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Address the 4 Essential Questions with Apex Learning Digital Curriculum

May 01, 2017

One thing that’s critical to the success of personalized learning programs is staff participation in a Professional Learning Community, or PLC. These gatherings make space for strategic discussions that increase student and teacher engagement, improve instruction and classroom management and enable educators to learn from one another’s trails and successes to understand student needs, improve instructional practice, and achieve better outcomes for each student they serve.

During PLC time, it’s important to focus on the Four Essential Questions. These questions have the power to promote practices — collective inquiry, student-centered instructional planning and data-driven decision making — critical to ensuring every student reaches a high level of success.

Apex Learning’s digital curriculum helps educators answer and act on the Four Essential Questions within their PLC.  

What do we expect our students to learn?
Effective digital curriculum is standards-driven, versus standards-aligned. First determine what the core objectives or learning targets are at the end of each lesson or unit, and then design the curriculum and instruction to help students reach that goal.  

Apex Learning follows this process when developing our digital curriculum. Design starts by deconstructing academic standards using Dr. Norman Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. Through this careful study, we begin to understand what knowledge and skills students are expected to learn in order to perform on high-stakes exams. We then use Understanding by Design, or Backward Design, to determine how to increase content mastery and create assessments aligned with that approach. Finally, we build curriculum and instruction designed to prepare students to meet that requirement.

How will we know students are learning?
Apex Learning’s digital curriculum includes integrated, standards-based assessments that allow teachers to monitor student progress toward learning goals. These formative and summative assessments are built into every unit of instruction within the curriculum and are designed to assess mastery of objectives in a lesson or unit.  

How will we respond when students aren’t learning?
As students work within the digital curriculum and complete assessments, their performance is broken down into actionable data showing real-time progress toward learning goals. Educators — teachers and administrators — can access this data via dashboards to determine where students are struggling and where they are excelling. If a single student is struggling with a concept, the teacher can provide support targeted to that student’s specific learning gap to help the student reach content mastery. This support can be provided with the digital personalized learning plan or by the teacher. If an entire class is struggling with a concept, the teacher might examine the original lesson and work with their PLC of subject-area teachers to craft new lessons and strategies prior to re-teaching the concept to the whole group.

All students, regardless of their GPA or class rank, will need support at some point along the learning journey. Passing a course isn’t confirmation that a student has attained the prerequisite knowledge needed to succeed at higher levels. For example, if a student receives a C in 8th grade math, he or she will likely enter Algebra 1 with learning gaps and be at-risk of not being really ready for advanced mathematics courses.

Apex Learning digital curriculum includes prescriptive pretests to identify concept mastery. These assessments give teachers insight into specific areas in which a student needs additional instruction and practice to master prerequisite concepts and skills prior to grade-level instruction. This information also forms the student’s personalized learning plan, which offers adaptive remediation to address prerequisite learning gaps as well as grade-level concepts and allows flexible pacing for all students.

How will we respond if they already know it?
Students learn at different paces in different subjects. A student may accelerate through certain courses, such as English, but struggle with others, like math. Apex Learning’s digital curriculum allows students to control the pace of their learning.

In addition to providing insight into what students need to learn, prescriptive pretests also illustrate what students already know. Students who demonstrate mastery may be permitted to work ahead of the class or to complete enrichment activities. In this way, students can continue learning versus being forced to stay at the pace of the class

Make Differentiation Attainable
Secondary teachers work with more than 100 students each day. With this many students, personalizing instruction for every student is difficult — if not impossible — without support from digital assessment and curriculum tools. The most successful programs bring educators together in a PLC to focus on student needs and to help one another create better learning outcomes for every student.

Leverage the Four Essential Questions to guide discussion and collaboration in your PLC. Apex Learning helps participants come prepared with insightful data educators can use to deploy personalized, student-centered instruction at scale.

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