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by Babbage Net School is built around the research findings of the National Reading Panel’s study on effective reading instruction (Multiple, 2000), which hold four key focuses in reading instruction—Building Phonemic Awareness, Building Phonic Skills, Building Comprehension, and Building Vocabulary. These findings come from a meta-analysis of over 10,000 studies by a 1997 congressional request to Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to determine the best practices of reading instruction to students. The first area, phonemic awareness, focuses on aiding children to manipulate phonemes in words, the stressing of phoneme manipulation with letters, and the practice of letter us for quick and automatic access by the student. The NRP found that studies on phonemic awareness skills held that students understanding of the concepts in early education, “strongly predict their future success in learning to read,” and that, “Phonemic Awareness may be that most important core and causal factor separating normal and disabled readers,” (Adams, 1990). NRP findings showed that best practices involve six main areas of instruction—Phoneme isolation, identity, categorization, blending, segmentation, and deletion. Phonic instruction is the ability to recognize relationships between letters, graphemes, of the written language and individual letter sounds, phonemes, of spoken language. The NRP, on reviewing 66 carefully selected treatment control studies, found that phonics instruction significantly improves reading comprehension, is effective across socio-economic levels, and is most effective when introduced early. They also found that systematic approaches worked better than non-systematic approaches—Basal reading programs and Sight Word programs (Blachman et al., 1999). Babbage Net School’s curriculum offers systematic phonics instruction in the form of the identification of a full regular arrangement of letter-sound correspondences. Building comprehension—the ability to use comprehension strategies that guide students as they attempt to read and write—was the third key strategy backed by NRP research. They found that 7 individual strategies were most effective in building comprehension: comprehension monitoring, cooperative learning, graphic organizers, semantic organizers including story maps, question answering, question generation and summarization. The SkillsTutor curriculum employs study guides, lessons, and essays designed to utilize these strategies. With regards to vocabulary instruction, the NRP found that the implicit evidence of effective methods focused on five main methods: explicit instruction, implicit instruction, multimedia methods, capacity methods, and association methods. SkillsTutor employs all of these methods across its curriculum. The mathematics curriculum of SkillsTutor was developed around the instructional theory of Instructivism (or Direct Instruction as it is also known) and the best practices of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Both practices are integrated into the structure and delivery of the mathematics curriculum, both in the tiered and progressive nature of its units, and the content therein. The most thorough study to evaluate Instructivism began in 1967 and continued until 1995. The research study was known as Project Follow Through, and it was an educational initiative commissioned by the US government to determine the best practices of instruction to be employed in American education. It was conducted in over 180 schools nationwide and the major results proved the following: 1) Models that stress
basic skills succeeded better than other models, and 2) Direct instruction scored higher than any other model (Stebbins, et al., 1977). Research studies supporting the conclusions of the PFT findings have been consistently cited in current research (see Magliaro, Lockee, and Burton, 2005), and the PFT study itself has been the foundation for other important recent research (see Cashwell, Skinner, and Smith, 2001; Swanson, 2001; Viadero, 2002). This continuous reinforcement and growth of the Direct Instruction model have led to the establishment in 2001 of the Journal of Direct Instruction. The foundational elements of Babbage Net School’s program are the use of Computer Aided Instruction (CAI) and Individual Lesson Design. Research regarding CAI has been extensive, and results for the practice have shown positive effects on student learning. The initial meta-study of the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory (NWRel) in 1992 found that CAI has a number of broad reaching positive effects for students including a faster learning rate, better retention of learning, improved attitudes towards learning, and improved writing when the instruction was part of holistic writing as a process approach. Associated positive effects found by the study included increased internal locus of control, improved school attendance, increased motivation, and increased time on task (NWRel, 1992). The North Central Regional Education Laboratory (NCRel) has also completed comprehensive research reviews on the effects of computer-based intervention in student learning. In their journal, Viewpoints, authors built upon the foundational studies of such as the Kulik and Kulik meta-study—which found that students generally learned more in classes where they received computer-aided instruction and learned more with less instructional time (Kulik & Kulik, 1985). The review also notes the guiding studies of Sivin-Kachala & Bialo—which found that Phase I technology application (the use of CAI) is likely to be most successful when delivered in a content area with a defined structure (Reading, Math) and is most effective when addressing low-performing learners and students in need of remediation. Individual Lesson Design is also a core program element of Babbage’s curriculum. Utilizing the foundational theories of Direct Instruction (Instructivism), the SkillsTutor methodology focuses on individualized, direct instruction that is targeted to the specific educational needs of each student. Utilizing the findings of Kathleen Cotton’s Effective Schooling Practices: A Research Synthesis, all Babbage Net School lessons are built upon a four-part approach. First, each lesson carefully orients students to what they will learn. Specific steps are taken in each lesson to gain the student’s attention and to orient the student within the lesson. The most important aspect of this orientation is to help the student connect the idea of the lesson to previous learning. Second, each lesson provides clear and focused instruction—the text is focused with a single concept being covered on any one page and at any given time. Each lesson is intended to convey one major concept. The lessons avoid digression, giving students plenty of opportunity for guided and independent practice. Third, each lesson routinely provides feedback and reinforcement directly to the student. During the lesson, students receive immediate feedback to practice test questions, and after the lesson a progress report is available to the student displaying their mastery score of the concept presented. Fourth, the program routinely reviews and reteaches as necessary. Students are able to revisit any lesson at will to achieve a sufficient mastery score, with the instructional design of the program built around student mastery (Cotton, 1995).
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