Start Anew and Build Back Better

Start Anew and Build Back Better

I once believed that the term blended learning, would slowly vanish, as it would just become the classroom norm – taking the best of online learning matched with the best of face-to-face instruction. That, in this new century, teachers would partner with digital curriculum, guide instruction based on the data available within their digital partner, and have the time to craft peer-to-peer active engagement and authentic assessment opportunities. In other words, embrace what I like to call the curriculum, instruction, and assessment, or the CIA of Blended Learning – digital curriculum, guided instruction, authentic assessment.  This huge worldwide experiment of school closures and adopting remote learning has exposed the great truth. Blended learning is not the norm. And yet, had it been, the transition would have been much easier. Yes, there would still have been access issues, but instruction and pedagogy shifts would have been minor, as would have the learning losses. Had we embraced blended learning, school closures would have still allowed students to continue learning within digital partners with teacher guidance – focusing on the core business of schools: relationships and learning. Yet, too many were caught off guard, ill-prepared to continue with learning new concepts aligned to standards and benchmarks for the remainder of the school year, as learning losses got deeper and deeper. See the NWEA COVID-19 Slide report. As we look to the future, our education system should aim to recover but not replicate the past. We have an opportunity to “build back better.” Use the most effective crisis-recovery strategies as the basis for long-term improvements in areas like pedagogy, technology, assessment, financing, and...
3yr Roadmap to Growth

3yr Roadmap to Growth

Let’s talk about the path to developing a successful digital learning program. Mike O’Callaghan Middle School just completed its third year of adoption of blended learning. When speaking with the principal, Scott Fligor, he shared a 40.5 growth in student performance in 2018-19, the highest in the District. I remember the day that Principal Fligor came to me and said, “My school is at the bottom. We have nowhere to go but up. I’ve heard about this thing called blended learning. Can you help us?”  My advice was to go slow to go fast. The plan was to create a small pilot as a proof point with some incoming sixth-graders, then roll up a new grade each year. This was at the same time we rolled out the 7 Steps to Program Design and now we celebrate with a new infographic. See Roadmap for Blended Personalized Learning infographic below. It started small, yet with a BANG! Check out the 2016 i3Learn Academy promo video. As stated by the assistant principal in the video, “The proof is in the pudding…the students in the blended classrooms were growing academically faster at a higher rate than in the traditional classroom.”  Principal Fligor could not ignore that the data was showing greater academic gains in the handful of blended classrooms and felt that he had to give every student the blended classroom advantage. He had staff visit the blended classrooms to notice the instructional differences. He brought in professional development for staff to transition pedagogy mindset when partnering with digital curriculum using the CIA of Blended Learning, to help his staff with a...
Digital Learning Creates Opportunities to Thrive

Digital Learning Creates Opportunities to Thrive

When students struggle in the traditional classroom and absences become daunting, creating larger and deeper learning gaps, where can educators turn? One way to help struggling students is by providing opportunities for success in different learning environments. Past practices often led students away from neighborhood schools, to alternative placement educational facilities. Yet, not all students that struggle need such a drastic remedy. Access to digital curriculum in a comprehensive school setting can be an excellent way to create opportunities to thrive. Digital curriculum is the first piece of the CIA of Blended Learning (digital Curriculum, guided Instruction, authentic Assessment), yet it’s important to ensure that educators understand the partnership between digital content and teacher-led guided instruction. Otherwise establishments create digital learning environments that isolate and remove high quality instructional practices, such as teacher and peer interaction, plus they tend to lower standards/expectations. This is often seen in credit recovery programs across the nation, as documented by Nat Malkus in his whitepaper Second Chance or Second Track (September 2018), were second chance credit recovery becomes a lower-level pathway of isolated, independent study programs designed for struggling learners. When we lower expectations, we are creating a lower track of students, many of whom were struggling to begin with. The TNTP whitepaper Opportunity Myth (2018) notes how schools and teachers are letting students down with low level learning opportunities that just don’t meet the standards. Yet, we must cultivate classrooms where struggling students learn how to take ownership of their learning. Where students can track and manage their learning outcomes in a digital platform, that allows them to pick up where they...
CIA Walkthrough – Measuring Pedagogical Shift

CIA Walkthrough – Measuring Pedagogical Shift

Blended learning, when teachers partner with digital content to create a personalized learning environment, may be difficult to measure – but not impossible. Measuring a pedagogical shift requires data collection from classroom observations using a walkthrough tool. Establishing a blended classroom walkthrough tool begins with identifying observable actions such as the implementation of the CIA of Blended Learning. This includes the one-third, one-third, one-third balance: utilizing digital Curriculum to deliver low level basic understanding, skills, and practice,partnered with extension into higher order thinking via teacher guided Instruction, plus student engagement, project learning, and peer collaboration via the 4Cs – communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking through authentic Assessment. Measuring a pedagogical shift, is focused on only one of the four P’s of evaluating the effectiveness of a blended program: Performance, Pedagogy, Perception, and Partnership. When measuring a pedagogical shift (a process measure) we are seeking an answer to: Is classroom instruction changing (and how)? To answer this question, we use a classroom walkthrough tool to collect data. The walkthrough tool should be developed in-house and focused on self-selected priority practices and instructional strategies. The CIA of Blended Learning balance of one-thirds: digital, teacher, and student is a great place to begin when developing a classroom walkthrough tool. Typically, classroom walkthroughs are just a snapshot of the learning. Observer(s) may only be in the room ten minutes, looking for a handful of items. When working with schools and districts in the implementation of the CIA of Blended Learning we help them identify a handful of goals and priority practices that are expected when transitioning to a blended personalized learning environment. Through this...
Does Blended Work? – The 4Ps of Evaluating Your Blended Program’s Effectiveness

Does Blended Work? – The 4Ps of Evaluating Your Blended Program’s Effectiveness

I often get asked about the effectiveness of blended learning. Educators, from classroom teachers and building administrators, to district curriculum directors and superintendents want to know, “Does blended learning work?” What they are really asking is, “Can I be confident that adopting blended classrooms and/or digital curriculum will improve student learning?” I don’t blame them. Budgets are tight. Time is precious (including addressing professional learning needs).  Yet, no one would ever ask, “Is learning in a K-12 environment actually effective?” However, in today’s highly technological world, digital learning is a life skill that schools must adopt.  So, the better questions are, “What can we do to teach effectively in a blended learning environment?” and “How do we know it’s working?” The answers will be subject to the interplay of media, method, and modality (great video!). When seeking a return on investment (ROI) for blended learning, one must first have a vision for what blended classrooms should look, act, and feel like. Like the multifaceted education system and the numerous teaching strategies deployed in countless classrooms across the nation, the answer lies in this very same systems complexity and variability in performance. The Carnegie Foundation reminds us that it takes a multi-layered approach of using improvement science to accelerate learning and address problems of practice. When seeking an answer to ““How do we know blended learning is working,” consider breaking the measures of evaluating blended learning effectiveness into four different data sources, which I like to call the 4Ps: Performance (outcome measure) – Are student outcomes improving (and for whom)? Student achievement data.Pedagogy – (process measure) Is classroom instruction changing...
Paving a Path to Personalized Learning

Paving a Path to Personalized Learning

The value of a word, not it’s definition, but the word itself can make a difference. Take personalized learning. This is a word that is thrown into every educational conversation, yet does it have a single meaning, or is the definition determined by the individual who hears or uses it. Think for a moment of how you would define personalized learning. What characteristics and elements are essential? Does digital devices, or digital content rise to the top? In 2014, Education Week published a working definition of personalized learning, developed by some of the most respected minds in the field such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Christensen Institute, iNACOL, the Learning Accelerator, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and many others. The four-part “working definition” included: Competency-based Progression: Each student’s progress toward clearly-defined goals is continually assessed. A student advances and earns credit as soon as s/he demonstrated mastery. Flexible Learning Environments: Student needs drive the design of the learning environment. All operational elements – staffing plans, space utilization, and time allocation – respond and adapt to support students in achieving their goals. Personal Learning Paths: All students are held to clear, high expectation, but each student follows a customized path that responds and adapts based on their individual learning progress, motivations, and goals. Learner Profiles: Each student has an up-to-date record of his/her individual strengths, needs, motivation, and goals. Imagine doing all of this without technology. Sure, personalized learning can take place absent from digital learning, but it would be difficult, and why would you not take advantage of the tools of today – like devices and...