A Tale of Two Islands

I will never pretend that technology can do what we do. Teaching is best left to teachers. But learning? That belongs to students. Study Island, although it cannot teach a student on its own, can help students learn the skills and knowledge we teach. In my conversations with teachers about online tools like Study Island, I have encountered two strategies that seem particularly effective.

The Kujawski Plan
Geometry teacher Zina Kujawski—in every way a mathematical thinker—has such an elaborate Study Island plan for her students that it deserves a name: The Kujawski Plan. Here’s what she does:

At the beginning of the semester, she assigns due dates for SCOS goal-based Study Island assignments.. They don’t even have to turn anything in. Kujawski just checks the report, determines who has completed the assignment, and writes a score in her grade book. If they earned a blue ribbon for the goal, they get 100%. If they earn all of their ribbons, she adds extra points to the six-week grade.

Kujawski admits her plan requires a lot of work, but the results speak for themselves. Her geometry students all made level IV this fall.

The Wallen Plan
English teacher Julie Wallen—as diligent a teacher as you will meet—has a plan of her own. Last semester she discovered the value of the class grade book report on Study Island’s School Stats page. The report makes it easy to determine which students are successful with which areas, and where each student is struggling.

Prior to exams, Wallen used SI reports to identify two or three areas of weakness for each student and gave each student an individualized task to complete on Study Island. Chandra needed to work on main ideas and organizational patterns, while Junior needed help with parallel structure and agreement. By allowing students to focus their attention on just a couple of basic skills at a time, she gave them the opportunity to eliminate weaknesses without burdening them with work to enhance skills they had already developed.

Wallen’s students were not required to complete the individualized assignments, but most chose to. Students reported that the plan helped. It certainly didn’t hurt; 100% of Wallen’s students were proficient.

Study Island v. Homework Drills
Study Island provides instant feedback, along with answer explanations. Homework from a textbook or worksheet does not offer feedback. Study Island scores students’ performance and provides an analytical report. Homework from a textbook or worksheet requires the teacher to evaluate and analyze student and class performance. Study Island has a “Game Mode.” Homework is work. Students can’t copy Study Island answers in the hallway three minutes before class.  They can and do copy homework.

Look Out
Study Island has limits, not least of which is the way it reduces intelligence to the 25% probability of ABCD multiple choice. It doesn’t show a teacher WHY little Madeline can’t calculate the measure of an interior angle or why Obadiah can’t make his verbs agree with their subjects.

What’s missing is student work—work to solve the problem, the essay containing grammatical errors. Neither Kujawski nor Wallen have entrusted this sort of work to Study Island. Both remain outstanding classroom teachers. For both, the program is merely a tool to help students master the essential skills of their courses and—let’s face it—pass their EOCs.

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