5. Focused Instruction with ALEKS
The features of the Instructor Module make it possible to prepare
students for specific topics that they are going to work on, and to
reinforce and expand on knowledge that students have recently acquired.
This involves either guiding lectures or focused instruction to small
groups of students based on data obtained from ALEKS.
The two kinds of teaching opportunities cued by ALEKS come from
two types of information maintained by the system for students over
the entire time that they use it: the set of items a student is "ready
to learn" (or "outer fringe" of the student's knowledge state),
and the set of items most recently learned ("what students can do,"
the "highest" topics in the student's knowledge state, called the
"inner fringe"). (See the Instructor's Guide under
"Inner and Outer Fringes of a Knowledge State," in the chapter
"Knowledge Spaces and the Theory Behind ALEKS".) The items
"ready to learn" are the topics a student may normally choose to
work on in ALEKS; the items recently learned ("what a student
can do") are considered the least secure and most likely to need
reinforcement. (These items can be reviewed by clicking the
Review button.) When the students are logged on to
ALEKS, these two types of information are used automatically to guide
and manage their learning. The instructor, however, can also view the
inner and outer fringes in a convenient format to plan focused instruction
that will parallel, supplement, and enhance the individual work that their
students are doing in ALEKS.
To find this information for a class, the instructor can enter the
Instructor Module and select the class, then click on
Reports and select the ALEKS
Pie report. This report represents the average student in the
given class, and displays the weaknesses and strengths of the class as
a whole. The Show drop-down box can be used to
filter the report by "Current Learning," "Most Recent Knowledge Check,"
or "Initial Knowledge Check." Complete details on which topics students
have mastered, not mastered, and are ready to learn in the class are
available in the section below the pie chart and can be viewed by
Objectives (if textbook integration or intermediate objectives are being
used) or ALEKS Table of Contents.
Using the ALEKS Pie Report we can see a breakdown of student mastery
for each topic, send messages directly to students, and view additional
topics that a group of students is ready to learn. The purpose of this
analysis is that the instructor may pick one or more topics from the list
and schedule small-group sessions of focused instruction.
The following are examples that illustrate how these features
may be used.
Example 1: Basic
On a Friday evening, the instructor sits down to plan lessons for the
following week. He or she logs onto ALEKS, selects the name of a
class in Arithmetic, and clicks on "ALEKS Pie" under "Reports" to
access the ALEKS Pie Report. A pie chart appears showing the average
profile of mastery in the class. The "slice" of the pie chart
for Whole Numbers is full to about 90 percent; the slices for Fractions,
Decimals, and Proportions and Percents are filled much less, ranging
between 20 and 40 percent. This indicates that lessons for the week may
focus profitably on the most advanced Whole Numbers topics as well as
on topics of moderate difficulty in Fractions, Decimals, and Proportions
Example 2: Intermediate
On a weekend afternoon, the instructor logs on to ALEKS, selects the
name of a class in Arithmetic, and clicks on "ALEKS Pie" under
"Reports" to access the ALEKS Pie Report. Next the instructor clicks
on the "View all topics" toggle, in either the ALEKS tab or the
Objectives tab, and when the list of topics appears, the instructor scans
this list for items of particular difficulty. "Ordering Numbers with
Exponents" has 16 students currently able to choose this topic
from their pie charts. The instructor notes this topic down for
class discussion early in the week. With the benefit of some timely
preparation, the students can be expected to master this troublesome
topic with less difficulty.
Example 3: Advanced
On a Monday morning, the instructor logs on to his or her ALEKS
account, selects the name of a class in Algebra 1, and clicks on
"ALEKS Pie" under "Reports" to access the ALEKS Pie Report.
Next, the instructor clicks on the "View all topics" toggle, in either
the ALEKS tab or the Objectives tab, and the list of topics appears,
clearly showing what students have mastered, not mastered and are ready to
learn. The experience and expertise of the instructor are used to used to
plan with this information. Suppose that there is only time in the week's
schedule for two small group sessions. (The ALEKS class has only one
hour in the lab, and ten minutes are set aside to speak with each small
group; the remaining forty minutes are for helping students in the lab.)
The instructor will look over the topics with two questions in mind: which
topics have the greatest numbers of students, and which are most worth
For example, looking at the list of topics "Ready to learn," the
instructor sees "Solving a Linear Equation with
Absolute Value: Problem Type 1." The instructor knows from experience that students have
difficulty with the concept, and that they are more successful with it
if they have had a chance to review. This topic has twelve students out of
thirty in the class. The instructor uses the message feature to send a note
to these students, asking them to meet in the front of the room at the
beginning of the lab; the students will receive this note the next time
they log on to ALEKS, no later than the beginning of that lab.
Looking over the list of topics "Mastered," the instructor sees
"Marking a point in the coordinate plane," with ten students. Although
the number of students is less than for other topics, this one seems to
the instructor richer in its content of mathematical culture than the
others; students who have just worked on this topic are may be using the
coordinate plane for the first time. Thus this is chosen as the second
topic, and a second message is sent to these students, to meet at the
front of the room, ten minutes into the lab.