What makes blended learning different in an Opportunity Culture? As two pioneering high school teachers in North Carolina show in new vignettes, blended learning gives them a tool to reach 40 to 100 percent more students per class period with great teaching.
Students alternated days between classroom instruction with their blended-learning teacher and working from home or in a supervised computer lab. The teachers reached more students on the “off” days, but with class sizes staying the same or even smaller.
The two we profile—American history teacher Scott Nolt and precalculus teacher Caitlyn Gironda—both exceeded growth targets while reaching more students, despite having less face-to-face time with students. They earned thousands of dollars in extra pay for their roles, funded through regular budgets.
In the vignettes and an accompanying video, Nolt and Gironda share why they took on the challenge of pioneering this use of blended learning to reach more students, how it worked, and what they learned about how their students learn—and how they adjusted their teaching as they strived to continue to reach all students with excellence.
Their actions differed somewhat, but several overarching themes emerged:
- Class time focused on student collaboration and analytical, critical thinking.
- Out-of-class time focused on assessments, skills and concepts practice, early reading and research on a new concept, and written assignments.
- Out-of-class time allowed students to practice, fail, and try again, with extensive feedback.
- Students needed to be eased into the skills necessary for successful online learning, with their teachers guiding them on how to manage their time and learn from videos and online research.
- Although the every-other-day schedule limited face-to-face time with students, the teachers found other ways to establish strong relationships with students, and saw that online communication with students often drew out quieter students, both with the teachers and in student group work.
- Students felt more prepared for college courses, and the responsibility that comes with them, through the skills learned in their blended classes.
- Blended-learning teachers who extend their reach to more students need extra planning time or time to collaborate with other blended teachers during the school day—a key component of most Opportunity Culture schools.
Teaching this way created dramatic changes in Nolt’s instruction. He put all his class materials—including lecture notes—online, which let him tailor each class based on students’ current needs, allowed for more differentiated instruction, and put students more in control.
“I realized, if I put the entire class online, I could just tailor what I wanted to do based on what students had been doing well, or what I thought they needed to be doing well. Then I’m not just a guy who can read lecture notes or who can supervise students for 90 minutes. I’m bringing in things that they can’t get on their own, and that they can’t get through the online class or other text sources,” Nolt says in the vignette.
That inspired him to reconsider all his teaching, eliminating anything done just out of habit.
“There’s nothing sacred anymore. It creates an innovative spirit in you that touches everything. There’s nothing you don’t look at,” Nolt said.
Gironda appreciated being at the cutting edge of a new instructional model, flipping her classroom, creating videos for her students to use at home, and figuring out what she needed to do with the videos to best reach her students.
“I feel like I’m pushing myself and I’m learning just as much as my students are,” Gironda said.
Like Nolt, she saw some unexpected results for students.
“I’ve seen kids who might not have achieved as highly in a regular classroom really achieve at a much higher level because they had the extra help and the extra options of the videos and time in class to talk about what they didn’t understand, not just to try to copy down notes as quickly as they could,” Gironda said. “I’ve also seen students who I would expect to be much higher fall behind because they are making choices based on time-management skills that are not their best choices. And so, that’s when we start to have conversations about learning lessons from it…so, it’s unexpected academic results, both positive and negative.”
Blended learning is just one way Opportunity Culture schools can extend the reach of their excellent teachers to more students, for higher pay, within recurring budgets. These vignettes are the third installment in a series looking at the actions of pioneering Opportunity Culture principals, multi-classroom leaders, and blended-learning teachers.