Teach to One: Brooklyn’s Middle School 88 Showcasing Benefits of Individualized Learning

Historically, math education relied on the traditional construct of a singular teacher, compelling a large group of children, all with varied learning styles and levels of comprehension, to understand a certain topic, before moving on to the next lesson. As math has always been widely accepted as a cumulative subject, the only way to avoid getting literally left behind was to ensure competency at every proverbial checkpoint.

However, with overcrowded classrooms, limited resources, and merely one teacher responsible for the cumulative learning of 20-40 students, this feat has been nearly impossible for decades. With state mandated testing dictating lessons given precedence throughout the year, state officials placed even more pressure on teachers to merely “get the content out there” in the hopes of preparing students for competitive state and national testing. Out of this chaos, countless students began to feel increasingly behind in their comprehension, a concept that followed them from one grade to the next, and only widened with time and progression.

Within this clearly broken system, innovative thinkers began to consider ways to modernize, evolve, and fix math education in the school system. With the implementation of technology, a focus on individualized learning, and a comprehensive model to ensure all children receive effective math education, Teach to One is spearheading the call for math education reform. Developed by the New York City based non-profit organization New Classrooms, Teach to One is a forward-thinking program designed to alleviate the overabundance of issues related to traditional approaches to math education, to provide teachers with effective resources to maximize thoughtful education, and to provide students with bespoke modules created for their unique needs.

Teach to One allows each student to receive tailored educational “playlists”, or three week modules that focus on comprehension of a focused task, idea, or process. After completing daily assignments, students complete comprehension examinations, which compute into analytical data, signifying the student’s ability to successfully move on to the next module only after comprehension has been sufficiently gained. Pairing students with peers who are working on similar tasks, Teach to One assigns group projects, which provide important socialization and group learning experiences. Finally, the modules also group together students who learn in similar fashions, with instructor-led mini-lessons that are geared toward that specific group’s needs.

Currently servicing thousands of students per day, Teach to One’s initial pilot programs have shown fantastic results, creating a new conversation regarding the transformative power of individualized learning. Spanning in reach across all four of the nation’s time zones, Teach to One has provided beneficial services to these students, increasing math comprehension at higher rates than via traditional learning methods. Through initial successes, Teach to One continued to grow in scope, creating successful trajectories for countless children, and proving the potential of this bespoke method.

For seventh grade math students at Brooklyn’s public Middle School 88, the pilot Teach to One program has leveraged positive results for years. Considered a high-poverty school, Middle School 88 was faced with many of the same issues surrounding financially disadvantaged school systems, including limited resources, overcrowded classrooms, and inability to ensure that all students receive tailored attention.

Middle School 88 decided to participate in the Teach to One program, knocking down three walls to create a vast math classroom, equipped with a new laptop for each child. Divided only by colored panels and carpeting into four quadrants, the open-concept classroom ensures an inclusive feeling, and students openly rotate to different quadrants based on the impending lessons, showcased on the changing schedule screens. In this collaborative and communicative style, several teachers and aides remain responsible for spearheading group lessons, monitoring student progress, and engaging in one-on-one time with students as they complete bespoke assignments.

Inside High School 88’s math mega-classroom, 120 students were learning various skills, interpreting a myriad of methods, and solving vastly differing problems, all simultaneously. In one corner, students were independently working on laptops, while others were huddled over worksheets, working in small groups. Across the room, a teacher conducted a specialized lesson for a handful of students who eagerly looked on. With such a variety of educational methods, students receive individualized attention, the variety needed to maintain focus, and the bespoke lesson planning that results in true comprehension at every student’s pace.

At the end of each day, students at High School 88 complete a short “exit quiz”, which essentially gains tangible evidence of comprehension of the day’s topics. The information is processed within a complex algorithm, and analyzed to determine the next day’s lesson for each child. Essentially, if a child hasn’t shown proficiency and understanding of the day’s lesson, the next day’s lesson will be focused on allowing the child to grasp the initial concept, rather than moving on to a brand new concept. In this fashion, no child will be responsible for mastering concepts they are not ready to tackle. Notably, if a child requires an additional day of learning the same content, the lesson is presented in a different modality, with the algorithm intuitively aware of each child’s personal response to a particular modality of learning.

A Columbia University study, led by Douglas R. Ready, examined the effects of Teach to One, utilizing a comprehensive examination called Measures of Academic Progress. While the study concluded that Middle School 88 performed only slightly better than the national average in math improvement the first year of utilizing Teach to One, the results were astounding within the second year of utilizing the comprehensive learning model. Within those parameters, Middle School 88 performed 60% better, equating to an average of 6 extra months of learning.

As Middle School 88’s progress continues to grow, the progress and evolution of Teach to One continues to focus on perfecting processes, streamlining efficiencies, and creating the best possible outcome for students. For this school, which was previously considered “failing,” Teach to One has provided an effective alternative to traditional math education, giving students and educators hope, pride, and excitement. 

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