Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Focus on Teachers: Tristan Wright, Powering Student Learning

October 15, 2013

New York City teacher Tristan Wright laughs about the promotional videos that feature her testimony for the online education tool, PowerMyLearning. “If I watched myself in one of those videos, I would think I was full of it.  But the fact is that PowerMyLearning changed my dynamics with students. I’m amazed at how I now can engage students by using it.”

 I need to come up with ways to help a group of my students—the entire class really—whose reading abilities range from third grade to eighth grade levels.Tristan WrightA 13-year veteran educator, Tristan has spent the past seven years as a special education teacher at the Bea Fuller Rodgers Middle School (I.S. 528) in Washington Heights. I.S. 528 serves a student population that is 98 percent Dominican descent and has large numbers of students who are ESL and/or receive free and reduced lunch. 

Last year, Tristan was assigned to work with 23 high needs students through both “pull out” services in which students worked with her in a separate room for additional learning opportunities in literacy and math, as well as through “push in” in which she provided supports for teaching and learning within a traditional class.

“When I’m ‘pushing in,’ I’m not just working one-on-one with a student. I need to come up with ways to help a group of my students—the entire class really—whose reading abilities range from third grade to eighth grade levels,” says Tristan in a conversation with our team. “Before PowerMyLearning, I would need to do heavy research online, or thumb through text books, to find ways to differentiate for each assignment. Now, in five minutes, I can create playlists of online activities students can do to support their learning in whatever topic they are studying. ”

 Within minutes of starting the search in PowerMyLearning, the teachers had a new virtual playlist customized for students that could be used to supplement the one-size-fits-all original reading packet.A free resource for educators, students and parents, PowerMyLearning offers carefully selected learning games and resources from across the web that connect to the Common Core State Standards. As Tristan explained, teachers, parents and students themselves can create playlists of activities, track what students are learning at home and in school and share data on their performance.

Tristan has a seemingly endless amount of examples of how the technology has helped her school. She talks about helping an ELA teacher create a diverse set of resources—virtual reading pieces, bilingual materials, videos, materials at different reading levels—for students to complete a research-based argumentative essay. According to Tristan, within minutes of starting the search in PowerMyLearning, the teachers had a new virtual playlist customized for students that could be used to supplement the one-size-fits-all original reading packet. 

Moreover, the school’s Saturday academies this year engaged students in selecting and creating their own social studies projects to accelerate their learning of skills and catch up on their requirements. While this approach to “Saturday School” could have been overwhelming for both students and teachers, it wasn’t. Each student had a playlist of online materials that they used to develop and inform their project. The tell-tale sign it worked? “Students showed up, they engaged in the research, they read, they wrote, and they learned,” describes Tristan.

Tristan readily admits that she is not a technophile. “I’ve never been entirely comfortable with using new technology. Change is hard and I’ve been resistant at times,” Tristan acknowledges. “But I don’t know how I did it before. I can have 10 students at a time–a sixth grader who might be emotionally disturbed but reading at an eighth grade level, a student at a third grade reading level, students with math but not literacy issues or vice versa. I would have created a different worksheet and plan for each student every day. Now, if I have only 3 computers, I can differentiate easily and I can shift the lesson plans on the spot if they are not working for students.”

Learn more about Tristan, her school and PowerMyLearning in the New York Times’ Opinionator blog on digital learning. 

 
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