Teacher Perspective: Top 3 ways I use Khan Academy

by Bryan Harms, 8th grade teacher.
For more information about Khan Academy in the classroom click here.
It is important to realize that the amount of data you have on what your students are doing can change the dynamic of the relationship you have with them.  Knowing exactly where your kids are spending their time can be an opportunity to help them reflect and improve, but it can also put you in an unwanted position of omniscience. Increased access to what my students are doing comes with an increased responsibility to look for bright spots in that data and, to the extent that it is reasonable, allow students to point out to me where there are areas that need to be improved on.
I don’t want to kids to feel like the data I am collecting is going to be used in oppressive ways.  Many students who are struggling, either conceptually or just with establishing a work ethic are afraid and ashamed to tell me.  Having this data already bypasses the need for them to reveal it to me.  But in a certain sense, I have now gained information which is personal to them without necessarily gaining their trust first.  I don’t want to miss an opportunity to show them that there is no shame in their experience, and that we are just taking inventory of where we are and where we want to be.

1.  Assessing the amount of time and the topics that students have focused on

I primarily grade students on their Khan Academy work by how much time they have put in on the exercises that are appropriate to their goal.  The way I did this last year was to go to each individual student and look at their activity report for the last two weeks.  This was a about a 2-3 hour process.  This had improved dramatically in the newest reports that Khan has released.  Using the by student report you can get the amount of time that each student has put in over a given period of time in a single report.  If you decide to use Khan, I promise that you will appreciate this.  The new report does not break down in a single screen where that time was spent but that information on a per student basis is one click away.  My strategy next year will be to drill down to individual student level for topics that I see students struggling on (also available in this activity report) and students who I suspect might be spending time on Khan but not on exercises that we have agreed that they will work on.

2.  Identifying who needs help and who can help

As consistently as possible I like to maintain the 50/50 classroom structure, but most of the time that means that my time is spent with the holistic inside group.  In order to make the Khan procedural group effective I use the table report to find students who are struggling with particular topics.  There is usually a trailing group of students in my classroom who are working on a goal that I had really hoped everyone would have covered by a certain date.  I use the table report and filter on the exercises of a particular goal to identify which students are still struggling with those topics.  Often I use this data to design a small tutoring group for them or if an academic coach the coach can provide them with direct instruction.

3.  Diagnosing individual student strengths and weaknesses

If I am sitting down with a student and perhaps their parents I will often look at the student’s work on KA.  This allows me to see a student’s account in roughly the same way that they would.  This is useful because I can model how I would like them to be assessing themselves.  So we will look at the goals they have set up for themselves, their recent activity, and their focus.  Does a student have a lot of unfinished goals, are they setting them up at all?  Is the student focusing all their time on one activity or is it spread evenly among different exercises?  How does the student’s recent activity compare to activity in the past?  At first, I am looking for bright spots and celebrations.  When there are areas that need improvement, I allow students discover them on their own.  Once they put it on the table, it becomes much easier to talk about it productively and collaboratively.