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Instructional Software Should Be Exercise, Not Physical Therapy

Minding Math: A Special Report from the MIND Research Institute

Educators too often treat instructional software for students like physical therapy for the injured: You get diagnosed for your specific injury, you undergo a physical therapy regimen, and one day you’re healthy again.

So too, digital content is prescribed for students needing remediation for specific areas of weakness diagnosed, until they have practiced those areas of weakness enough to “pass.” Digital content has been mispositioned as optional: as a tool for some of the students, some of the curriculum, some of the time. In this view, software serves a role of “cleaning-up” whatever gaps were left unfilled or incomplete after normal teaching.

Even with the recent emergence of “blended learning” combining digital content with teaching, this “fill the holes” role for digital content is still prevalent, as evidenced by RFP’s for RTI Tier 2 use. The software, according to this thinking, enables “more” teaching; “more” time on task. But consider: more time with conventional teaching has been tried and doesn’t get game-changing results. By game-changing I mean ensuring that every student understands and gains content mastery and confidence in a subject – like math.

This pigeonholing of instructional software as a “clean up” is too limiting. Why then purchase – or develop – instructional software that is fundamental and vital for all students? Fundamental and vital is how we view... textbooks. Lawsuits are filed and won to ensure that every student has a textbook. We’ll know that the pigeonholing is over when the day comes that a lawsuit is filed, fought and won to ensure that every student has effective instructional software. Instructional software, in the hands of a teacher, makes teaching and learning more powerful and effective generally throughout the school year, by differentiating to reach every student (including the strongest), engaging and motivating each student at an appropriate level and pace, and providing multiple opportunities for the teacher to assess, diagnose, and consolidate student learning.

The future – and appropriate – role of instructional software will be as a fundamental and vital component of the everyday learning environment, for every student and every teacher. Instead of physical therapy, it will serve a role more like exercise; like joining a gym and diligently using its facilities and trainers to get in top shape and stay that way. No one gets to “test out” of conditioning. No one gets assigned to work “just on their weaknesses.” And everyone comes out stronger.

Andrew R. Coulson is president of the education division at MIND Research Institute.

Q&A: The Impact of the Common Core on Math

By Mark Lonergan

What’s so different about the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM)?

If you’re identifying the skills to be taught at your grade level in comparison to current standards, you may think there are few differences. They vary by state and grade level, but while these differences are important, the overall principles of focus and coherence are what make the Common Core unique. Schools will need to narrow curriculum and transform teacher practice in efforts to move away from the mile-wide, inch-deep model of the past.

Schools must now emphasize:

Focus. Focus instruction on the areas which the standards emphasize.

Coherence. Think across grades, and link to major topics in each grade.

Rigor. In major topics, pursue with equal intensity:

  • conceptual understanding
  • procedural skills and fluency
  • applications

We’re looking at purchasing instructional materials aligned to the Common Core. What does strong alignment look like?

Raising achievement is not accomplished by simply introducing new standards to the instructional program. For implementation to become a reality, we all have a role. Publishers, including software providers, play a role as well, providing the tools and resources needed to meet higher standards. The writing team of the CCSSM published the K-8 Publishers’ Criteria for Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. It includes an explanation of the principles upon which CCSSM were written and a sample rubric.

The criteria are centered around focus and coherence, and also include the practice standards and how they connect to the content. The criteria and other resources developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers can be found at

Further detail on the standards and their implementation can be found at the websites for the Common Core State Standards (, Council of Chief State School Officers (, and National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (

Mark Lonergan is a curricular services specialist for MIND Research Institute.