Reinventing The Wheel


I’ve heard it over and over.  I wait for it as I am working with teachers who seem to be struggling with the concept of making a transition to digital curriculum.

“Aren’t we just reinventing the wheel?”

Yes we are, in a sense.   We should be!

We must.

Now don’t get me wrong.  If Mr. Smith has created an amazing collection of the best resources for teaching multiplication facts and is willing to share it, there is no reason for Mrs. Jones to create her own from scratch.  I believe we are all in this changing time in education together and we must work smarter, not harder (to throw out another cliché phrase).  It’s why I share every stinkin’ thing I create, hoping someone will find it beneficial in their own journey.

…But this isn’t the same as our work to transform education by replacing textbooks and worksheets with digital tools.

The stone wheel and wood axle invention was amazing.  It changed everything.  But what if we stopped there?  It was perfect in the day when transportation was a simple cart and you could live your whole life in a 10 mile radius.  But can you imagine your high-tech car today, with its computerized engine and Bluetooth sync to your iPhone, trying to cruise down the interstate on that?  As the world has changed, so has the wheel.  I suppose it is possible that some argued along the way that what they had before was working and had its benefits.  (I’m guessing a stone wheel has more than a 70,000 mile warranty… if you can stand the noise that long.)  But there is little doubt that it wouldn’t serve our needs today.

We must reinvent the wheel of how we educate students.  We have tools today that allow students to learn on a very personalized level.  No more holding them back or leaving them in the dust because we have a textbook and worksheets that give everyone the same exact thing, whether it is what they need or not.  Technology allows us to have a curriculum that adapts to the achievement of individuals and provides the differentiation teachers have tried to accomplish for years.  It enables us to provide learning that is authentic like never before.  It’s hard to imagine what the workforce will look like when today’s kindergartener reaches it, but I can guarantee one thing.. it will involve technology.

So let’s get to it.

Let’s work together to reinvent the wheel.

We want our students to go places never before possible, and that takes a different kind of wheel.

Achieve 3000

Taking the Plunge

 At Southwest Parke we are using a huge number of digital resources that are changing the way we do school.  It is incredible how much quality content is available that’s free for education.  However, there are a few areas that are worth some investment.  Achieve 3000 is a differentiated reading program we have purchased, focusing on comprehension of informational text.  After conducting an initial assessment, Achieve delivers news articles supplied by The Associated Press to each student at their unique reading level.   Students answer opinion polls, complete comprehension questions based on the article, and write responses to critical thinking questions.  In doing so, they see exponential growth in their reading comprehension skills, and teachers receive continuous data to guide their instruction.

You can discover a lot about exactly how the program works on their website, but I’ve put together a short video so you can hear directly from a couple of our students and see some of our actual results.  There is no doubt that adding more digital content and greater differentiation into our curriculum is benefiting student learning.

Why We Made The Investment

Although we have made lots of progress in recent years, our students were still not showing the growth and success we wanted them to have (you may be able to relate).   We know that differentiating learning produces results because it provides each student with exactly what they need.  It doesn’t take a genius to understand that concept, it just was so very difficult without the technology tools in place.  Our first experience was with ALEKS to provide differentiated learning in math.  We saw what a huge difference it made and sought something to provide the same benefits in reading comprehension, recognizing that there is no skill more fundamental to success.  A student who doesn’t understand the non-fiction text they read will struggle in all academic areas.  Achieve 3000 seemed to be the perfect solution at the perfect time, as we were also implementing 1:1 and digital curriculum initiatives.  We began using Achieve in grades 3-9.  When we saw such rapid results and realized that our freshmen needed more time to close the achievement gap, we expanded to provide Achieve for grades 10-12 as well.

The Early Harvest

As shown in the video, we have seen a very quick return on our investment with increased student Lexiles, but there have been other positive outcomes.  We’ve seen students come alive that had no interest in school or the quality of their work before.  The immediate feedback they receive, the fact that the content is on their personal level, and the motivating elements are appealing to both non-traditional and typical students.  Here’s a story that didn’t make the video…. I met with a junior who is using Achieve to help him pass the ECA test.  Although he is quite intelligent, he is a student who makes it known how much he loathes school, and his lack of success shows his attitude toward education.  I asked him how he felt about Achieve, expecting the same sort of answer I had always heard from him.  Instead, he paused and quietly said, “I don’t hate it.”  If you know students like this, that’s saying a lot.  We have students who would never complete homework assignments that are now getting on and completing several Achieve articles per week from home.  The high achievers are benefiting as well because the program puts no limits on how much they can advance.

Keys to Success

Teachers – As with any resource, you get out of this program what you put into it.  Although powerful enough to produce some results even on “auto pilot”, the real success comes when teachers interweave their reading, writing and language arts instruction into their use of Achieve 3000 articles.  It is also a very effective means of providing complex informational text in science, social studies, health and other content areas.

Students –  Students have to learn to take some responsibility for their own learning.  This is one of the added benefits, teaching them to be more independent learners.  A student who skims the articles and clicks through questions isn’t going to grow.  The program does have some things built in to catch this sort of behavior, but a high level of accountability for quality of work goes a long way.  I think it also helps if the students learn exactly why their reading skills are so crucial to their success later in life and know some specific things to do (and what NOT to do) when they are using the program.  To that end I created a Student Guide to Achieve 3000, which has been presented in most classes.

Administration – Monitor data.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  Achieve provides an enormous amount of customizable reports that paint a good picture of progress or the lack thereof.  If students aren’t growing, drilling into the data often reveals the reason, which can then be corrected.  You won’t be successful with a weight loss program unless you monitor your food and exercise.  You won’t stay on budget unless you track your spending.  Students won’t grow to their fullest potential with any learning program unless you use data to guide instruction and implementation.

Ready to Transform Learning Through Differentiation!?! 

Watch the promo video below and visit Achieve’s website to learn more about how the program works and the research behind it.  Contact me if you have questions you’d like to ask a real school instead of a company or if you’d like to visit us to see it in action!  If you’d like to schedule a presentation, contact Diane Baldessari  (pssst…. she’ll probably bring snacks!).

Need to Read

There is no other skill that will impact your life more than your ability to read.

Use these bundles to access resources that will help you become a better reader.

ACHIEVE 3000 STUDENT GUIDE – This guide, directed at students, will help you understand the importance of reading for success in college and career.  It will show you how to use our reading intervention program, Achieve 3000, to become a better reader.

READ EVERYTHING – a collection of reading programs, word lists, iPod/iPad apps and websites all focused on reading skills and encouraging the practice of continuous reading.