Children risk learning less due to improper use of training software

Notebooks were no longer necessary, to practice mathematics and languages ​​at the Casimir School in Gouda now took place digitally. Pupils from group 6 could – following the teacher’s explanation – get started with Gynzy. It allows students to practice at their own level because the exercises change if children give correct or incorrect answers.

Because teachers no longer check notebooks, they have to keep track of how students are doing in a digital overview. “I mainly looked at where the red crosses appeared,” says Mariëtte Aben, who at the time taught grade 8. “It means a child made a mistake. I was sitting there behind my desk, 25 children were sitting behind a screen in in front of me at work and I thought: what am I really doing?”

Gynzy is one of the providers of training software that adapts to the student’s level, a form of learning that has been on the rise over the past ten years. The market is worth millions: The Netherlands has around six thousand primary schools for almost 1.4 million children. A license costs a few tens per student, depending on the provider.

Exercises adapt to the student’s level

The training programs adjust the level based on the answers. If a child gives good answers, it becomes more difficult. If it goes less well, the tasks remain at the same level, or it becomes easier. This is called adaptive learning.

Two major companies that offer this training software are Snappet and Gynzy. Schools can purchase this software and use it on their own, but also use it in addition to the teaching method of an educational publisher. In addition, Prowise Learn (Rekentuin, Taalzee) offers adaptive practice material.

The four major educational publishers themselves also offer the possibility of adaptive learning. These include teaching methods in language and arithmetic by Malmberg (Bingel), Noordhoff (New Dutch, Getal & Ruimte), ThiemeMeulenhoff (Spelling in the elevator, Everyone counts Q) and Zwijsen (Language Hunt, Safe Learning to Read, Schatkist).

Unnoticed or unintentional lower level

Schools don’t always think carefully about how they use this practice software. This is also the view of the Education Council, which points to the risks in a study published today. For example, schools simply replace the workbooks and notebooks with training programs. Or teachers let children practice digitally without proper explanation.

The great danger is that children do not learn enough, warns the Education Council. This risk is especially true for children, for whom learning does not come naturally. Kennisnet, a foundation that advises on technology in education, has already pointed out the danger of the teacher losing control. The computer then decides whether a student is doing well, and no longer the teacher.

The monkey from Casimir School saw this happen when some students had not yet mastered French loanwords such as ‘bureau’. “If you know how to write it, you also understand ‘gift’ and ‘level’. But kids who misspelled ‘desk’ didn’t hear why.”

“They also couldn’t copy it from a classmate or friend, because each child practices at their own level and pace. The tasks became easier, so at some point the child will give good answers again. But if you don’t see how they should be, you don’t get any further. Then you don’t learn anything.”

Another danger is that the computer program mistakenly places children at a lower level. Teacher Michelle van den Helder from De Venen primary school also sees this. At that school in Reeuwijk, the students work with Snappet.

“The software is black and white in whether something is right or wrong,” says Van den Helder. “If the answer to a question is 10,000, but the child uses a comma instead of a period, Snappet says very loudly: wrong. Then Snappet decides that the learning objective has not been met. While as a teacher I say: the answer was right, “But make sure that use a point. As a teacher, you must look very critically at what the computer tells you. In this way, you prevent a student from going at a lower level.”

‘Lack of teachers increases risk’

Providers of practice software recognize the risks. So teachers don’t have to leave everything to the software, says Sjoerd Groot van Gynzy. “It’s not: ‘Here are some exercises, get started’. The teacher still has to give good explanations and make sure everything goes well.”

“The biggest risk is that the teacher thinks he doesn’t need to do anything more,” says John Nouwens from the publisher Malmberg. He also sees that teachers sometimes put children to work without proper explanation. “You can’t put children in front of the computer and think it will go away by itself.”

The high workload and the lack of teachers increase the risks, suspects Joris de Kok from the publisher ThiemeMeulenhoff. “Schools therefore put interns and teaching assistants in front of the class. They are even less good at teaching than experienced teachers. They are more likely to trust the judgment of the computer.”

Smart use of training software

Teachers also see the benefits of practice software. “I’m happy with the system,” says Van den Helder from De Venen primary school. “It saves time with grading, and you can quickly see where the students need extra support. But as a teacher, you have to handle it well. That’s the key.”

For most students at Casimir School, practice is no longer standard via the software. “The students are no longer just staring at their own screen, but learning together again,” says Aben, who now teaches grade 5. “They are no longer locked to their own device.”

However, the school has not completely written off Gynzy. “I now have a student who cannot concentrate when she is working in the notebook,” says Aben. “But she doesn’t want to be distracted behind a device. We also use Gynzy for children with dyslexia. If they practice those words, it helps if they see them on the screen. It works well that way.”

This is where the difference lies, says the Education Council. “If the schools think carefully, children can get a lot out of it. It is up to all schools and teachers to think carefully. Otherwise, some children will be left behind.”

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