in high school. At the end of each school year, students take an assessment to measure how well they’ve mastered those skills.
The state of Texas expects all seventh grade teachers to teach a specific curriculum and set of skills, and at the end of the year, students take a test on those particular skills. At first, that seems to make a lot of sense. However, because math is cumulative, when that teacher teaches the seventh-grade skills, she may be facing a number of students who haven’t mastered key concepts from sixth grade, fifth grade, and fourth grade. So there’s this tension between the need to cover grade-level material and the need to meet the unique needs of each student.
How has Teach to One adapted its offering to the challenges of COVID-19?
First, when schools began to close last spring, we very quickly adapted and enabled our solutions to operate remotely. We work with each school to shape the approach to their unique circumstances; some use all of the learning modalities, while others use only some of them. The ones that use all of the modalities offered live instruction and utilized breakout rooms for collaborative learning. They also used our portal to access the independent modalities and allow students to complete their exit slips every day. And we generated schedules just like we did before schools ever closed.
How does Teach to One support parents during a time like COVID?
We’re doing a few things. First of all, when parents of existing Teach to One 360 students login to the portal, we provide them with a very clear understanding of where their children are and what they’re ready to learn next. We give them resources to help prepare their students and let them know what their children will be learning the next day or week, so they can help their students get ahead.
Second, we released some new solutions through Teach to One Roadmaps that provide a direct approach, where parents can have their children take a free diagnostic assessment to understand exactly where they have learning loss. On top of that, if they want, they can upgrade to a Home account, and their children can then access digital content and assessments that are tied to their unique personalized roadmap.
How does the Teach to One approach balance individual lesson plans and group instruction?
There are eight different modalities, so that’s eight different ways that students can learn particular concepts. Some of them are with teachers, some of them are independent, and some of them are with peers. We find that the ability of students to learn the same content in different ways is what truly deepens their conceptual understanding.
It’s also what makes personalization possible. In a particular fifth grade class, for example, on average, there are seven different grade levels represented, in terms of their student performance. So it’s almost impossible for a teacher to meet the unique needs of each student. But by integrating these other modalities and approaches and organizing them for teachers within the learning environment, we’re able to meet each student’s unique needs.
How do you textbooks fit into the current Teach to One solution?
We work with a number of both digital and traditional print publishers, and we license their content. We don’t necessarily think that students can’t learn from textbooks; some of those lessons are quite powerful, but the lessons have to meet the students where they are. The content itself can be great, but the key is presenting that content at the right time for each student’s needs.
What are Teach to One’s new tools and service lines?
The solutions that we have available are all grounded in the same philosophy of tailored acceleration. It’s about understanding where each student is and giving them their own personalized path to get where they need to be. The first solution is now called Teach to One Roadmaps Free, and it’s a way for students to take an adaptive online test to understand exactly what skills are on their roadmap and give them that transparency and some tools to track as they learn these particular skills on their own. The second solution is called Teach to One Roadmaps Plus. It takes the road map that’s been created with the diagnostic tool and then provides digital content and assessments that are tied to each student’s roadmap.
How did School of One transform into Teach to One?
School of One was an initiative that we started as part of the Department of Education in New York City. We realized that this kind of innovation could impact kids far beyond New York City. From there, we created our own independent non-profit organization, with the help of a number of foundations, called New Classrooms. Then, we created a whole other version of School of One that we now call Teach to One.
So we’re still serving kids in New York City, but we’re doing that under a national umbrella because it really wouldn’t make sense to create a School of One in New York and another one in Florida and another one in Texas.
Why is the one-size-fits-all system broken?
All students are different. The way the system operates today, a seventh grader who walks into class at a fourth-grade level is supposed to get the same education as the seventh grader who walks in at an eighth-grade level. That just can’t be the very best way to provide each student with the education that will best prepare them for college, after college, after high school, or whatever the case may be. We need to ensure that each school can provide each student with the education that’s right for them, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
Why did you choose to focus on middle school math with Teach to One?
We felt that a lot of students were coming into middle school with key gaps that they didn’t learn back in elementary school. By the time students get to high school, high schools are organized around credits, and it’s very hard to go back and address skills that you didn’t quite master in previous years because you can’t do so in ways that will allow you to graduate on time.
So middle school is the perfect time to introduce an innovation like the one that we designed because it’s intended to both deeply understand where students are starting from and also build them their own path to ensure that they’re ready for high school.
How do you think Teach to One affects how students view learning?
In my experience, students love owning their own learning. They feel pride when they master a skill that they had previously struggled with. I see this in the schools that we work with, and I see this with my own kids.
I’ve not met one student who said, “I really learned a lot from the standardized test that I took the end of the year to see how I did relative to grade-level standards.” Those can be extremely important for schools and policymakers in terms of understanding what action should be taken, but for individual students to benefit, it is much more important to give them ownership of their learning.
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