Blended Learning: Making a Teacher’s Job Easier and More Effective

Recently I participated as a member of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Assessment Panel, joining assessment experts in reviewing about 300 applications.

I was struck by the large number of schools that listed “differentiated instruction” and “targeted student interventions” as keys to successful reading and math achievement outcomes.

Imagine that you are a dedicated teacher with 24 second grade students reading at 10 different reading levels. Imagine that you have minimal technology in your classroom. Each evening, you diligently prepare for the next day by pulling reading resources to provide “differentiated instruction” to match the 10 different levels.

You then meticulously plan your activities, including spending time with small groups of students, to support progress for the 24 students at their varying levels. You use common devices to guide and assess each student’s progress including worksheets that you often correct at home, timed reading with each student as you note any inaccuracies, and peer-to-peer correction.

Picture yourself doing this for 180 school days.

And we wonder why almost half of new teachers burn out after five years and our reading achievement levels in this nation have remained largely flat for the past 15 years!

Now picture the same classroom converted to a blended learning environment, where the teacher has access to eight computers and high quality digital content available through the internet. The classroom is organized into three stations so that at any time, eight students can be on the computer while another eight work on projects or read books, and still another eight work with the teacher.

They rotate throughout the day. The computers are hooked into a learning management system (LMS) that delivers engaging, online reading material that is appropriate to each student’s reading ability. At the end of each session, the student takes a short assessment which is corrected automatically. At the end of each day the LMS produces a simple, color-coded dashboard providing current data on each student’s progress. Teachers, students and parents can see the data and gauge progress toward reading mastery.

The teacher uses the data to determine which students need additional targeted intervention and which students are ready to go to the next level. She organizes small group, differentiated instruction based on real time data. The teacher goes home at the end of the day feeling supported by a learning management system and instruction delivered via the internet.

Best of all, this dedicated teacher has a life beyond her classroom.

Yes, differentiated instruction – now often called personalized learning – can have a powerful effect on improving student achievement.
My point is simple — only saints or 22-year old Teach for America teachers have the enduring capacity to do this painstaking work of differentiated instruction by hand year after year. Without the assist from technology, America’s schools are at risk of losing even more dedicated teachers and falling further behind in international comparisons.

The good news is teachers don’t need to provide this leveled instruction by themselves. Technology, sufficient broadband, and high quality digital content are becoming readily available to convert all classrooms to blended learning classrooms within five years. It cannot come soon enough.