Students Begin to Direct Their Own Education with Blended Learning

     Published on 1/11/16   Tagged under:    District News    Danforth Magnet School    Franklin Elementary School    Grant Middle School    Johnson Center / Adult Education   

In Jenniffer Benedetto’s Cultural Voices class at the Johnson Center, one day begins with an interactive Kahoot lesson quiz. Students then watch a series of short videos, interspersed with discussion, and then break out to alternate between group work and independent assignments. This is blended learning at work at Johnson Center.
At Franklin Elementary, one group of students sits quietly at their desks, filling out an independent writing prompt. Another group sits at computers, working through reading, spelling and sentence completion exercises. A third group sits with the teacher, working on a character traits lesson, while a fourth group works together to continue the lesson the teacher taught them in another rotation.
Every 15-20 minutes, the Franklin students rotate through the stations in the classroom, where they complete individual work, group work, computer assessments and lessons with a teacher. This, too, is blended learning at work, and classrooms across the SCSD are gradually transitioning to this method of instruction.
Blended learning, a method of instruction that focuses on the individual rather than the group, allows students to use new, interactive ways to learn independently and guide their own instruction to some extent. As part of Wave 1 of implementation in the SCSD, Bellevue, Dr. Weeks, Franklin, Huntington, Grant, Delaware, Meachem, Van Duyn, Seymour and Danforth are working to use blended learning. Each year, 10-14 new schools will be added to the training and implementation schedule.
“We’re trying to get kids out of their seats to learn,” Ms. Benedetto explained. “We want them to realize their potential. We’re more like mentors and facilitators than teachers.”
From a student perspective, blended learning has brought content to life and has brought about better connections to classmates and teachers. “I’ve not been here long, but I love this class,” Johnson Center student Jhezzmearr Thompson explains. “The responses we get from each other and the teacher are real. We’re talking about real issues, and this is a class you can open up in.”
Franklin teacher Jessie Pritting said that even in its early stages, blended learning is having a positive impact on her classroom culture. “The programs we’re using meet students at their level and help them develop the skills they need,” she explained. “They enjoy the computer programs like ST Math because they’re very game friendly. We also try to do lots of cooperative learning with the rotations. This helps meet their attention spans and keeps them busy at the same time.”
To help train teachers and administrators in how to implement personalized, blended learning in their classrooms, SCSD staff has been taking part in professional development sessions led by Education Elements. The first three sessions focused on the foundations of blended learning, how to design the plans for their school and how to launch these plans. As a follow up, staff will meet twice more down the road to reflect on the plans and integrate aspects of other schools’ programs into their own.
Karen Earl, an ELA Coach at Danforth explained that because blended learning is all about helping students learn in the way that works best for them, developing school implementation plans should be from the student perspective.
“We are designing our guiding principles in a way that students and staff can share the same vision,” Ms. Earl said. “We are focusing on what our students want—what is their mindset? Often, kids don’t feel responsible for their own learning, and they learn in isolation. We want to shift that and help them direct themselves more, which will help them be more successful in high school and college.”
Grant Middle School Principal Pamela Odom said having a school-wide vision is key, noting that her school already uses ST Math and Language Live programs and that blended learning will enhance those learning opportunities. “We’re looking for ways to meet students where they are, and blended learning is a good way to do that,” she explained. “Teachers will now know how to meet the students where they are, face those challenges and come up with an attack plan.”
In the Engaging People through Innovation and Creativity (EPIC) program at Johnson Center, teachers use a self-paced, mastery based, flex model of blended learning to serve high school students who need a nontraditional, personalized, supportive learning environment.
Johnson Center Math teacher Lisa Kopp said blended learning is a great way to help encourage students to achieve their best. “Because we’re learning to facilitate more, it allows the students to see how much hard work can accomplish because they are learning more in their own way,” she explained. “For some of them, they are achieving for the first time in their lives. The students are saying it’s so different from last year—they like it. They are buying in!”
The SCSD is also transitioning high school credit recovery programs to a personalized, blended learning format. Piloted in high school summer school, the format is now being implemented at Fowler/PSLA and will offer students a better chance at success. The homebound program is also offering a personalized, blended learning approach, allowing students to be matched with a homebound teacher to receive a blend of online and face-to-face instructions to meet their individual needs.
Thank you to all of our dedicated staff who are working hard to implement this great new instructional method and help enhance student learning!