“Blended learning is not just another district initiative. It is a fundamental redesign of instructional models with the goal of accelerating learning toward college and career readiness. “ –Digital Learning Now! Blended Learning Implementation Guide.
The Lawrence School District of Kansas, sitting right in the University of Kansas’ backyard, has embraced blended learning, but not just for “college and career readiness” Last year, Barbie Gossett volunteered to turn her Kindergarten classroom into a blended learning environment. Along with 7 other teachers from elementary to high school, these pioneers introduced blended learning to their students as well as to the entire district. In a district that serves about 11,000 K-12 students, 8 teachers is just a tiny sampling. But the results of these field tests have had a powerful impact on the direction and the decision the district as a whole is making for the future of their schools.
In September, the number of teachers choosing to blend their classroom is jumping from 8 to 80! Last year’s success also translated into voters approving 6.5 million dollar, with big percentage going solely to support the the digital curriculum. As a result, these 80 teachers opting to completely revamp their style of teaching as well as the structure, flow and routines of their classroom will receive the support they from need to make this happen.
Barbie Gossett teaches Kindergarten at Woodlawn Elementary in Lawrence and was recommended by her principal as a teacher who could embrace the technology and make it work for the the youngest of students. Personally, Barbie was not sure she was buying it. A room full of kindergartners with a broad range of ability and prior exposure to technology, the typical arguments against using a blended model for that age made sense to her. Still, a risk taker and teacher determined to be on the cutting edge of what is happening in education, Barbie decided to go for it and opt in to the field test. If there is something new, she will try it first and only then decide if it truly helps student learning.
Last December, Ms. Gossett’s Kindergarten class transformed! Students had used a few computers for independent reading during the Daily 5 time, but beyond that, digital technology had not found it’s place in her room. By adding two designated areas where small group could gather and work together around 1 computer with extra large screen, 3 desktops, and 4 laptops, Barbie was able to flip her entire math curriculum to be online. Kids took turns rotating to the different stations, allowing them to work as self guided groups or independently throughout their math lessons. The students were so engaged, when it was time to move to one of the specials, like PE or music, there were groans and complaints- Her kindergarteners wanted to keep working on math!
The engagement piece is huge for Barbie. She has found more freedom than she has ever had before to float and monitor the students one on one and spend time working individually on the personal learning needs of her students. Less time was wasted because when she needed to talk to other adults or manage the visitors observing her classroom, the students stayed completely involved in their learning. The collaboration piece, which in years past had been very difficult to get student buy-in, simply started to happen- the kids just started helping each other and working together to problem solve any tech problems that would pop up. Not only did every one of her students achieve expected growth on their MAPS test but, for the first time, everyone single one of them scored above the expected grade level.
Reflecting now, Barbie remembers why she felt nervous, but has come to believe that because her kids come to school as “blank slates” it’s the perfect time to introduce the blended model. The students don’t question, they just do. With the proper prep and support, these little five year olds exceeded beyond the expectations. All it took was one little lamented card with their username and password to get them started. Once they realized those cards were the key to their online learning, they turned into gold! No one wanted to lose theirs’ and they even watched out for each other, making sure no one lost or misplaced their card! They freely embraced failure, retaking online quizzes over and over until they achieved the green light… there was no frustration and giving up. Instead, they persisted until they got it, until they truly mastered the concept.
Barbie realizes the real test will be in September, especially for the 8 “pioneer’” teachers who have already successfully implemented blended learning models into their classrooms. Some might think those teachers are off the hook because they have done the hard work and it’s now smooth sailing- they can wander the halls dispensing sage advice to all the new teachers deciding to commit to blended learning. Barbie knows it won’t look like that. Every class is different and what worked with this past group, might not work with the new set of kinders coming in the fall. Teachers committed to using digital technology to create a deeper learning environment need to be resilient problem solvers – just like any other year. Technology’s place is not to make the teacher’s job easier, but to help each student learn at a deeper level and according to their personal pace and style… and Barbie Gossett is making that happen for her Kindergarteners everyday.