5 Research Studies that Shape eSpark’s Curriculum Design

An illustrated eSpark character standing next to the title of the blog on a purple background.

At eSpark Learning, we place a high importance on using cutting-edge educational research from leading experts to guide our curriculum and ensure our program is pedagogically-sound. Here are some of the prominent theoretical studies that have most heavily influenced our curriculum design and where you can find those influences within eSpark.

Note: If you’re looking for evidence of effectiveness from schools and districts using eSpark, please visit our research page here


1. Implementing a Schoolwide Literacy Framework: Improving Achievement in an Urban Elementary School

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey

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Fisher and Frey created this framework to ensure implementation of the most effective literacy strategies. It aims to facilitate a transfer of learning from teacher modeling to students’ independent work, and stresses the importance of teaching in flexible small groups based on student needs in curriculum design. Following this framework, each eSpark Quest is built as a sequence of direct instruction and modeling, independent practice activities, and assessment, with a gradual increase in student responsibility.

Fisher and Frey’s Literacy Framework Components Application of Component Within eSpark
Direct instruction and modeling High-quality instruction videos model each skill in a Quest
Guided instruction Guided practice activities provide step-by-step support of skill practice
Independent practice Students practice reading, writing, and oral language embedded in the context of texts in all literacy activities
Assessment eSpark’s placement test sets students on Quests according to their levels

Each Quest begins with a pre-quiz and ends with a post-quiz

Small groups Teachers receive weekly emails with small-grouping suggestions and the shared skills those students need to work on, with suggested resources included

Teachers can also assign Quests to individuals or specific groups of students


2. Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning

John Hattie

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In this book, Hattie synthesizes years of research into practical teaching strategies. He emphasizes the importance of visible learning – when it is made clear from the start what teachers are teaching and what students will be learning, student achievement will increase. Every eSpark Quest was designed with these recommendations in mind.

Hattie’s Recommendations for Maximizing Student Gains Application of Recommendation Within eSpark
Clearly describe desired outcomes Each Quest begins with a framing video that clearly states that Quest’s learning objectives and defines the desired student outcomes
Measure outcomes before and after each lesson Pre- and post-quizzes in every Quest measure student growth
Meet the phases of learning (novice, capable, proficient) A variety of instructional materials and activities are either sourced or created to ensure students have multiple ways of interacting with concepts in each phase of their learning
Differentiate based on student gains Student performance on pre-/post-quizzes determines the content they’ll experience next in their adaptive path
Calculate the effect of a lesson and make changes as needed A check for understanding after each activity ensures students receive frequent feedback and provides data that informs continuous improvement of each lesson

3. Meta-Analysis Database of Instructional Strategies

Dr. Robert Marzano

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Dr. Marzano is a respected educational researcher, who has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles translating current research into practical classroom strategies and curriculum design. This database of instructional strategies organizes his research and allows it to be easily implemented by educators like eSpark’s Learning Designers.

Dr. Marzano’s Instructional Strategies Application of Strategy Within eSpark
Provide students with specific feedback Checks for understanding (quiz questions in a variety of formats that follow Quest activities) provide students with immediate feedback, explaining what the correct answer was and the rationale as to why it was correct

Critical thinking challenges provide answer feedback that allow students to learn and re-attempt the question up to 3 times

Provide graphic organizers to help students process content Both math and reading Quests offer students opportunities to use Venn diagrams, tables, flow charts, and more to compare, contrast and connect ideas
Present academic content in interactive games Educational games curated and created by eSpark engage students and provide instructional feedback, multiple practice opportunities, real-world contexts, and higher levels of thinking

4. The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading: An Assess-Decide-Guide Framework for Supporting Every Reader

Jan Richardson

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Jan Richardson is a reading specialist and leading expert on guided reading, whose strategies have been proven to increase students’ reading comprehension. Her framework for implementing guided reading groups makes it clear how educators should best model top guided reading strategies so students become strong independent readers. eSpark incorporates these proven strategies into all reading Quests, through modeling and interactive questioning.

Richardon’s Guided Reading Strategies Application of Strategy Within eSpark
Teach students to stop and use fix-up strategies Students are prompted in reading Quests to to stop and use fix-up strategies by rereading, asking themselves a question, or using text features to answer a comprehension question
Use a specific series of steps to explain new words Quests allow multiple opportunities to use different strategies to explain a new word, including looking for clues, using pictures, using word parts, substituting words, and making connections
Use a variety of question stems to ask and answer questions about the text Incorporation of question stems into eSpark activities helps students recall what they have read and make inferences
Teach students to analyze story elements Students are frequently asked to cite evidence from the text for text analysis

5. Mind In Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes

L.S. Vygotsky

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Vygotsky’s research developed into the well-known theory of the Zone of Proximal Development and has had a dramatic influence on modern education. This theory has ensured that students are given instruction at their level, or their “Zone”, so they can construct their own learning without becoming frustrated. eSpark’s placement test and adaptive path were directly informed by this theory.

Vygotsky’s Theory Application of Theory Within eSpark
Zone of Proximal Development Placement test determines what content is in a student’s Zone of Proximal Development by adapting up and down depending on how a student responds, ultimately finding their “sweet spot”

Once a starting point is determined, eSpark’s adaptive path takes over and uses pre- / post-quiz data to direct students to the Quest most appropriate for their level

The adaptive path is frequently analyzed and updated to ensure it is correctly placing students

Ready to see student-centered learning in action?