Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Why I Don't Like IXL

I'm not in the classroom.  I'm retired.  Why would my opinion on IXL matter?  

I still work with students as a tutor.  Sometimes, my students ask me to help them with their IXL assignments.  There are three things I wish math teachers would consider before assigning IXL.

1) First, IXL promotes the lowest level math practice.  I understand why some teachers find this useful - you can choose very specifically the skill you want students to practice.  But IXL does not provide practice in critical or creative thinking or in problem solving, simply rote skills.

2) Second, IXL's scoring works against the student who struggles with basic facts.  If students make errors they lose more points than when they get problems correct.  The program punishes students for mistakes.  What does that say about the value of learning from our mistakes?  And since working out the problem is often not encouraged, all students have is the "one right answer" which eliminates again the importance of the process in the skills we teach.

Also related to the scoring algorithm, students spend an inordinate amount of time trying to achieve the cut off score set by their teacher, practicing the same mistakes over and over.  Instead of encouraging students, this is demoralizing and discouraging.  Our goal should be to increase students' interest in math, illustrating for them the beauty, the patterns, the connections between the concepts we teach.  How might we provide worthwhile practice that supports students?

3) Both parents and students report that the support that IXL does provide in math, the explanations are not helpful, not clear.  The last thing we need to promote is unclear instructions on how to perform basic arithmetic.

Bottom line, IXL is the opposite of what we know is empowering in math education.  Need more evidence?  Check out Common Sense Media Parent reviews - over 600 - with an average of 1 star.  There are also over 2000 student reviews on that site - averaging 1 star out of five.  

What can we do instead?  

Which one doesn't belong?

A)  Know your students and their home lives.  If they don't have support at home, don't assign homework on which they cannot be successful.  Assign a few (5 to 10) review problems instead.

B) Check for understanding in your lessons to make sure that students are ready for the homework you want to assign.  Don't assign homework over something that most of the class is not ready for.  Instead, build in regular review.

C) If students are ready for homework over the day's lesson, why not give 5 to 8 problems instead of 20 to 30?  Ask students to show their work.  If you are virtual use @Classkick, @PearDeck, or @Nearpod.  There are other tools as well - these are the ones with which I am most familiar.

D) As often as possible, differentiate homework. If students have already mastered the lesson, they don't need the same practice that students who have not achieved mastery yet.

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