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Podcast: One on One Tutoring in the Classroom


FEV Tutor's co-founder and Sr. Vice President, Ryan Patenaude, recently sat down with Dr. Paul Miller, Former Director of Personalized Learning at Johns Hopkins University, and the folks at the MarketScale as part of their EdTech podcast.



This is The Edtech Podcast, your B to B show for the best thought leadership in the industry bringing you education, information, and inspiration, only on MarketScale.

Speaker 2:  All right, guys [inaudible]

Speaker 3: They're (Students) no longer sitting there with a pen and paper

Speaker 4: Virtual reality is an interesting medium where students can access a wide range of content. 

Tyler: Joining me now on the podcast is Ryan Patenaude, the Senior Vice President and Co-founder of FEV Tutor, and Dr. Paul Miller, Director of Personalized Learning for Johns Hopkins University and the Success for All Foundation
Guys, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today.

Dr. Paul Miller: Great to be here.

Ryan Patenaude: Thanks, Tyler.

Tyler: Absolutely. Today, we are talking about equitable learning pathways, access, and personalized learning pathways for at-risk and special student populations. You guys have really worked together for a long time working towards creating systems and pathways for students. But I'd love to hear from both of you, just as we get started, how you came to work in education, and where that passion was really ignited to work in this field. Ryan, I want you to kick us off and just kind of talk about how you landed in this area.

Ryan Patenaude: That sounds great, Tyler. Thanks again for having us today. I'll give you guys the quick version. My mom is a reading teacher by trade, and so I actually grew up in a family of educators. My sister is a high school math teacher at an urban school district that actually got taken over by a university and is on a five-year transformation plan with a lot of challenges, and my grandmother was a science teacher. So it was easy for me to have the passion and the mission to try to serve students in public education and try to effect change.
Quite frankly, I really think in my mom's heart she wanted me to be a teacher as a professional career. I did start off as a substitute teacher, so I hope that counts. Through my professional business experiences after college, I was lucky enough to partner up with several individuals and lucky enough
to be able to start FEV Tutor, which ultimately I believe as a person I can have a larger impact on that mission and that goal, especially growing up through a family of educators.
Through gaining some professional sales business development and technology related experience, we were able to sort of craft and design technology and solutions aligned with that vision and that mission, so sort of a good combination. Hopefully, I make my family proud being in the same area here with FEV Tutor.

Tyler: Absolutely. Dr. Miller, I'd love to kind of hear more about your story as well. I know that you have been a teacher in the past and now doing work at Johns Hopkins University, how did you find your way into education? And what really motivated and lit that fire for you?

Dr. Paul Miller: As you said, I started my career in Baltimore City as a public school teacher, and I taught middle school math. Then, I moved from middle school math into the world of coaching, and I was a math coach for Pre-K through sixth grade at a charter organization in Baltimore City. Really, working for both charter schools and public schools, I got to see kind of how systems really interact, or the lack of systems and how that really impacts, ultimately, student success in the classroom
After a few years in the classroom, I went back to grad school and all that kind of good stuff. I shifted my focus more on instructional design, and looking at instructional systems development, and how we could really look at systems as a way to promote what happens in the classroom by looking at the teacher. Very similar to what Ryan said, I felt like stepping out of the classroom and looking more at the holistic view of education from a school to a district to a state level really enabled me to make more of an impact as we looked at that systems approach to actually impact in student achievement.
When I left the classroom, I worked for an organization called Success for All Foundation that works primarily with students at risk with literacy and math using a cooperative learning model. As we talk through today, really cooperative learning is my background in relation to student achievement through engagement. That's where a lot of my research has been done. I was fortunate enough to work with Dr. Robert Slaven and write a math Pre-K through 12th grade intervention that looked at system wide support for teachers in supporting evidence-based practices in math classrooms to increase student engagement and ultimately use high-leverage practices and all those kind of good teaching pieces that are grounded in research to make a difference for students.
We were awarded a $25 million invested in innovation grant in 2011 to scale up that process nationwide. We scaled up to 18 different states, we were in 130-so schools, and we impacted around 140,000 students through this process. But one of the things that really stood out as we were scaling up the model was what happens in a cooperative learning group when students really just don't get it.
In math specifically, we deal a lot with heterogeneous group. Every student, whether they're academically gifted or they really kind of struggle, they're all in the same classroom, so how do we really differentiate and provide social interactions but then provide that additional support as needed? In thinking for the teachers who were at the response to intervention model, how do we really hit the tier 3 intervention for all students who really need additional support in specific areas, like I said, regardless if they had a disability or not, but how do we really target those?
That's kind of where my paths crossed with Ryan. Actually, a conference a few years back, and I believe it was Minneapolis. Correct me if I'm wrong, Ryan. I just remember it as very cold, it was in the middle of winter. We were problem solving through this. It was kind of the light bulb that went off that we could use some kind of tutoring service that ultimately didn't require a live tutor in the building.
Obviously, personnel, there's so many different variables inside a building that kind of prohibit that, and this was kind of a solution that allowed us to have a person on the other side of a computer that really would enable the student to have the unique needs met in real time, getting real feedback, real coaching, real support, and through that coordinated effort, could really play into that systems approach that we were aiming for through the systems change of the model that we had.

Tyler: Yeah. Kind of what I hear you saying is that there's always been an issue of bandwidth when it comes to teachers, going all the way back to probably single-room schoolhouses with different grades and everything like that. It's still an issue that we're dealing with just that teachers can't multiply themselves, and they can't give students always the individual attention that's necessary. So what you're able to create then with a system like this is the ability to group kids in certain areas to understand who needs what, and be able to provide that, and to be able to provide that using a technology solution, which sounds like it is having a great effect.
Have you been able to see some of the results? And how do you measure success in something like this?

Dr. Paul Miller: Yep. I think, kind of breaking down your question, Tyler, if that's okay, from a research perspective, research shows that student engagement really is an effective means of increasing student attainment, especially in math. One of the things that research hasn't yet done is showing how technology in a one-to-one environment really can impact students.
There's been big studies of Khan Academy and those kind of things that kind of almost take that automated process and have students engage in that one-to-one environment with a student and a computer. Obviously, there are ways to provide feedback along the way, motivational elements so they have a system of badging with the planets and meteors, all that kind of stuff. It's an element almost of game application that provides that motivation to students. But the sustained motivation isn't necessarily there because there isn't that human element of engagement that exists in that system.
One of the things that is really unique that we found with FEV Tutor is it really allowed for that engagement and collaboration to continue. Obviously, on the other side of the computer, even though it is through a machine, there is a person. That person can talk, engage, develop relationships with the student in order to give the student the “environment” that they need in order to be successful, so the engagement was really, really key in this process.
Very early on in the i3 Initiative, we actually piloted this as a tier 3 intervention, which basically means that we provided individualized support using diagnostic assessments and high intensity to students in Norfolk public schools.

Ryan Patenaude: Yeah, absolutely. When we worked with Paul in the i3 grant, Tyler, and this was sort of at some of the initial stages of FEV Tutor because ultimately you need to have a research foundation. The reason you asked that question, which is a good one, is that, “Hey, if there's no data in research to support that this is an effective program or product, then what are we investing our funds in and our time in? And is this really effective?” Because great ideas are sometimes unfortunately or fortunately a dime in a dozen, and how much you can execute them with the results, they're not as meaningful.
So through the research and the programs that we designed with Paul, our cohort of students that we worked with, which was small initially, I think it was around 61 students. We found that 50% of those students were able to become proficient on their Virginia Standards of Learning State Assessment, which is the highest level of accountability for schools and districts in the State of Virginia. That sort of follows through all states throughout the United States of how schools and districts are evaluated in the public education sector.
So was taking a group of 61 students, putting them into intensive interventional mediation based on data that showed where their skill gaps were, and seeing if that one-to-one tutoring could have a direct correlation between academic achievement, and thinking about a world were those students had been failing those state assessments year after year.
Then also looking at Paul as a researcher, so looking at it with a control group versus a treatment group, and really drilling down into that research, and the direct result that sort of that small pilot that we did under the i3 grant with Paul actually resulted in a published research study by Old Dominion University, which was sort of the starting point for developing and evolving the FEV Tutor system to what it is today, where we work with over 700 schools and districts throughout the country.
That was the quick snapshot of what resulted from that including a research study, which was the data at the infancy of evolving the FEV Tutor system.

Tyler: How much did feedback from administrators and from teachers really help you craft something that was of utmost value and the most effective that it could be? Did you get feedback from teachers? What was that like?

Dr. Paul Miller: Absolutely. Really, I mean, school only functions if the leadership is strong. I mean, that's a primary driver of research. I mean, there is such a high correlation or strong correlation between leadership and the school wide supports that are in place within a school. Then outside of that is the correlation between professional development. So really aligning the various elements of a school system or a schoolhouse, if you will, that make sure that teachers specifically have the information and the training that they need in order to really implement an intervention like FEV with fidelity. It's the kind of commitment going into this.That was one of the things I think that we really were able to kind of help FEV with. In this successful world with the power teaching model, part of the adoption process behind adopting something like the power teaching math program required an 80% teachable in favor of the program. As we worked with Ryan, obviously Ryan works in other school districts beyond what we were in with him, we said to them, “Look at how you are recruiting schools. What is the process behind the information that is known, and the challenges that teachers in schools are going to face to implement this, and the supports that are going to be provided by you to get over that hurdle to actually go from self-[inaudible 00:14:40] impact?”
Really, from a research perspective, we aligned that to the concerns based adoption model from basic awareness to renewal. There's highs and lows in any kind of implementation on whether in the implementation dip that can happen and having the supports that and working through that to ultimately come out of the other side to really see the benefit at the student level.
Because initially it's not about the student. I'm a teacher, somebody's coming in and saying, “Hey, there's a tutoring program, but it's not like Khan Academy where you go online, and the student just kind of interacts with a computer. You are a key piece of this puzzle. We want to hear from you. We want to know from your teacher expertise, and standardized assessments, and all of that kind of good stuff, what the student really needs.”
In some ways, the teacher just say, “Wow, that's really empowering. I get to be the expert here and really help inform something that's going to help my student.” But then on the other side, it's an additional piece of work. It's an additional layer of responsibility. So really having that relationship from a leadership perspective to say, “If you do this, these are some of the things that your teachers may need. And if you don't do these things, this is what could potentially happen.”

Ryan Patenaude: That's the same type of coaching, and leadership, and mentorship that Paul has been able to give me and give our organization over the course of time for the idea of continuous improvement, and adapting, and evolving our models to synchronize with the needs and the ecosystem of our school and district partners.
I remember Paul would always tell me, “Ryan, as you design and develop the systems at FEV Tutor, they have to be designed and developed in a way where FEV Tutor can be successful in any school or district ecosystem, even the most challenging ones.” I would listen to him, and I probably wouldn't completely understand what he was talking about until several years later.
But over the course of time, he also taught me another valuable lesson that relationships matter. Building real credibility and relationships with key stakeholders, especially with teachers, listening to their feedback and then doing something about it is how you're going to win folks over, how you're going to get them to buy into your program, and then ultimately how you're going to get them to engage in the process. If you can start with getting the administrators and the teachers engaged in the process, because they know that their feedback will not only be taken in but will be immediately implemented and executed into the program while you're working towards the same goal, there's a ton of value there.
To answer your direct question that you asked initially, our whole program and product model is predicated on listening to feedback from everyone, from a high-level administrator through to the teacher, through to a parent, and then all the way down to the student where we even have a student feedback survey at the end of every tutoring session. Because each point of feedback that we get can actually be taken to improve the product and the service. As long as we are all in the same page with a common goal, and we start to accomplish those, build those relationships and create processes that are repeatable and scalable, then there's something that we can do here to affect change on scale.
I do credit a lot of that development in that product program and company development to Paul's mentorship coaching. As you can hear from his voice, all of that comes from being on the ground floor at these schools and districts, and really helping them at the ground level to try to accomplish their goals as a school or a district, and learning that through a practical experience throughout the country across those 300 or 400 schools that he worked with directly over all that time during the grant.

Tyler: That really seems just to kind of play into your company model. This is practicing what you preach. It's continuous improvement. I think that that's really cool that that permeates through the entirety of what you do, just always listening to feedback and crafting what you do to make the best product possible to help the most amount of students.
I'm kind of wondering just if you could distill it down and kind of paint a picture of how would things look different if you were given free rein to kind of set things up the way that you think would work best in the education system in America.

Dr. Paul Miller: That's a really great question, and it's a loaded question at best. I think, from kind of a personal perspective, one of the things that I think we've kind of shifted away from, but we know really work in education, is that kind of social element to education. I think that when technology really became the in thing, so we're talking one-on-one devices, bring your own device to school initiatives, all of those kind of things, we haven't really been able to crack the code of how we can really leverage technology to support learning in a meaningful way.
Don't get me wrong, and I'm generalizing because some students are very successful with technology, and the things like Khan Academy, and stuff like that. But for the average student, we're social beings, so when we don't have opportunities to collaborate, and to communicate, and to problem solve together, we kind of miss out. We're not at best selves, if you will.

When you look especially early childhood, for example, this kind of jump into the education space has kind of removed us from things like play. You often hear that students don't get recess, or they don't get a lunch break when they get to go outside and kind of roughhouse with each other. They lack the social skills then that they don't have the opportunity to develop to deal with conflict that may arise in the classroom or outside on the streets beyond the confines of the school ground.
So I think, kind of with that in mind, it's kind of going back to that basics, how do we provide opportunities for a student to socialize and use technology to help support their learning but not necessarily determine what learning should be for them? In my mind, I think we really need to kind of pause, and refocus, and really take that reflective look at what's working, and how the world is changing, and how we can really give our students possible environment to be successful.

Ryan Patenaude: Absolutely. I only have a little tidbit to add to Paul's in-depth analysis there, which I completely agree with, by the way. The observation in analysis, to me, if there are other countries that are modeling successful education ecosystems, then why not observe and analyze and take from some of those and implement pieces that would fit in here in the US to improve?
Because in the same way that I said continuous improvement before, that's the “model” or the mantra for many schools and districts throughout the country, especially those that have significant achievement gaps. So in order to really execute a plan like that, I think you do have to go through and sort of listen to everything that Paul says in there, but in my mind, creating critical thinkers, problem solvers, and self-advocates are three of the main key indicators of having a pathway to be a successful citizen.
I think that there can be some real progress made. Yes, that's 10 years down the road, but what can we do today to start taking those steps in that direction?

Dr. Paul Miller: Ryan, if I can just jump in there, I think my personal mentor is obviously Dr. Robert Slaven, and I think he really says this best is through the lens of change and no evidence is a fashion, it's a fad. Change plus evidence is systemic improvement. When you look at evidence, evidence takes time to understand, evidence takes time to collect. To do a research study, it takes time.
When I look at the power teaching study that we did, or even the pilot study that we did with Ryan, we're talking months to years to show that something is effective. But we need that evidence plus the change that it shows in order to really make that systems improvement kind of that I think that you're looking for in this kind of grand vision of where we should be in 10, 15, 20 years time.
Without evidence, when you look at any other field, when you look at medicine, for example, medicine is heavily reliant on research. I'm from the Johns Hopkins world, look at the medical researches done from the Hopkins lens. You could even be on to something as simple as a checklist to wash your hands to decrease the spread of disease in the operating room or something like that.
In education, we don't do that. What we tend to do is say, “Ooh, there's a new shiny thing.” Like I said, a split second it was technology. I mean, schools went from having no computers to every kid having a laptop in front of them while there was no real evidence to show that it work, and now it's kind of a fad. So when you look at school districts that had or implemented one-on-one initiatives, the long-range plan wasn't really there to replace the computers after 18 to 24 months once their lifecycle run out, the fiscal piece that was attached to that.
That long-range plan really needs to be there, and the evidence needs to be there to show that it can be successful for students, or it's just another thing in education. If you speak to a lot of teachers, they'll often tell you, especially if they've been in education for a few years, it's like a pendulum, things go one way and then come back in a few years time. That's the one thing evidence that shows what change does, and the impact that it makes really makes for that systemic improvement to happen.

Tyler: Absolutely. One thing is for sure, the evidence shows that I think that if I'd taken math fromm Paul, I'd be much better off today in math as I am right now.

Ryan: I second that. 

Tyler: Well, guys, Ryan Patenaude, Senior Vice President and Co-founder of FEV Tutor, and Dr. Paul Miller, Director of Personalized Learning for Johns Hopkins University.
Guys, thank you so much for joining the podcast today. That was really informative, and I think I've learned a lot about the education system. I hope our listeners have as well. Guys, I really appreciate your time today.

Dr. Paul Miller: Guys, thank you so much for joining the podcast today. That was really informative, and I think I've learned a lot about the education system. I hope our listeners have as well. Guys, I really appreciate your time today.

Ryan Patenaude: Thanks for having us, Tyler. We appreciate it.