It was no longer necessary to write, because from now on it was digital to practice maths and languages at the Casimir School in Gouda. 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 are no longer checking notebooks, they must have a digital overview of how students are doing. “I was mainly looking to see where the red crosses appeared,” says Mariëtte Aben, who at the time was teaching grade 8. “It means a child made a mistake. I was sitting there behind my desk in front of me 25 children sat behind a screen. 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 student level
The exercise programs adjust the level based on the answers. If a child gives correct answers, it becomes more difficult. If it doesn’t go well, the tasks stay at the same level or it gets 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.
The four major educational publishers also offer the option of adaptive learning. These are, for example, teaching methods in language and mathematics by Malmberg (Bingel), Noordhoff (New Dutch, Number & Space), ThiemeMeulenhoff (Spelling in the elevator, Everything counts Q) and Zwijsen (Language Hunt, Safe Learning to Read, Treasure Chest).
Unnoticed or unintentional lower level
Schools don’t always think carefully about how they use this practice software. This is also seen by the Education Council, which points to the risks in a study published today. Schools, for example, simply replace the workbooks and notebooks with training programs. Or teachers let children practice digitally without proper explanation.
The great danger is that children learn insufficiently, 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, 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 the Casimir school saw this happen when some students had not yet mastered the French loanwords such as ‘desk’. “If you know how to write it, you also understand ‘gift’ and ‘level’. But kids who misspelled ‘desk’ didn’t hear why.”
“They couldn’t take it from a classmate or friend, because each child practices at his own level and pace. The exercises became easier, so at a certain point the child will give good answers again. But if you don’t see how to do that, you’ll get no further. Then you’ll learn no more.”
Another danger is that the computer program unfairly slows down children. 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 correct, but make sure to use a point. As a teacher, you have to look very critically at what the computer says. That way you prevent a student from going at a lower level.”
‘Lack of teachers increases risk’
Training software providers recognize the risks. Teachers should therefore not leave everything to the software, says Sjoerd Groot from Gynzy. “It’s not: ‘Here are some exercises, get started’. The teacher still has to give good explanations and keep an eye on whether everything is going well.”
“The biggest risk is that the teacher thinks he doesn’t need to do anything more,” says John Nouwens from Malmberg publishing house. 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 come naturally.”
The high workload and the lack of teachers increase the risks, suspects Joris de Kok from the publisher ThiemeMeulenhoff. “As a result, schools 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 for 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 screens, but are learning together again,” says Aben, who now teaches fifth grade. “They are no longer locked to their own device.”
Still, the school hasn’t completely written off Gynzy. “I now have a student who cannot concentrate when she is working in the notebook,” says Aben. “But she’s not distracted behind a device. We also use Gynzy for children with dyslexia. If they practice the words, it helps if they see them on the screen. That way it works well.”
This is where the difference lies, says the Education Council. “If schools think carefully, it can help children a lot. It’s up to all schools and teachers to think carefully about it. Otherwise, some children will be left behind.”