Making School a Friendlier Place with Better Data

Kristian Habernicht, Senior Full Stack Developer, discusses how he and his team developed a rigorous and engaging math program for high school English language learners:

I just imagine being a junior high student, and if my English isn’t that great, I have pressure to not just keep up with what I am trying to learn, but I also have to worry about participating in class without getting embarrassed and keeping up my reputation with my fellow classmates. That’s really hard. School is a pretty stressful social environment for everyone, and especially so for students learning English.

We made everything tailored specifically for ELLs, which makes our software unique. One specific feature of our program, our EL Field Guide, is something that I haven’t seen in any other educational software. It works like this: while instructing, teachers can have their phone or tablet out and with just two clicks they can evaluate a student’s speaking, listening, reading, or writing abilities. It’s fast and easy.

Despite how simple it sounds, it took a lot of collaboration between developers and the educators to develop the live EL Field Guide. As our Director of Education, Anneliese Pixton, explained the importance of rubrics in the classroom, we knew that we could design a better structure for a rubric than what teachers have right now. As a team, we developed the idea of a rubric that teachers could use in real-time, but the hard part was preserving its simplicity and intuitiveness as we developed it. We wanted teachers to be able to collect granular data throughout the year to track their students’ progress without having it be difficult or time consuming. That conviction lead us to a lot of different ideas and some failures, but we knew we had it when she told us that it turned out better that what she imagined originally.

My hope for the EL FIeld Guide is that it helps teachers pinpoint challenges they didn’t even know their students had. Then, teachers can give more immediate and tailored help to their students. That’s what makes me most excited about the EL Field Guide: teachers can understand their ELLs better and can then integrate them into the classroom with greater confidence. As the student becomes more integrated, her self-confidence grows and she learns more. School, at first intimidating and stressful, becomes a fun, engaging, and familiar place.