When I attended elementary school some 30-odd years ago, my classmates and I would sit in neatly arranged rows of desks and listen as our teacher would stand in front of the blackboard and put forth her best effort to deliver instruction to all 25 – 30 of us, hoping that what she was imparting upon us would find a resting place somewhere between our ears. Unfortunately, besides the replacement of blackboards for whiteboards, classrooms and instruction in our public schools often looks very similar today – a teacher standing in front of the room delivering whole class instruction. While our world seems to change nearly every hour these days, education in our country has stubbornly remained unchanged for over 100 years.

The main challenge with the traditional whole class method of instruction that many of us experienced is that it does not efficiently differentiate for the learning level or the learning style of each child. While many students in the class will benefit greatly from a lecture delivered from the front of the classroom, undoubtedly there will be some students who will be bored out of their mind because the material is not challenging enough and another subset of students who are struggling to understand the concepts being taught. So what is a teacher to do when he or she is faced with the challenge of trying to individually differentiate instruction for 25-30 students he or she is responsible for?

Some schools in Oakland have turned to “blended learning” to try and solve this problem.

Blended learning, or what some are now referring to as “personalized learning”, is the concept that all students can receive individually differentiated instruction by pairing high quality classroom instruction with high quality on-line learning. By harnessing the power of computers and algorithmic software that automatically assesses student learning with each key stroke and mouse click, teachers can now restructure the classroom and the school day so that every child has the opportunity to efficiently learn at his or her own pace. Many blended learning classrooms forgo traditional rows of desks and are instead set up in stations. A typical blended learning classroom might have a computer station, an independent reading station, and a small group teaching station that students rotate through during the day. This rotation model ensures that each student has the opportunity to receive both appropriately leveled learning on the computer and quality small group interaction time with the teacher. The computers also help the teachers to instantaneously assess student work (less time spent grading Xeroxed worksheets) and ensure that students who are not getting certain concepts or are falling behind can be quickly identified for more support or remediation.

Where only a few districts nationwide are just now dipping their toes into personalized learning, the Oakland Unified School District has already begun to pilot this model at 6 school sites (Korematsu Academy, Madison, Bret Heart Middle, Alliance Middle and Encompass Academy). Oakland charter schools such as Education for Change, Unity High School and Aspire are now operating fully blended schools. The pilots have been so successful thus far that the Oakland Unified School District, in partnership with Education for Change Charter Schools, has recently been awarded a $100,000 Next Generation Systems grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in order to plan for a continued roll out of more blended learning schools throughout the district.

While not a silver bullet solution to fixing education, personalized learning is a critical new tool that teachers can use to ensure that no student slips between the cracks. The hope, of course, is that learning in every classroom will be accelerated for every student and that Oakland can begin to make progress on closing its ever-present achievement gap.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

About The Author

Brian Rogers is the Executive Director of the Rogers Family Foundation, a non-profit philanthropic organization that is dedicated to creating high quality educational opportunities for the children of Oakland.

2 Responses

  1. Amy Nichols

    Another Oakland charter is opening in the Fall 2014 with an instructional foundation of Blended Learning. East Bay Innovation Academy will also incorporate Maker practices and Project Based Learning. East Bay Innovation Academy is at http://www.eastbayia.org and is now accepting applications for 6th and 7th grade in Fall 2014 (school will expand to grades 6-12.)

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