Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Importance of Teacher Insight in Design of Digital Instructional Tools

February 17, 2016

Good teachers work to create personalized experiences for students that motivate them and target their specific learning needs. But teachers can’t do it alone. Digital content and tools that support personalized learning create new kinds of student data that help teachers tailor instruction specifically to students’ needs and interests, and get rapid insight into their learning progress. And as we celebrate Digital Learning Day, what better time to highlight the need for more effective digital instructional tools?

There’s no replacement for the powerful connection between teacher and student, but digital instructional tools provide teachers with valuable information and resources to meet individual needs and track student progress.  Teachers are constantly trying to analyze how their students are doing based on many data sources, and new tools that organize data well and provide actionable insights into what individual students need are becoming available. 

Products like Lexia Reading Core5 make it easier for teachers to help students analyze an author’s viewpoint, or better understand important literacy concepts like comparing and contrasting. Lexia Reading Core5, a Common Core-aligned writing tool and Literacy Courseware Challenge winner, was designed to provide support for students who are performing at or below their grade level.

“The data helps me talk to them about their goals, celebrate their achievements, and set new goals,” said Mariana Robles, a teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School in Riverside, California. Robles has seen incredible growth from her students since introducing tools like Lexia Reading Core5, and she has found it much easier to monitor their progress. “Technology enables me to have and give almost immediate feedback.”

But challenges remain. While teachers rely on digital tools to help their students prepare for college and career, they rarely get to shape and design these products to meet their specific needs. A recent report from the foundation’s Teachers Know Best series presents the findings from a survey of more than 4,600 teachers about how they use digital tools to tailor instruction and meet students where they are.

What we’ve learned is that more than two thirds of teachers—67 percent—are not fully satisfied with the tools they currently have access to. Teachers tell us that far too often, time is their biggest obstacle. With current technologies, they spend so much time just figuring out how to collect and analyze data that they have no time to significantly alter instruction based on that data. Our teachers—and most importantly, our students—deserve better.

To learn more about the findings from Teachers Know Best: Making Data Work for Teachers and Students, join us for a webinar with iNACOL tomorrow, where I will present key findings from the report and share the foundation’s efforts and the efforts of our partners to better understand teacher perspectives about the use of digital instructional tools in the classroom. I invite you to join the conversation on Twitter using #TeachersKnowBest during the webinar.

Whether you are a teacher looking for ideas of digital tools to use in your classroom or just want to see what’s out there, check out Who knows, maybe you’ll stumble upon a digital instructional tool that helps you transform your classroom.

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