Reasoning Minds Deserve Thoughtful Progress Monitoring

Reasoning Mind is a Houston-based nonprofit middle grade adaptive math provider. Founder and CEO Alex Khachatryan immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1990 to lead an artificial intelligence lab at Texas A&M.
A decade later, after spotting shortcomings in the nation’s approach to math, he applied “methods of artificial intelligence to spread the world’s best math teaching knowledge across the country.”
Reasoning Mind has grown to 250 employees and contractors and it serves over 100,000 students in 520 schools.
This interview with Dr. Khachatryan is the second blog in a series on the use of leaderboards and broader efforts to motivate and monitor student performance. (See part one here.)

What are the benefits of leaderboards?

There are many potential benefits to having student leaderboards in math classrooms. In a country where schools struggle to develop interest in math, leaderboards–and the celebration of achievement they encourage–give teachers a tool for making mathematical achievement exciting and cool. Leaderboards also have the potential to raise students’ confidence by giving them a physical representation of their progress and prompting them to recognize their own accomplishments.

To what extent should progress monitoring be public?

Making leaderboards public has its uses. Nothing encourages the celebration of achievement like having that achievement displayed somewhere in the classroom. But you have to be careful with public leaderboards. It’s important to make sure leaderboards don’t end up embarrassing students who aren’t performing as well as others. Nothing is more demoralizing or embarrassing to an elementary school student than being thought of as “worst” or “in last place.” However, this isn’t so much an issue with the leaderboard being public as it is an issue with how the leaderboard is structured [see more on this in the response to the next question]. A good leaderboard should provide motivation for all students, not undermine the confidence of those who are struggling.

Should it be progress against competencies, peers, personal progress?

The thing that makes the leaderboards in Reasoning Mind classrooms effective is that they tend to be designed more around measuring personal progress as opposed to student rankings. Yes, one might be able to determine students’ “rankings” from the leaderboard, but in the end, most of our classroom leaderboards reward students for making personal progress, regardless of whether their classroom ranking changes.
This ensures students hold the right values about learning mathematics. Leaderboards encourage the celebration of mathematical success, but “mathematical success” shouldn’t be measured by doing better than other people. It should be measured by a student’s personal acquisition of mathematical knowledge and how well they can use it. Students shouldn’t have to surpass one of their classmates to feel like they’ve made progress in their own mathematical education. The progress they should celebrate should be learning something new.
We tend not to formally encourage competitions, but many of our schools find them useful and motivating for students.
Streak Progress

How do you reinforcing the measurement of personal progress?

The measurement of personal progress is something we reinforce in other places in the system as well. In our elementary school system, a student’s progress through the system is measured by a small car at the bottom of the screen, which moves forward as the student passes the curriculum’s “mathematical objectives.” In each student’s My Place–a virtual room that acts as their “home base” in their account–they can see their car’s progress along the bottom of the screen: both where it is, and where it should be. Students can also see their problem accuracy levels for the day, and compare them to their accuracy levels over the past two weeks.
In general, we try to encourage a focus on personal progress by giving students personal goals. We give students individual goals, or class goals they can work toward as a team, but we try to avoid giving students relative goals–goals that they can only achieve by doing better than another student. We strive to make students’ achievement about their personal progress, and not about how they’re doing compared to others.
Great Hall

What do your instructional coaches say?

Joseph Owens, Campus Instructional Coach, Stemmons Elementary in Dallas said:

Among the advantages Reasoning Mind gives our school are tools we can use to evaluate performance metrics for our campus, class sections and individual students. At Stemmons Elementary, we use different metrics, such as accuracy percentage or the number of problems solved, to hold grade-level competitions between class sections. I placed the leaderboards for each grade level in their respective hallways and the students are always excited to see the previous week’s results when they are posted.  The individual class sections work with their teachers to help decide their own rewards at the beginning of the six weeks. Depending on their goals they can get rewarded for showing the most improvement, for finishing in the top three classes, or being the top-rated class for their grade level. Their competitive spirit, along with student-set goals, has helped our campus and our individual students study harder while they get excited about the program and improving their performance in mathematics.

In the next post we’ll share conclusions about using leaderboards and motivating and monitoring performance.
Have advice on leaderboards or performance monitoring? Questions? Examples? We’d love to hear from you. Comment below or email our [email protected].
For more see:

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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