The big key to success with blended learning

According to Principal Andre Elliott-Chandler, one of the biggest keys to success not only for a blended learning school, but any school looking to achieve 21st century success, is allowing teachers time to prepare, collaborate, and learn from data that’s collected daily to help personalize student learning.

How it began

Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy is the second school that is part of Rocketship Education, a community-focused network of public elementary charter schools serving primarily low-income students in neighborhoods where access to excellent schools is limited.

Rocketship currently operates nine schools, with 85 percent of the total student population low-income, and 70 percent ELL. Rocketship schools’ achievement levels are in the top 5 percent in California.

“We believe that there are three factors in our success,” said Charlie Bufalino, manager of Growth & Policy at Rocketship Education. “One is excellent teachers and that happens through professional development (PD), teacher access to resources, and heavy investment in planning. Another is through personalizes learning, which happens with effective technology implementation and small-group tutoring; and then there’s a great sense of community and parent engagement.”

Rocketship believes in teacher investment so much that schools in the network offer 300-plus hours of PD every year. Teachers also have year-round coaches, and between 40-50 minutes per day to plan student learning.

“Much of what our blended learning models do is provide up-to-the-minute feedback through online adaptive learning software, so our PD focuses on data analysis and management as core competencies,” said Bufalino.

Bufalino also explained that principals who have “gotten results” in the past make for great Rocketship candidates.

“Prior to Rocketship I had four years teaching as an elementary school teacher,” said Elliott-Chandler. I’ve always had a strong personal belief in learning to process data and I ask about data analyzing in interviews with potential school leaders. It’s not so much about getting the right answers, but more a ‘reverence for data.’ You have to be prepared to make the data your own and take responsibility for it.”

Both Elliott-Chandler and Bufalino say that data analysis, while critical for all schools, is a key skill to master specifically for blended learning schools.

Rocketship schools currently have two model of blended learning in place:

Rotational: All K-3 grade levels have three teachers (one in the humanities, one in math and science, and one for a learning lab).

Students in Si Se Puede Academy currently spend a half day in the humanities, a quarter day in math and science and a quarter day in the learning lab. The learning lab consists of three parts: online learning programs (OLPs), individual reading, and small group tutoring (student must qualify for response to intervention tutoring, however, so the time spent on the three parts of the learning lab varies per student). Students spend roughly 40-80 minutes per day using an online learning program. Outside of these classes there are also enrichment class, such as music and physical education. Students rotate between these classes.

“The benefits for the rotational model are that teachers have an expertise in their specific subject, it allows for lots of planning from teachers so that students can get the most out of their lessons, and online learning can help students with language remediation,” said Elliott-Chandler.

Flex: Grades 4 and 5 use a flex model in Rocketship schools. The model consists of an entire class with all of its teachers in one large room. The space is open so that students can rotate between group work, individual work, and online learning. Teachers are there to guide students through their tasks and learning.

“Flex models really save time for the school, which we need for teacher planning, but getting rid of bells and students moving around from class to class,” said Elliott-Chandler. “Technology, which is really teacher-driven in terms of implementation, and the smart use of data really make this possible and efficient.”

Fifth-grade students at Si Se Puede  rotate around 10 times per day in the large space and Elliott-Chandler says as student complete their work online, instant data is used for teachers to make decisions on what activity a student should do next or what remediation or help a student needs.

The data aggregated that day and week is also used to plan instruction daily, weekly, and monthly.

(Next page: PD, time, and funding for blended schools)

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