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10 Signs That Your #BlendedJourney is on the Right Track

These key characteristics identify if a blended learning initiative is succeeding

Whether you have just begun your blended learning journey, or it is a path you have been traveling down for several years, it’s important to stay dynamic and reflective on your practice in order to ensure that your blended initiative is having a positive impact on student success. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on May 13, 2015, Tim Hudson, Senior Director of Curriculum Design at DreamBox Learning, and Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart, discussed ways to identify signs of success when implementing blended learning, and how to know your district is headed in the right direction.

TOM VANDER ARK
CEO
Getting Smart

The first sign that your blended journey is moving along well is that all stakeholders are engaged. Blended learning is a team sport—when groups of teachers come together and develop different and better learning progressions. The first set of stakeholders who have to be engaged are teachers, so teacher leaders have an obligation to be leading conversations with their faculty about the new opportunities. They also need to be leading conversations in the community with parents and other stakeholders. They need to be holding internal and external conversations about creating temporary agreements that keep their school moving. You don’t have to do everything at once, but you do want to keep the school moving.

TIM HUDSON
Senior Director of Curriculum Design
DreamBox Learning

If blended learning is the answer, then what’s the question? Most schools are trying to figure out how to be more flexible, more responsive to student needs, and more personal. They are asking: How can technology be leveraged to improve learning? How can we do things with technology that were never possible before?

Vander Ark: That leads into the second sign of success, which is using data effectively. It’s important for parents, teachers and students to get on the same page by looking at data, and then come to an agreement about answers. The good news is there’s a lot more formative data than ever before. The bad news is we’re still not very good at combining it. I think we’ll invent ways to combine all the formative data from lots of different sources, from programs like DreamBox, projects that teachers assess, and other forms of feedback. Those things will automatically combine in a progress-monitoring tool that makes it easy for parents, teachers and students to have important conversations about growth and achievement levels. Because we’ll be able to combine formative data in much more sophisticated ways, we’ll be able to reduce the weight of state testing dramatically. We don’t need those arduous state tests anymore when people are using adaptive systems like DreamBox. They already have good real-time data on how kids are progressing.

Hudson: The third sign of success is that teachers have clear expectations and a personalized PD plan, because of systemic and structural changes.

Vander Ark: In our paper, “Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning,” we suggest that teachers’ experience ought to be similar to that of students, by accessing blended, personalized and competency-based development. School and system leaders need to understand that adults, like students, will travel this journey at different rates. Identify and leverage teacher leaders, find out what those teachers are doing, and look for ways that they can expand their influence and impact. And then support other adults who are on a slower journey by using both individualized and team-based learning experiences.

Hudson: The fourth sign is that teachers and students are empowered to handle common technology issues.

Vander Ark: This is important for tech leaders to plan for. You want to build a tiered system that empowers users so that they have a quick checklist to know what to try themselves, and then have school-based resources to back that up. I’m talking with a district now that has an instructional technology specialist in every building to deal with these issues. The final tier is strong help desk resources.

Hudson: Sign number five is that students are able to articulate why they are using technology and the benefits it brings. Learning happens in the mind of the student, so it’s essential that they think about what they’re doing.

Vander Ark: Anything we can do to help kids take ownership of their learning is important. If you can help students to own their roadmap, and tell you what they are learning and why it’s important, then real magic happens. It’s also key that students know the tools they are using and how those tools are contributing to their learning. I’ve visited classrooms using DreamBox, and students can tell me exactly where they are in the program, how they got there, and what they need to do next. That’s exciting.

Hudson: Agreed. Some of the best compliments we get are when teachers say, “We were having a classroom discussion and the student said, ‘In DreamBox I would use the number line to solve the problem this way.’ ” That shows the new insights that a student can bring to the class based on what they’ve been doing in our lessons. Sign number six is when students receive immediate feedback and can make more realistic evaluations of their learning, which is definitely an outworking of the last sign.

Vander Ark: There has been an explosion of formative assessment in the last 10 years. With the shift to digital, many learning experiences now incorporate embedded assessment. So as part of the learning or shortly after the learning, there are assessments that provide quick checks. That is so powerful.

Hudson: There are important cognitive reasons to get that timely, helpful and frequent immediate feedback. We do want students to learn patience and persistence, but we need to be intentional and strategic about how they develop those things. Without technology, delays in feedback don’t occur because that’s what teachers want or what students need, but because there’s not enough time in the day. Technology enables us to get that feedback. The seventh sign of success is that students are progressing based on content mastery.

Vander Ark: The shift from print to digital creates challenges, but the shift from time to mastery-based progression is the most challenging thing that we’ll go through as a profession. It will likely be generational, taking decades to work through, not a few months. The challenge we face is to create systems where students progress based on mastery. That doesn’t mean every student has to move at their own pace—occasionally we could make use of dynamic groupings and cohorts. But we have to change to a system where kids are able to move at their own level and receive challenging instruction at their own level. This means designing schools that work quite differently than the age cohorts we have today.

Hudson: Sign number eight is that students are learning in a fully immersive digital environment.

Vander Ark: Immersive can refer to a fully digital adaptive system like DreamBox, or it can refer to a problem- based or project-based environment where kids are given a challenge, one perhaps connected to the real-world.

Hudson: The ninth sign is that data is used effectively to enhance parent/teacher communication.

Vander Ark: At the American International School in Utah, a simple dashboard connects parents, teachers and students with information from a variety of sources. Every student has an advisor, and the advisor sends a note home to parents every week.

Hudson: And finally, sign number 10 is that a continuous improvement model is in place, so it is sustainable and constantly improving.

Vander Ark: If we want our kids to have a growth mindset, then adults need to have a growth mindset. We need to model that for both students and community members.