If you’ve been hearing about blended learning in your school district, you are not alone. Blended learning is an approach to teaching in which students do part of their coursework in class and part of it online. An increasing number of school districts are using blended learning to make learning more accessible for all students.
There are as many ways to teach blended-learning classes as there are teachers. One of the more popular models involves credit recovery, a process through which students make up credits for classes they failed by completing the work they didn’t finish before. In this model, students are given modules of work to do at their own pace. Another popular model is to teach a traditional class but have students in class only a few days per week. In this model, students complete coursework outside of class and come to the classroom for teacher-planned activities that need to be done there.
Many teachers are hesitant to adopt a blended-learning program, and their concerns are justified. Since part of the coursework is done online, teachers often fear that blended learning is just a way for administrators to pack classes with more students and eliminate staff to save money. Blended learning has also been a huge part of the credit-recovery model and, therefore, many believe it doesn’t have a place in AP or standard-level classes.
Students are also sometimes reluctant to participate in a blended class. Some of my own students were unsure about signing up. Some were worried about not having anywhere to go during the school day when class was online that day, or that I would not be available to help them if needed. Others, like this student, were concerned that not much learning can happen when technology is there to tempt students away from classwork.
All of these concerns are legitimate and, if a blended-learning program is not implemented ethically, thoughtfully and with the input of all stakeholders, at least one of them will most likely come to bear. However, as Sam McElroy writes on Chalkbeat, “Strong teachers can use blended learning to help all students in new ways.”
Credit recovery, for example, allows students to receive credit in multiple classes in a shorter amount of time, getting them back on track for graduation. Since students of color graduate at lower rates than their white peers, blended credit recovery can be a powerful tool to help more students at risk of not graduating get their diplomas. In my district, this model is also part of our initiative to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. By keeping kids connected to school and getting them back on the path toward graduation, the likelihood of them dropping out or getting into trouble significantly decreases.
Blended learning can also offer students who are already “on track”—like my AP literature students—a taste of what college will be like, with the safety net that high school provides. Attending class only a few days per week and doing the rest of the work on their own time is a similar situation to what students encounter in post-secondary institutions. Like many districts, mine provides extra help to students who need it. We require that, if a student has incomplete work or a grade less than a 75 percent in the class, the student attends class every day until their grade improves. This encourages students to complete their work but also allows time for extra assistance. Furthermore, students who are trying an AP class for the first time truly benefit from the blended-learning model.
In my blended course, students come to class two or three days per week. On those days, we do activities and have discussions that can only be done face-to-face. On the other days, students do not have to report to class though they can if they want. Instead, they have digital classwork: discussion-board questions, response journals, AP practice tests, articles to read and sometimes even small-group work. This frees up my class period on those days for students who need extra help. Students who are struggling can come see me to discuss assignments, ask for enrichment activities or simply discuss the text we are reading to get a better understanding. Even in the couple of months I’ve been teaching this class, I can see clearly that this is helping my students who may be taking their first AP class ever and who might have struggled through the course without this extra help.
This year, I’m seeing an additional benefit to the blended-learning model in my AP class: I have more students of color this year than any other year. This is partly due to heavily increased recruiting efforts in my district and partly due to an embrace of the course’s structure. The race gap in honors and AP classes is a long-standing equity issue. Add to that varying levels of English proficiency and differing English dialects being spoken in the home, and there is often a disconnect between what the students want to write about the literature and whether they are able to write it in ways that will be acceptable to an AP grader.
What I hear from my students of color most often is that they are unsure of their academic abilities because this is their first AP class or because they have done poorly on a previous AP test. I encourage these students to come on off-days to talk about their work. I can give them extra help or enrichment, or I can help give them the confidence boost they need to succeed in a difficult course. Because I've had more time to work with these students individually, I'm seeing tremendous growth very quickly, more so than I have seen in past years.
Whether students are trying to graduate on track or are taking an AP course for the first time, the blended-learning model has the potential to provide them with the support they need not only to survive school but to thrive in it as well.
is a freelance writer and teaches high school English in the south suburbs of Chicago.