by Innovations for Learning
TeacherMate is a differentiated instruction system for reading and math that allows teachers to target instruction for individual K-1 students using laptops and hand-held devices. TeacherMate allows the teacher to maintain control, managing what content and what level of difficulty the students are learning, all the while having access to real-time results.
Because it’s a cloud-based learning management system, TeacherMate enables teachers to import class lists, group students by basal level and then push unit-aligned content to individuals. The content is synced wirelessly to i-devices. Using the Teachermate Differentiated Instruction System, teachers are able to quickly customize instruction for each student, adjusting the level of difficulty, targeting particular skill sets and varying the duration of the instruction. The teachers stay in complete control of the curriculum.
TeacherMate was developed by Innovations for Learning, a Chicago-based nonprofit. The goal is to help teachers in grades K through 1 more easily differentiate learning using laptops and handheld devices. In 2008 the organization rolled out unique hardware to deliver its content. Beginning in 2011, the company switched to iPad and iPod touch devices. In summer 2012, it expects to add Android devices.
How it's used
TeacherMate is meant to be used daily in center-based learning environments. Teachers are encouraged to revamp their hour-long literacy block to include three 20-minute centers. In the first, students work on individualized lessons that their teachers push out to their devices. They also record themselves reading stories and compare how they sound to a recording of a student using proper articulation. The second component is a listening center where students listen to the stories on MP3 players and follow along using printed books. The third component is a teacher-led guided reading center, as TeacherMate values the need for human interaction as part of an overall reading strategy.
A “Software Demo” video that shows how the program works is available on the website.
What material is presented?
TeacherMate follows basal reading and math programs. Topics are aligned to the Common Core standards. Reading focuses on vocabulary, spelling, comprehension, fluency and phonics. The program offers 150 stories in English and Spanish. TeacherMate also provides adaptive math-fact and math-concept practice. If a child succeeds in this skill-based practice, he or she will be moved up, following the sequence of basal math programs. The math practice has about 15 different activities and games of various levels.
Innovations for Learning recognizes that kids are intrigued by the gadget technology itself. The organization capitalizes on this interest by delivering the content through a mix of videos, animation and games. Keeping the child in mind, the stories are read in voices of similarly aged children.
TeacherMate had an interesting take on the question of engagement: It claims the real “trick” is getting the teachers to use the technology with fidelity and regularity. The company’s “secret sauce” for engaging teachers is to include little touches throughout the management system that make the product work well from a teacher’s point of view. For instance, Innovations for Learning estimates that teachers need only spend 15 minutes per week choosing which units the students will work on to engage students effectively in the program -- and teachers can make these choices while they’re home.
“Over 20 years of developing this company, we have endeavored to make the system highly teacher friendly, mostly by streamlining the requirements of teachers so they can quickly and easily differentiate instruction for each child,” explains Seth Weinberger, executive director of Innovations for Learning. As of February 2012, TeacherMate had recently added a feature that allows teachers to write their own stories and vocabulary lists. The company plans to increase its customizable tools to “win over the hearts and minds of teachers.”
How it assesses students
At any point, teachers can see reports on individual students via the website. The program flags areas where students are struggling and where they are advancing within the activities. Teachers can then drill down to various levels of detail (e.g., “Sally is having trouble with the word family that has the ‘ap’ sound, like cap, map and tap”).
Students’ recorded readings of the stories are available to the teachers as well. Teachers can analyze or perform running records for each and every recording. The math-fact and math-concept practice is adaptive: when children succeed in the skill-based practice, they are moved up, following the sequence of basal math programs.
TeacherMate is a school-based program. However, parents who are homeschooling their children can sign up for it.
What does it cost?
The cost is simple: The TeacherMate Differentiated Instruction system, which includes all K-1 math and reading applications, is available to schools (and parents of homeschoolers) for a subscription fee of $20 per student per year. Schools must purchase hardware independently.
How does the company train and support teachers?
A combination of on-site professional development and remote support is included in the $20 per student fee. TeacherMate’s Online Management System provides teachers, principals and administrators on-demand access from any location.
Buts, Ands, Ors:
Innovations for Learning is constantly creating new content. In 2011 it collaborated with Sesame Workshop and the Electric Company to provide phonics videos.
TeacherMate offers 150 stories in Spanish as well as English, including instructions and support.
Additionally, TeacherMate offers an online tutoring program in which volunteers from major corporations devote a half hour once a week to tutor individual students in reading. Tutors can log in and see a student’s reading level and recent activity. The students and tutors then meet using Skype and a web conferencing connection during the school day. TeacherMate has 600 tutors, including volunteers from J.P. Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Nestle and Morningstar. It hopes to grow that program to 2,000 tutors in 2012.
Who is using it?
The company’s mission is to reach low-income schools. Although the report has yet to be released, a 2010-11 pilot program involving first graders who used TeacherMate in Washington, D.C., raised standardized test scores from 19 percent (proficient and advanced) to 45 percent (proficient and advanced) in four schools. As a result, District of Columbia Public Schools has rolled out TeacherMate to 50 schools.
More than 50,000 students across the country are using TeacherMate. Here’s a list of the school districts using it.
A number of major companies participate in the tutoring program. Companies interested in participating should contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Here are several videos (of both employers and teachers) in the tutoring program.
TeacherMate also has begun piloting its program in three developing countries: Ghana, Rwanda and Uganda.
The website provides several independent research reports, yet most focus on usage of its handheld devices, which are no longer in production. A couple of the studies focus more on the value of incorporating computer-aided teaching tools or literacy-focused technology as part of their program than on TeacherMate’s content and methodology.
The company does cite its recent pilot program in Washington, D.C., but a report is not yet available.
Here is the company’s collection of press articles about its work and TeacherMate.
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