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Any teacher can tell you that no two students learn the same way or at the same speed. Some seem to understand a concept as soon as it’s introduced, while others need the subject broken down into its component parts. An explanation that makes perfect sense to some students will remain inscrutable to others, who will have to try out different ways of understanding. And those who take to one subject easily may have difficulty learning another.

Yet teachers have to teach all students, making sure that youngsters with a wide range of abilities and learning styles all learn what they need to know. At Kootenai School, Panhandle Alliance for Education (PAFE) is helping them with that.

Kootenai principal Rick Kline applied for a PAFE grant to buy a computer program called Study Island, which allows each student to focus on the specific skills or concepts he or she needs to learn. The program keeps track of how students are progressing, which skills they have mastered, and which they’re still working on.

Teachers can check easily check progress at any time—there’s no waiting until a test is graded or a paper handed in to identify areas of difficulty. If a child is having a problem, it can be addressed immediately, so the child doesn’t fall behind. The program can also reveal if there is a certain area that many students are struggling with, so teachers address it with the whole class.

To make the process fun, Study Island combines games with learning. On a recent snowy Tuesday, a third grader working on her math facts got to play a virtual football game for every 20 problems she solved correctly. To help her reach that goal, the program identified what she needed to work on, gave her a tutorial to learn that specific skill, and gave her problems to try until she’d mastered the concept and gotten 20 right.

An additional motivator at Kootenai School is the virtual blue ribbons that children receive on Study Island when they master a particular skill. “We have a friendly competition among classrooms for blue ribbons,” says Kline.

The goal is for all students to have received at least 80% of all the blue ribbons available by the time they take standardized tests. Because Study Island is tied to Idaho state education standards, it helps prepare children for these tests. Once the tests results are in, Kline will be able to identify how much students’ time on Study Island correlates with growth in their scores.

It’s a great example of using a specific technology effectively to meet a specific educational need.

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