How IXL Can Help Students Learn More |


Beyond ‘Drill And Kill’: How IXL Can Help Students Learn More

contributed by Eric Bates, ixl.com

In 1956, a team led by an educational psychologist at the University of Chicago created a framework for categorizing educational goals, called the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.

Its premise is that learning objectives are not always equal: memorization of facts may not always be as important as the ability to analyze and evaluate concepts. For example, while a learner may list all 26 letters to demonstrate knowledge of the alphabet, that ability doesn’t show an understanding of the complexities of the English language, like the difference between an active or passive voice.

Educators have relied on numerous methods to ensure students thoroughly grasp concepts in math and English language arts beyond merely memorizing answers. Drill and practice—pejoratively known as “Drill and Kill”—is a common learning method that emphasizes repetitiveness as a way to develop mastery of skills over a focus on deep, conceptual fluency. Educators agree that Drill and Practice has an important place in teaching—it can be a good way to measure knowledge and build students’ self-confidence. But to ensure students better remember, apply, and analyze concepts, schools must provide multi-layered instruction that helps learners develop deeper understanding. 

Pulling from decades of in-depth research, educators and technologists at IXL Learning have pooled knowledge to create more effective ways for students to learn. Teachers throughout the world turn to IXL’s adaptive, mastery-based curriculum to ensure students deeply engage with concepts. Rigorous skills help learners build a strong foundation of knowledge, understand problems in multiple contexts, and prepare students for higher-level thinking. Let’s walk through how IXL accomplishes this: 

The ‘why’ behind math

Widely adopted educational standards, such as Common Core, expect rigorous instruction to comprise three main components—conceptual understanding, procedure and fluency, and contextual application. 

To build lasting knowledge, students first need to attain conceptual understanding—going beyond simply discerning math facts to understanding why and how math works. Skills focused on conceptual understanding illuminate why certain methods work, giving students the ability to apply concepts and explain their reasoning later on. From there, procedural fluency leverages deep conceptual understanding to build facility with facts and procedures, and contextual application encourages students to create strategies for solving complex problems in multiple contexts. 

IXL offers a wide range of skills supporting all of these aspects so students progress seamlessly and achieve rigor in math. 

Conceptual understanding

To develop conceptual knowledge, students practice IXL skills involving models like cubes, pictures, number lines, and illustrated word problems to subtract and understand fractions. Each question adjusts in difficulty based on the student’s level of understanding, so learners always work on skills perfectly suited for them. Learners also receive immediate feedback when they answer a question incorrectly, ensuring they get in-depth practice with foundational pieces of each topic before moving on.

Procedural fluency

Students need ample opportunity to practice procedural skills to achieve fluency, but if teachers can’t match students to skills that fit their knowledge levels, practice can start to feel a lot like ‘drill and kill’ work. IXL goes beyond rote skill practice by offering built-in differentiation. IXL skills are scaffolded so that students effectively build knowledge from easier to more complex concepts. Questions are adaptive, ensuring that students are always working at the correct difficulty level and on the right concept. And if students need support, IXL offers in-skill recommendations where learners can pause and build up additional foundational knowledge.

Contextual application

Students will tie together all of the strategies they’ve learned while practicing contextual application skills. For example, IXL’s rigorous word problems combine multi-step questions with real-world examples. In addition, IXL checkpoint skills help students strategically apply multiple concepts when working through rigorous questions, ultimately preparing them for higher achievement on standardized assessments. If students demonstrate gaps in knowledge, IXL provides learners the exact foundational skills that will close them. 

With a strong balance of conceptual, procedural, and application skills, IXL’s comprehensive math curriculum ensures teachers have important resources to help students build a deep understanding of concepts. 

Digging into literature

IXL English language arts provides a comprehensive set of reading, writing, and grammar skills that give students unique opportunities to build fluency. Many skills ask students to go beyond simply reading a text and answering a question about it: Intriguing passages contain a series of vocabulary, inference, and text questions to further students’ understanding of concepts.   

Understanding context with immersive content

Context is critical for comprehending the meaning behind messages, and IXL skills ensure learners fully grasp an author’s intent. For example, students read fascinating fictional stories about historical figures and events, such as the story about two girls in India attending school for the very first time and the story about President Theodore Roosevelt’s son’s pet pony. 

These skills involve multi-part problems that allow students to immerse themselves into texts as they make inferences, use context clues to deduce the meaning of new words, analyze specific authorial choices, and more. After students answer the first question, they see a “Correct answer explanation” that provides more historical context about the story to build knowledge and further spark curiosity. 

In addition to providing practice for traditional reading comprehension, IXL offers targeted reading strategies skills. For example, if learners are having trouble with vocabulary questions, they can practice skills that teach them how to use context to identify the meaning of new words. 

Drawing conclusions 

IXL’s informational text skills also present stories where students dig into content from different angles and answer multiple questions to show overall understanding. These engaging skills focus on topics such as animals, sports, famous people, and business and technology, where learners use information from the text to draw new conclusions. Informational texts are also split up into two levels: Students with reading levels that are at the lower end of their grade level work on shorter, simpler questions with image support; higher level texts contain longer, more complex questions. 

These skills build strong, confident learners. In fact, research across more than 58,000 schools in 24 states shows schools using IXL consistently outperformed schools using any other program or method, ranking as much as 17 percentile points higher on state assessments.

No matter what subject you teach or how passionate you are, educating through rote skill practice is no longer sufficient to help learners master content. Learning that is in-depth and deliberate, with engaging skill practice, will guide students toward true concept mastery.



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