Many teachers across the country recognize the wide variability that exists in their students. In a recent Digital Promise survey, Learning in the 21st Century: How the American Public, Teachers, and Parents View Educational Priorities and How to Achieve Them, the vast majority of the 500 teachers surveyed endorsed that their students differ in their skills, cognitive abilities, social-emotional states, and back- grounds. However, teachers surveyed also noted that they have limited time or support to address learners’ variability in the classroom. Ninety-four percent of teachers surveyed also reported that lack of time is a barrier to reading more education research that could deepen their own understanding and contribute to their practice. The survey also found that other barriers to reading research included pay- walls to accessing journal articles and the perceived limited applicability to teachers’ real-world setting.
The Learner Variability Project (LVP) at Digital Promise has built their free, open-source, and interactive website, the Learner Variability Navigator (LVN), to bring learning sciences research into the hands of teachers in an accessible and actionable format. The site features seven PreK-Adult Learner Models that summarize research findings across the whole learner and how they impact learning outcomes. It also features hundreds of evidence-based strategies and resources that educators can use to support their students’ learning. In February 2020 (prior to schools closing due to the COVID-19 crisis), we conducted a pilot program in collaboration with DonorsChoose to engage K-12 teachers in using the LVN with the aims of:
- Increasing their awareness and understanding of the factors and strategies that influence their students’ learning
- Gauging the accessibility and effectiveness of using our site to address their students’ different learning needs
The teachers engaged with a particular tool on the LVN, the Learning Needs Explorer, which asks teachers to input learner factors that are relevant to the needs of their students. It then suggests other factors to consider that are connected to their selected factors in the research. Finally, it recommends strategies that support the selected factors. In this study, teachers were asked to:
- Create a workspace with the learner factors and instructional strategies of interest to them
- Implement a recommended strategy in their classrooms
- Complete a follow-up survey reflecting on their experience
One hundred and six teachers from 31 states chose to participate in the program and received $200 in DonorsChoose credits after they completed the task.
Demographics of Teachers’ Schools
- 72 percent of participating teachers came from majority-low-income school communities, based on students’ eligibility for free and reduced price lunch
- 44 percent of teachers were at urban districts; 31 percent were at suburban districts; 18 percent were at rural districts
- 50 percent of teachers were at schools with a majority of non-white students
- 43 percent of teachers were at schools with greater than 10 percent English language learners
Sixty-five percent of teachers responded with a nine or 10 out of 10 that they would recommend LVN to a colleague. The tool also earned a Net Promoter Score of 57 (scale of -100 to 100), which indicates positive user experience and potential growth.
When asked how the LVN was helpful to them, 64 percent of teachers surveyed reported that LVN helped to identify research-based strategies to support specific students’ needs and 58 percent indicated that LVN helped them to understand how the various factors that underlie learning are connected to each other.
Teacher Survey Responses about Using LVN
Teachers chose to examine multiple learner factors from across our whole child framework, with the majority of teachers selecting cognitive factors to focus on.
Teachers also selected a range of strategies to consider for their students.
- 35 percent of teachers selected Active Learning strategies, such as Creating Visuals, Games,
- 35 percent of teachers selected Cooperative Learning strategies, such as Gallery Walk and Peer
- 31 percent of teachers selected Instructional Approaches strategies, such as Centers and Direct
- 21 percent of teachers selected Visual Learning Tools, such as Graphic Organizers.
Ultimately, 81 percent of teachers made changes to their lessons based on using LVN while another nine percent planned to try new strategies in future lessons.
Importantly, 63 percent of teachers observed that LVN strategies supported their students’ learning in some way, with the specific types of support including:
- Content/knowledge development (32 percent)
- Student engagement/enthusiasm (27 percent)
- Student collaboration (20 percent)
Additionally, 39 percent of teachers considered high-needs student populations when exploring LVN (low socioeconomic status, English language learners, special education, and students who are below grade level).
In terms of their user experience, 75 percent of teachers provided positive feedback on the site, citing that it was “user friendly,” “efficient,” and “useful.”
In a larger program planned with DonorsChoose, we intend to investigate how teachers’ use of the LVN affects their understanding of learner variability and their self-efficacy for addressing their students’ different needs. We will provide teachers with an opportunity to share the tool and how they used it with their colleagues in order to further promote use of research-based instruction in the classroom to support the whole child.
Programs like our partnership with DonorsChoose place research at the fingertips of teachers. They provide a space for educators to not only expand their own knowledge, but to share and collaborate with their colleagues on ways to better understand and attend to the variability in each of their learners.
We would like to thank our partners in this work, DonorsChoose, as well as the many teachers who participated in the pilot program. This analysis was funded by the generous support of the Oak Foundation, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Overdeck Family Foundation.