August 22, 2017

With an average class size of 25 students in elementary school and an instructional system that group students together by age and perceived ability, teachers today are forced to focus their teaching methods on the ‘average’ student. Those students who do not benefit from the ‘average’ model of instruction will involuntarily fall behind. As schools teach, test and move on, those that do not master relevant concepts in time are left behind and often unable to catch up with their peers. With all the change in innovative technology and computer algorithms creeping into almost every aspect of our daily life, why does our instructional model for teaching children still look largely the same as it did 100 years ago?

In most U.S classrooms today, it would require a superhuman to individualize teaching to all those that do not benefit from average instruction. But what if there was a way to identify each student’s strength and weaknesses and teach based on instructional needs rather than pre-defined lesson plans? What if smart educational technology could give teachers the superpower to individualize teaching so no student is left behind? The concept of individualized instruction is not new, but the potential to realize it has changed tremendously with the rise of new technology. In one of the largest studies on individualized learning to date, titled "Continued Progress," by the RAND Corp. and funded by the Gates Foundation, tracked 11,000 students at 62 public schools and compared their performance with an outside group of students2. Individualized instruction strategies included creating individual learning paths for students and allowing them to move through coursework based on their profile of strength and weaknesses. The results of this research show that after two years in a personalized learning school, students had average mathematics and reading test scores above or near national averages, after having started below those benchmarks.

What if….

  • Each and every student was allowed to work on a concept until they master it 100 percent, rather than being pushed along a one-size-fits-all timeline?
  • Teachers had enough time to sit down with each student until the student mastered a skill and felt confident in their own abilities?
  • Students, teachers and families believed that every student can and will learn 100 percent of what they need to know in the classroom?
  • The student's interests and personality played a role in defining their learning path, thereby increasing engagement and motivation?
  • All students, rich or poor, disabled or not, had access to high-quality learning opportunities?

Creating educational technology solutions that cater to individual needs is not easy, but it is clear that personalization cannot take place without technology.  In 2010, the Software & Information Industry Association, the ASCD, a nonprofit focused on curriculum development and the Council of Chief State School Officers came together for a symposium and producedten “essential elements” and “policy enablers” for personalized learning1.  Education leaders during this meeting concluded that personalized learning approaches should:

  • Enable learning that is flexible and can be accessed anytime
  • Redefine and expand the teacher role
  • Provide project-based, authentic learning opportunities
  • Provide a student-driven learning path
  • Provide mastery-based progression rather than progression based on skill-irrelevant metrics

We have to think innovatively about how to design solutions that take these core elements into account. At Square Panda, we work on improving assessments so we can understand a child’s strengths and weaknesses. We analyze data in order to measure what students learn and what their future learning path should look like. We create activities that are self-directed and enable flexible learning. And we will continue to work hard in order to create an instructive technology that is more than just average.

~Article by Dr. Vera Blau-McCandliss

Do you have innovative ideas yourself? Like the Square Panda approach? Let us know what you think at


1 Innovate to Educate: System [Re]Design for Personalized Learning; A Report from the 2010 Symposium. In collaboration with ASCD and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Washington, DC. Author: Mary Ann Wolf. From

2 Pane, J.F., Steiner, E.D., Baird, M.D., Hamilton, L.S. (2015). Continued Progress, Promising Evidence on Personalized Learning. The RAND Corporation and Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation, Retrieved November 2015 from

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