Amanda Coursey / General  / Universal Continuous Progress

Universal Continuous Progress

Technology is bringing unique opportunities to education.  Khan Academy uses instant data analysis to generate skill builders for students based on pre-test data and formative assessment data.  Carnegie Learning’s cognitive tutor allows students to build healthy Mathematical Practices with dynamic, interactive software that also generates extra practice if needed or allows proficient students move at an accelerated pace.  Blackboard allows teachers to organize course materials, create an interactive class culture, and allows students who are geographically disparate to participate in learning together.  Companies like Renaissance Learning provide intelligent assessments to help teachers learn on what grade level equivalent students are performing.  These are just a few of the amazing tools available to teachers in today’s public schools.

What opportunities do advances like these offer?  What might education look like in 10 years?

If these tools were coupled with (1) Self-Paced Courses, (2) Redefining the Role of Teacher, and (3) Blended Learning, schools could better facilitate continuous progress for all students.

Self Paced Courses

Many universities and online K – 12 schools offer students the option to take self-paced courses.  In a self-paced course, the time a student needs to meet standards is flexible.  Let’s suppose that all students were assigned to work on math for 1 hour daily.  Assume that one student completed Algebra 1 in 6 months while another student took 10 months.  In an environment were courses are self-paced, learning is more important than time.

What happens in a classroom where time is more important than learning?  Students who are behind fall further behind each year as they are passed from class to class without meeting objectives.  Researchers estimate that between 20% and 40% of students are ahead of grade level.  What happens to these students?  They learn to wait quietly and compliantly or they become distracted and lose interest in school.

How are self paced courses possible?  A quality self-paced course would use blended learning (online learning and classroom learning).  Technology provides teachers, curriculum staff, and departments of education with the tools to create the online component of a quality course.  If this technology were utilized and coupled with new expectations for teachers, all levels of students could benefit.

Blended Learning

Blended learning combines online resources with physical classroom resources.  Online resources establish the objectives for learning, provide some practice, and determine the majority of tasks students should complete to demonstrate proficiency.  In general, the online resources provide the curriculum or the challenge to help students grow and learn.  The classroom’s physical resources should provide feedback, personalized instruction, differentiation, culture, and, in general, support.  The key to student learning is the pairing of challenge and support.  

What would this classroom look like?  What would everyone be doing?

In a blended learning environment, students still need some time in the classroom with a teacher and other students.  Students will still need the assistance of a highly qualified educator who could answer all of their questions and design expert interventions, labs, and enrichment to meet course objectives.  However, the goals of education are broader in scope than just learning how to answer questions.  Students still need to develop presentation, speaking, and social skills.

In this classroom environment, teachers would be responsible for feedback and management of learning experiences rather than creating curriculum.  Teachers would receive text alerts and have access to online reporting in order to develop daily differentiation.  Teachers would use data to design small group or individualized tasks.  Teachers would still manage and create classroom culture.  Perhaps the teacher begins the class period with a daily joke share, celebration of successes, 5 minutes of calisthenics, or an interactive white board activity.  Maybe Fridays are reserved for student presentations.  Management of a blended classroom includes teaching procedures, building a positive environment conducive to learning, and setting expectations for student interaction.  One challenge of using online resources is making sure that students interact and become part of a community while learning.  Managing a classroom requires expertise and time. Without having to spend time developing curriculum, teachers could focus on these tasks.

Redefine the Role of Teacher

Research completed by the College Board comparing AP courses and dual credit courses found that students who completed AP courses performed high on post secondary indicators such as staying in college, first year college GPA, and graduation rates.  Why?  One reason may be that the college board defines the curriculum for each class in great detail while curriculum is designed by the teacher in dual credit courses.

How should the role of teacher be redefined?  A shift from curriculum creator to tutor, mentor, coach, and student supporter would lead to greater outcomes.  Research says that students benefit greatly from error correction, weekly formative assessments, and high quality feedback.  To give quality feedback, teachers must know the curriculum, but that doesn’t mean they have to create it.  The standards initiatives of the last 20 years demonstrate that leaders realize uniformity of curriculum means better outcomes for students.  Even with these trends, teachers are still creating the curriculum for their classrooms.

Differentiation, modifications, acceleration, extended time, and other interventions are used for students at different levels.  Teachers need time to work with individual students.  The trend in creating Individual Learning Plans for all students demonstrates the realization from leaders that teachers need time to differentiate.  Yet, researchers have found that although teachers know they should differentiate, they don’t.  One of the reasons often cited is the lack of time.

If students worked in a blended learning environment where the teacher’s role was differentiation, the teacher would be able to spend time creating small group lessons for specific students with specific problems based on data from the online classroom component.  Right now, teachers are often to busy with creating the basic curriculum to find opportunities for personalized learning.



Using self-paced courses, blended learning, and redefining the role of teacher are strategies being tested and introduced in a variety of educational settings.  Combining these concepts with many of the existing resources available could be ways to better meet the needs of students.  Universal screening, universal progress monitoring, and individualized learning plans are fully implemented in most states showing that leaders recognize the need to teach every student, every day.  Implementing self-paced courses, redefining the role of teacher, and implementing blended learning on a large scale are part of the next steps in creating an effective education for every student, every day.



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Makel, M. C., Matthews, M. S., Peters, S. J., Rambo-Hernandez, K., & Plucker, J. A. (2016). How can this many students be invisible? Large percentages of American students perform above grade level.

Mathewson, T. G. (2016, November 22). Schools turn to universal screening to increase equity in gifted programs. Retrieved from, E., Evans, L., Ferron, J., & Lindo, M. (2015). Effects of Differentiated Reading on Elementary Students’ Reading Comprehension and Attitudes Toward Reading. Gifted Child Quarterly, 59(2), 91-107.

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