According to Newsweek, Heritage High School, where English teacher and department chair Amanda Hurley works, is one of the top schools in the nation. However, Amanda saw that there was a real need for more consistent grammar and writing instruction at the school. That’s why she turned to IXL Language Arts to help students brush up on their skills and take their writing to the next level.
Who Has Time to Differentiate?
Depending on the middle school they attended, freshman students arrive at Heritage with a broad range of grammar and writing skills. In Amanda’s 11th grade Advanced Placement (AP) English Language and Composition class, basic grammar knowledge varied from student to student—which made it especially difficult to differentiate instruction. As Amanda explains, “My students’ skills were all over the place, and that was reflected in their writing. But I didn’t always have the time to review these basic concepts in class.”
When Amanda surveyed other English teachers, she found similar frustrations across all grade levels. Amanda and her peers needed a solution that would help struggling students catch up while keeping students with advanced skills challenged and engaged.
“As teachers, we know differentiation is important, but as human beings there is only so much we can do within the time and curriculum constraints in the classroom. IXL helps to fill in the gaps by meeting students where they are and pushing them exactly where they need it.”
- Amanda Hurley, 11th Grade AP English Teacher, Heritage High School
Meeting Individual Student Needs
Amanda began using IXL Language Arts in the 2015-2016 school year to supplement her instruction and provide targeted support to students who are struggling with specific skills. She assigns skills based on needs that she identifies in their written work. “With IXL, every student can be working on what they need,” she explains. “For one student, that might mean brushing up on comma use, while another student might need to work on building an argument.” Occasionally, she identifies a common area of need and assigns a specific lesson to all of her students.
Amanda makes time in class once a week for students to work on IXL at school. Other assignments can be completed at home. Students must either hit a specific mastery level or put in a minimum time in order to get credit for the assignment. When they are working in class, Amanda relies on the real-time analysis from IXL Analytics to keep an eye on what students are doing and identify students who could benefit from one-on-one support.
More Time for the “Human Side of Instruction”
With IXL, differentiating for student needs is now easier. “IXL finds their skill level pretty quickly and gets them to a place where they will be challenged without being too frustrated,” Amanda says. “It really is a complement to my classroom instruction. The software can figure out what they need and give them the time to practice independently at their own level. That frees me up to spend more time on the human side of instruction: teaching, explaining, and motivating.”
Amanda uses the reports in IXL Analytics to help guide her instruction on a weekly basis. “I definitely base my instruction around what I see in IXL,” she says. “Sometimes, students surprise me and really fly through things, and I know I don’t need to spend classroom time there. Other times I see problem areas that tell me I need to change my plans and reshape the support I am giving my students.” Her students are thriving with the more individualized approach to learning. They appreciate the immediate explanations when they get an answer wrong and love the challenge of improving their SmartScores. Plus, working in the “Challenge Zone” and earning ribbons as they master new skills brings out her students’ competitive drive.
Amanda also believes that IXL is helping to prepare her students for college-level thinking and writing. “I’m teaching a college-level course, so I didn’t know at first if IXL would be challenging enough. But even my highest scoring students find it difficult to get to a score of 100 in the Challenge Zone. There are absolutely elements that push them and challenge them to rethink their reasoning.”
A copy of the full case study is available for download here.