Greg O'Connor

Thinking Beyond Averages in the Classroom


If you’re an educator, help out in classrooms often, or simply have kids of your own, you probably know that no two students are alike. They come in all shapes and sizes, abilities, strengths, and interests. 


Even though most everyone agrees with the above statement, we still tend to focus on “averages” both in and out of the classroom however. And this isn’t always be the best metric for measuring progress. 

For example, If you were to calculate the average height of a class, or look at the average score on a test, you’d likely find that few if any students were the average height or had the average test score. Instead you’d find that several students scored below (some possibly way below) average while others scored above. So while the average does tell you something about the class as a whole, it doesn’t account for how diverse classrooms have become. 

So what’s the alternative? Let’s take a look… 

I recently watched a TED Talk by Todd Rose that does a fantastic job at demonstrating the problem with averages. In his talk titled “The Myth of Average”, he shares how the Air Force once calculated the average size of a pilot in order to better design the cockpit of a fighter jet. You can probably guess how this turned out… It ended up not working for anyone!

Here's the video, if you want to check it out:


The talk naturally led to a comparison of what we see in classrooms today. Textbooks and many other classroom materials are made for students “at grade level”. According to the Grattan Institute, teachers are required to accommodate a wide range of student achievement levels in their classrooms. They share that, “in any given year level, there is a five to six year difference between the most advanced and the least advanced ten per cent of students”. Researcher Dylan Wiliam stated, “student abilities in a single year level are only loosely related to age”.

This means that having a classroom full of grade level, or “average”, materials may be appropriate for only a very small percentage of students. 

While the data I've shared here relates to Australian classrooms, where I've spent most of my years of teaching, other research shows that the situation is similar in schools across North America and the UK too.

Adopting new materials

One solution to this is to create or adopt materials that are flexible. For example, digital textbooks can include supports like text-to-speech, talking dictionaries, and translation tools to help students who need extra support. And for students gifted in a particular subject or area, digital materials can link out to additional activities or content that can take their learning to the next level. 

Designing for "the edges"

At Texthelp, we do our best to design software “for the edges” as Mr. Rose puts it.  For example, our flagship product, Read&Write, works across platforms like Windows, Mac, tablets, and even Chromebooks. We build in supports like text to speech and word prediction that can be used with any digital content. This is great for struggling learners and students who speak English as a second language, but there are also supports for gifted students and those who fall somewhere in between. For example, research and productivity tools like the ability to quickly highlight and collect critical information, or turn text into audio for learning on the go, are standard across our desktop and Chromebook applications. 

We’ve been creating these supports for over 20 years and never stop innovating. Our newest version of Read&Write, Read&Write for Google Chrome, is being used by over 8 millions students worldwide. Double the number from only a year ago. We’re also working hard to make it even easier to access Read&Write across all devices - anytime, anywhere. 

Support beyond words

And we know that students need similar tools and supports for Math and Science, which is why we are excited to be putting so much time and effort into our newest product called EquatIO that will be making it’s debut this week. 

Stay tuned over the coming weeks as we are set to announce our newest versions of Read&Write, EquatIO, and more. All designed to support students wherever they are.

Did you know Read&Write and Equatio are free for teachers? Sign up, try them both today and see them in action. 

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