Truly, nothing can stop a dedicated teacher. This held true on November 19, 2015, as not even the gusty 30 mile-per-hour Chicago winds could drive off the innovative educators who came to meet for FuelEd’s first Blended Learning Leaders Forum (BLLF) of the 2015–2016 school year. Leaders from all around Illinois bundled up and braved the weather to meet for a lively, collaborative event at the Marriott Blackstone to discuss best practices in implementing blended learning programs.
While fellow Education Consultant Renae Abboud , CEO of Evergreen Education Group John Watson, PASS Institute Director for Chicago Public Schools Dionne Kirksey, Director of Instructional Technology Integration for Archdiocese of Chicago Theresa Allen, and I helped direct the conversation, it was really the energy and creativity of the participants that made this day such an impactful and meaningful experience.
Questions to Ask before Blended Learning
As we thought about successful blended learning programs and their implementation, we found it important to ask pertinent, often difficult questions of ourselves.
Two of the most decisive questions that arose during the day were:
- Why are we moving toward a blended learning model?
- How do we measure success in a blended program?
Many educators were already past asking themselves, “Why switch to blended learning?” and had moved on to asking themselves, “How do we move to blended learning?” Taking a step back, it was important for leaders to have a purpose for all decision-making and that the why was fully understood and justified. As Renae Abboud premised, “Let your why be known, and keep it in the center as you work outward to the rest.”
Why Blended Learning?
Participants highlighted a number of reasons why they were interested in implementing a blended learning model in their schools:
- Personalize learning for students of varying academic levels
- Stretch thinned-out resources even further
- Increase graduation rates
- Provide alternative times and paths for students unable to complete traditional school
- Offer more flexible experiences for their students
- Provide more options in curriculum that may not be available locally
- Give students more in control of their learning thereby increasing dedication and engagement
Measuring Blended Learning Success
To measure academic success, schools often use graduation rates. This is true of blended learning programs as there is a direct correlation to increased graduation rates through the use of online credit recovery.
The use of teacher evaluations, anecdotal records, and parent feedback is a way to measure both student AND teacher success.
An important point to mention is that measurable goals should be individualized for students, just as much as their individualized learning paths. Goals can be set for each student using growth scores that show the progress they make throughout the school year. While the outcome may be low for one student, their general growth path may be greater than some other students and, therefore, in many ways show more progress. We have to look at individual student growth in addition to one-dimensional numbers gained from a test score.
John Watson of Evergreen Education spoke highly of the Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP®) tests as the best test for measuring academic success period. The Northwest Evaluation Association’s MAP® assessments are computer adaptive achievement tests in Mathematics and Reading that adjusts the difficulty of the questions based on how well the student answered previous questions. This test is created in a way that each student test-taker will take a unique test.
These MAP® tests follow the same concept that blended learning does; each student is different and, therefore, needs different learning paths, methods, measurable goals, and assessments for growth and success.
Let your why be known, and keep it in the center as you work outward to the rest.
Breakout Sessions to Discuss Blended Learning Needs
In order to help attendees cement their reasons for why they are switching to blended learning and creating measurements of success, we held individualized breakout sessions to really dive into what best suited the unique needs and situations from each attendee. Some of these sessions involved:
Blended learning strategies to meet the needs of all students and to improve student outcomes.
Participants discussed the varying student needs in their district or program and how they affected student outcomes. They also discussed the blended learning strategies and tools that can be leveraged to support remediation needs.
Providing equal and extended access to all students through acceleration opportunities.
In this session, we discussed the blended models and strategies to leverage to best accelerate student learning. This included providing supplemental courses, such as World Language, AP®, Career Readiness, and extended elective offerings, to attract and advance students in their schools.
Best practices from Chicago Public Schools that created academic success.
Dionne Kirksey addressed best practices and lessons learned from the blended program at John Marshall High School PASS Institute, and John Watson shared his research results from in-depth studies of nine blended learning programs.
Additionally, all attendees were given a copy of FuelEd’s Blended Program Workbook: Personalized Learning in Your Classroom so they could write down questions and take notes about how they might go about starting a blended learning program.
Regardless of the definition of success, all education leaders at the forum that day agreed it is essential to include measurable goals in their strategic plans for blended implementations.
About the Author
Bobby Offterdinger works as a FuelEd education consultant helping guide schools and districts as they make the shift toward blended and online learning. In his previous role, he helped elementary and middle school teachers in Alexandria, Virginia, integrate instructional technology in their classrooms. In addition to working with teachers, he facilitated school-wide blended implementations and tablet deployments. Bobby has been working in classrooms for his entire career, starting as a 5th grade elementary teacher. He is a certified reading specialist and holds an MEd in education and a BS in elementary education.