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Different Schools Find Common Practices: Blended Learning in Urban Chicago and Suburban Colorado

by Daniel Owens on Aug 23, 2017


One year ago, The Learning Accelerator launched our Blended & Personalized Learning Practices at Work platform to help capture and share what high-quality blended and instructional practices look like. The site featured six school models and a multitude of instructional strategies they use to create personalized, mastery-based learning experiences for their students. After launching the site, we spent months collecting feedback to figure out how to make it more beneficial to educators.

With many improvements in place and more planned for release this fall, we are excited to announce our plans to add six new school models over the next six months. These new models feature more district schools and expand diversity across many different aspects including: geography, demographics, and stage of implementation.

Today, we’re launching the first two new additions to our site, Lovett Elementary School (“Lovett”) and Trailblazer Elementary School (“Trailblazer”).

At first glance, these two elementary schools seem quite different. One, Lovett, is a K-8 school in the heart of urban Chicago. As one of Chicago Public Schools’ 660 schools, it serves a predominantly low income, minority student body. Trailblazer Elementary is a K-5 school in Colorado’s District 11, serving a majority white, mixed-income population in the suburban outskirts of Colorado Springs. Yet, digging below the surface of location and demographics, both schools have for the past few years begun implementing blended learning as a mechanism for better meeting the unique needs of learners within more traditional walls. Integrating instruction with technology has enabled them to ramp up data use, personalize instruction, and connect evidence of learning to mastery rather than seat time. Both schools credit this work to driving significant growth in student achievement.

We hope you’ll engage with us to hear these schools’ stories and see the work they’ve been doing in practice. You’ll see they share more than just a stated use of blended learning. Similarities in strategy emerge:

Non-traditional use of traditional resources. Trailblazer and Lovett are schools making great use of traditional resources, showing that implementing a highly personalized, blended learning model need not be about building new facilities or tearing down walls. Each school employs a different approach to enable students to use the spaces – and the objects within them – available to meet their learning needs, allowing for movement between classrooms and use of hallways. Students can choose their furniture and move it, providing them with the ability to create a learning environment where they learn best. While both schools received small grants to launch this work as part of NGLC’s Breakthrough Schools program, they have built their programs to be sustainable within their current operating budgets.

Embracing learner diversity to be fully inclusive. Lovett and Trailblazer leverage their blended learning models to create more engaging learning opportunities for their students. Each school has a significant special education population and both have created inclusion approaches that help meet the needs of those students. Instead of pulling special education students out of the classroom, instructional support comes into the classroom. Educators have built a culture around every student having unique learning needs, so diverse learners who may need a little more support are able to get it within a general classroom setting.

Creating the space for deeper enrichment and greater choice. Technology is an integral part of each school’s approach, but not ever-present as it is used to enable a variety of valuable learning opportunities outside of traditional software programs. In addition to bringing greater personalization into day-to-day instruction, both schools also offer enrichment programs on Fridays, where students are able to choose topics they want to learn more about outside of the core content areas, increasing student choice and agency.

Trailblazer and Lovett are unique in their approaches but unified in their commitment to improving teaching and learning for their students. Their models provide new and distinct approaches for different types of schools and students, and I encourage educators to learn more about their work.


Daniel

Daniel Owens is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator. Email comments to daniel.owens@learningaccelerator.org.