Balance is critical in most situations.

Balance is key. In education, we try to find the fine line between frustration and learning. If you search this topic, you will find, “The zone of proximal development (sometimes abbreviated ZPD), is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. It is a concept developed by Soviet psychologist and social constructivist Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934).” If the ZPD is not found, a student can get to the point of frustration very quickly and shut down. In a perfect world, students would come to us with a “tag” that states what their ZPD is and the directions to follow in the quest for academic growth, not the case. So, what can we do to meet each student’s individual needs? Technology can be the answer (in some cases, not all).

Technology allows the time needed to assess each student then prescribe the needed resources to scaffold the student to their ZPD. Most programs that have Artificial Intelligence (AI) integration will adjust the difficulty of the questions based on how the student answers the delivered questions. An adaptive assessment may take 20 minutes to complete, but it can take that much time for each student in a classroom. This technology does NOT take the place of a well-informed and connected educator. Taking the data from the AI and comparing it with anecdotal notes and teacher observation is how we can support students best. I can already hear your thoughts! If the teacher has to do the work, why would they ever use technology to arrive at the same conclusion?! If you have ever evaluated 25+ students over a week, you will have to admit you get tired super quick, and the stories or math evaluations haunt you in your dreams. We are human; computer programs are not. This is why balance is essential. What does this look like in the classroom? In the next section, we will explore two resources of MANY. The two I have included here are, in my opinion, the best place to begin. I hope you find them helpful also. ReadingIQ is a fantastic resource that allows you to choose how the reading levels are reported and allows students to take a placement test. This is a FREE

This is a FREE digital resource in both fiction and nonfiction from Marvel, Pixar, National Geographic, and others that students will love to read. This is a great resource for teachers and meets all of the safety measures that are expected in our classrooms today (COPPA, CIPA, FERPA). Resources available in Reading IQ include all Disney products. 

With audiobooks and graphic novels, students of all ages can benefit from this excellent resource, and it is FREE. I know there are a bunch of other resources like GetEpic, Tumblebooks, and many many more. This resource has built-in differentiation through the assessment and different reading levels. Finding one resource to meet all of your students’ needs can be difficult, but with this one and your small group reading practice, and written material, you will give your students options that are engaging for them and you. In math, I like Prodigy Math, and before you start yelling at the computer that all students do is play games, read me out on this one. If you assign practice to your students based on what you know about your students, this is the program for you. First off, it is 100% free and easily navigatable for most. In the planner area of the program, you can assign activities to individual students or the whole class. When assigning activities, you mitigate the loss of time while using the program. There is no placement test, but in this instance, your knowledge as the teacher is more valuable than a placement test. 

If you are not assigning activities to your students in Prodigy, you SHOULD NOT be using this program. It is a waste of time if you do not spend some time. This is a powerful program, and with great power comes great responsibility (Uncle Ben, Spiderman). 

Final Thoughts

The vital aspect of any technology usage is a balance. Without balance, we will either not use technology at all, which is not an option for our students, or we will lose the personal connection that is also something our students need to be successful. Don’t place a student in front of a program and expect them to learn in the absents of the teacher and a personal connection. Students need to learn in their ZPD, and technology can only help. You, as the teacher/parent, need to use your professional judgment in choosing the right tool, digital and non-digital. 

Your partner in education and parenting,

Douglas Greek 

Author: Douglas Greek EdD

My name is Doug Greek and I am a parent with an Education Doctorate. My Doctorate is in the area of leadership and curriculum and I have been a teacher for 15 years (as of 2021). I believe I am both book-educated and life-educated when it comes to child development. I am a first-generation college graduate as well as a first-generation educator. I have had all of the “classes” of theory and practicality in the area of child development and education BUT this all went out the window when my wife and I had our first child. We were married for 14 years before having kids, so I thought we were ready. Even after 26 years of marriage, we are still learning. https://open.spotify.com/show/0L4J63EbZAixPAgNYbxU3q

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