Raising Blended Learners Demonstration Site Reflects on Progress

March 16, 2017 |

This blog is one of a series of updates from the Raising Blended Learners field. Amy Dodson is the project manager for Cisco ISD’s blended learning program. Here, she reflects on the impact blended learning is having on students in the district.

Walking the halls today, I am struck by the changes that 2016 has brought. After years in education, I expect differences each year: Different students, different external factors, different teachers.

But, radically different classrooms? Nope.

I never really saw that coming. Honestly? I wasn’t sure how necessary it was. Things are good and moving forward, so why change anything?

“Why change anything?”

Amy Dodson high-fives a line of students after her district wins a Raising Blended Learners grant.

When the term “blended learning” was first introduced into my vocabulary, I was intrigued. It made sense on paper. Who wouldn’t want to support teachers to reinvent their classrooms to become more personalized using really good technology as a tool for making this shift? I could never have predicted the journey upon which those two little words would lead our district and our community.

This year has been a whirlwind. It truly has happened in the blink of an eye, and at times, it felt like the eye of a hurricane. There is nothing easy about this shift. It means finding teachers who are strong and flexible enough to change, who are brave enough to fail and to try again, and who are wise enough to know that their students need more than “the way we have always done it.” The shift means clearly articulating a vision to stakeholders across the district and in the community because change is never smooth. It has meant changing mindsets (including my own) and that sort of change does not happen overnight nor is it a “one and done.”

Making a Top Performing School Better

Education is, for some, untouchable and unquestioned. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it philosophies abound. For us, nothing was broken. Things were actually outstanding! 

But…could we do better? To our leadership, that was the ultimate motivator. Our students deserve the best. Period.

We believed that taking on the challenge of a blended redesign was in the best interest of our students. It was simply the right thing to do. The district is using blended learning to elevate student achievement in math and science. This year, the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th grade math teachers are piloting a unique station rotation model in each of their classrooms with plans to scale in seven additional classrooms next year.

Months of planning and discussing and design and redesign and sleepless nights and worry and excitement and fear and joy … and tears … culminated in a kick-off in August 2016. Students at four grade levels walked into totally reframed math classrooms. And do you know what happened?

It’s working! Students are more engaged and have accomplished more and progressed farther. Dare I say it? They like math! Here is my evidence:

•   A student after the bell rings said: “Aw…is math over? Do I have to go to my next class?”
•   The struggling student who didn’t want to go to recess so she could work on her math more and wanted her teacher to see her grades: “Did you see? I got four 100s! I’ve never gotten four 100s on anything, ever!”
•   The student whose parent sent a note because her son wouldn’t quit working on math at home and had reached problems that she couldn’t help with: “Can you show him the next lessons so he can work at home? He really wants to keep going.”

Cisco ISD students were already top performers, says Amy Dodson, but now with blended learning, they’re doing even better.

•   Progress reports returned with notes from parents typically mean a problem or a complaint. One note this fall read: “I just wanted to say thank you; my son has never liked school, especially math. But your class makes him want to come to school this year.”
•   Students are setting goals, reflecting in journals about their learning, articulating successes and failures of lessons, and routinely tracking personal progress. The children are beginning to take ownership of their learning.

Change is painful and it is not perfect. We are only six months into this pilot and we still have a long way to go to achieve our goals. But when you embark on a path to change for the right reasons with the right people, it is so worth it.

Read more about Cisco’s blended learning plan.

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