Lessons Learned from a Public School’s Blended Learning Program

| By Yonah Kirschner, Program Manager, DigitalJLearning Network

Does blended learning really work? It’s a question we hear often. Teachers are hesitant to adopt new strategies without evidence that they will be successful. Fortunately, there is plenty of evidence that blended learning not only works, but that students in blended classrooms learn more effectively. A recent case study drives this point home in a big way. The Middletown school district in New York trained teachers in blended methodologies and saw great increases in student achievement from a carefully planned, phased implementation of blended and personalized learning.

With a diverse student population, Middletown faced a challenge in trying to meet the needs of all learners. For Superintendent Dr. Ken Eastwood, the clear choice for addressing this challenge was personalization, enabled by blended learning and educational technology. “Personalized learning,” said Dr. Eastwood, “requires blended learning, which allows differentiation to move from the small group level down to the level of the individual child...Making learning personal for each student is the only way to close the gap for at-risk students while stretching the goals for the higher ability students.”

Middletown’s leadership understood that educational technology in and of itself is not the solution, but rather has to be a well-executed piece of the larger puzzle. Middletown used a strategic phased model of implementation over three years. This allowed time to transform school culture, provide plentiful professional development, and give teachers the opportunity to voluntarily  “opt-in” to personalized learning in the early stages.

The phased approach proved to be effective. 92 percent of Middletown teachers chose to participate during the two-year opt-in period. Involving teachers in the whole process also contributed to the high level of enthusiasm. “We were strategic about our thinking — we brought teachers into all phases of the design and implementation process,” said Amy Creeden, Principal of Maple Hill Elementary. “Teachers were on the initial readiness assessment team, they had true voice in the content curation process, and tremendous autonomy to create ‘their’ model, provided that it met our framework. It was because of our strategy that they were highly engaged throughout the entire process.”

When the teachers in Middletown implemented blended learning, they used a special station rotation model that the district refers to as “classroom flex rotation.” In this model, students rotate through three stations: face-to-face instruction with the teacher, collaborative student work in groups, and self-paced, adaptive digital content on a wireless device (primarily Chromebooks.) Elementary school students had one 75 minute blended learning block for reading and one for math every day. The data generated from the adaptive digital content enabled teachers to further personalize instruction and group students based on their progress.

The biggest marks of success for Middletown are seen in both the teacher survey results and the student test scores.

  • 91% of teachers reported they were more effective with blended learning

  • 95% of teachers felt they were better able to personalize instruction with blended learning

  • 89% of teachers using blended learning saw an increase in student engagement

  • 3/4 of students in blended learning classrooms did better than their non-blended peers in math (118% increase in achievement on the NWEA MAP assessment)

  • 2/3 of students in blended learning classrooms did better than their non-blended peers in reading (136% increase in achievement on the NWEA MAP assessment)

These dramatic statistics indicate that personalization benefits both teachers and students. Teachers are better able to individualize instruction when they have data from adaptive digital content. Students are better able to master content when they are able to work at their own pace. That mastery is demonstrated in their great increases in both math and reading achievement.

By carefully planning their phased implementation, and making teacher pedagogy and involvement a priority, the Middletown school district succeeded in making “teaching and learning more effective and efficient.” The positive outcomes for both teachers and students thus far has given Middletown confidence that blended and personalized learning are here to stay. “We really can meet instructional goals for ALL students,” said Superintendent Eastwood.

Isn’t that what it’s really all about? Schools want all students to succeed. The Middletown case study is a prime example of the institution letting the academic goals drive the intervention. They also did a great job of managing their rollout. Too often we see schools try to do too much at once. Middletown gave teachers options that allowed early adopters to start first. As those early adopters began to experience success, others saw the value and wanted to learn how to apply it in their own classes. By phasing it in over time, they were able to support the teachers along the way, and learn from the trials and errors that naturally occurred.

Another important element to their success has been strategy. They had a plan that addressed how and where the changes would take place. And equally important, they understood that good communication with parents, teachers, and other important stakeholders is critical to successfully implementing any change, technology-based or not. Strategic planning and communication are key factors in their initial success and will allow them to continue down this path until the change becomes the norm. If this once-struggling district can show quantifiable improvement, imagine what well planned and implemented blended learning can help your students achieve!

To start your school on a path towards blending and personalization, contact us to learn about bringing professional learning to your community!


Photo Credits: Independence Learning Commons and Laurie Sullivan via Flickr